The Dons warmed up for Liverpool’s visit in style today by registering their most convincing win of the season.
Matt Tubbs continued his rich vein of form by striking the opener and Wimbledon were full value for a 4-1 win with Ade Azeez, Bayo Akinfenwa and a Christian Ribeiro own goal accounting for the others.
It was a fine way to round off 2014 as Wimbledon earned a victory that hinted they could launch a bid to climb the table in the New Year.
Neal Ardley made just one change to his starting line-up after the impressive win at Portsmouth with Harry Pell preferred in midfield to Frankie Sutherland. It was Pell’s first League 2 start of the season – his only other start came when he was sent off in the JPT win at home to Southend – and the towering midfielder had spoken last week of his determination to grab his opportunity.
Seeking a first home league win since November, the Dons wasted no time putting Exeter under pressure. In just the third minute, a lovely flick from Matt Tubbs put Ade Azeez through, but his shot from an acute angle was comfortably saved by Exeter goalkeeper James Hamon. It turned out to be only a temporary reprieve for Exeter though as Wimbledon took the lead in style in the ninth minute. Pell and Dannie Bulman combined to find Callum Kennedy in plenty of space on the left and he showed a cool head by waiting for the right moment to pick out Tubbs and he made no mistake.
With Tubbs and Azeez causing problems early on, home fans sensed there was more goals in this for their team as Wimbledon aimed to build on a fine display at Pompey. However, Exeter – one of the best away sides in League 2 this season – were so nearly level just minutes later when Adam Barrett reached a cross before David Wheeler and the ball bounced off a post. That failed to change the pattern of this match though as the Dons continued to press and it could so easily have been 2-0 before the half hour mark. Tubbs produced more great forward play by getting behind the Exeter defence and delivering a lovely ball to the back post, but Azeez headed wide from close range.
It became an intriguing match as the first half progressed. Paul Tisdale’s men began to control possession as they showed all the qualities that had earned five wins on the road so far this season, but Wimbledon maintained a threat going forward. However, the Dons were forced into last-ditch defending to prevent an equaliser when Jake Goodman brilliantly cleared a Liam Sercombe effort off the line. As half-time approached, both sides had chances. First, Wimbledon threatened to make it two when Barry Fuller got down the line and put over a fine cross, but Azeez was just unable to reach it. Wimbledon were relieved to watch Graham Cummins fire over from close range after good work by Scott Bennett.
In an entertaining first-half, Wimbledon had performed well to restrict a good attacking Exeter side to few chances, but they needed to maintain the high energy levels that had brought them success in the second-half.
The opening exchanges after the break showed that Wimbledon were in no mood to surrender the initiative. Sean Rigg produced a brilliant cross from the left and Tubbs rose highest in the box to head on target, but Hamon held on well. The home faithful never had to wait too much longer for Wimbledon to double their advantage and no one really cared that it failed to match the quality of the opener. Rigg sent in another lovely cross that Azeez connected with, but it needed the intervention of Exeter defender Christian Ribeiro to make it 2-0 as his decisive touch helped the ball cross the line.
What followed was a nervy five-minute spell for Wimbledon. Ribeiro came close to halving the deficit at the other end and then it needed a superb save from James Shea to deny Ryan Harley. However, it was effectively all over with 20 minutes left and this time it was definitely a goal from Ade Azeez. The pacy striker, who was about to be replaced by Bayo Akinfenwa, powered onto a through ball and finished emphatically past Hamon, before receiving the adulation of the home fans as he left the pitch.
The Dons were rampant now and it was so nearly four when Barry Fuller crossed superbly from the right, but Tubbs was just unable to get enough on his header. Wimbledon did make it 4-0 near the end when Akinfenwa finished off from close range after good work by Pell. Though Sercombe struck a late consolation after a cross from Wheeler, it never took the shine off a fine Wimbledon performance that sets them up nicely for Liverpool next week.
AFC Wimbledon: James Shea, Barry Fuller (Frankie Sutherland), Callum Kennedy, Harry Pell, Adam Barrett, Jake Goodman, Sean Rigg (David Fitzpatrick), Dannie Bulman, Ade Azeez (Bayo Akinfenwa), Matt Tubbs, George Francomb.