The Dons ended their jinx against Accrington Stanley this afternoon with a fully deserved first victory of 2015.
Goals from Sean Rigg and substitute Ade Azeez earned a 2-1 win that was Wimbledon’s first victory against Stanley since the Dons returned to the Football League and it came at the eighth attempt.
It was a very satisfying afternoon for the Dons in many ways, most notably with the performance of a side with a young spine to it. Nineteen-year-old Will Nightingale certainly didn’t let anyone down with a solid display on his debut that earned the man of the match award and on-loan Reading striker Craig Tanner was a real livewire in attack.
Neal Ardley made two changes to his starting line-up with the inclusion of young players Nightingale and Tanner showing his belief in giving youth a chance. Academy product Nightingale was given the nod to make his first League 2 start in place of the injured Jake Goodman and Craig Tanner, on loan from Reading, came straight in up front for Ade Azeez. On a proud day for the AFC Wimbledon academy, 17-year-old Ryan Sweeney made the substitutes’ bench for the second time.
A new striking partnership of Tanner and Bayo Akinfenwa were aiming to make it a tough afternoon for an Accrington side beaten by Tranmere last week, though the Dons also had to bounce back themselves after defeat to Carlisle. Tanner showed promising signs early on and he fashioned the first half chance with a lovely lay-off for Sean Rigg, but his effort was deflected wide. Wimbledon came even closer when Akinfenwa teed up Dannie Bulman and he came so close to celebrating his 36th Birthday with a goal, but his fierce effort bounced off a post.
With Rigg and George Francomb offering good width on the flanks and Wimbledon’s midfield earning good possession, it was a good start from Neal Ardley’s men. At the other end, Accrington had been kept quiet and the visitors never managed to muster an attempt on goal until Kal Naismith’s ambitious 25-yard drive that James Shea watched flash wide. That failed to change the pattern of play as Wimbledon continued to dominate possession and good hold-up play from Akinfenwa gave Tanner a good shooting chance, but he shot just over.
Tanner produced a bright first half in a Dons shirt and one marauding run from the speedy striker set-up a shooting chance for Francomb, but his effort was blocked. There was no reprieve for the visitors in the 37th minute though when more excellent forward play from Tanner created the opening goal. Tanner got behind the Accrington defence and struck a powerful effort that goalkeeper Mat Macey could only parry into the path of Rigg and he finished emphatically.
Tanner was in rampant form now and he showed the Accrington defence a clean pair of heels once again, before firing in a shot that Macey did well to beat out. The Dons were full value for the 1-0 half time lead was they dominated possession and chances with James Shea barely tested at the other end.
Accrington started the second half with a determination to strike back quickly, but Nightingale and Deji Oshilaja remained solid at the heart of Wimbledon’s defence and the hosts continued to show more of a cutting edge. A lovely move ended with Callum Kennedy sending over a teasing delivery that just eluded everyone in the box and then Jake Reeves had an effort well saved by Macey.
It needed James Shea to stay alert though just minutes later when he reacted superbly to get a hand to a fierce 30-yard drive from Anthony Berry that was bound for the top corner. With an hour gone and Accrington struggling to make an impression, manager John Coleman introduced striker James Gray, who had made a habit of scoring against Wimbledon in the past.
With Wimbledon having failed to earn the cushion of a second goal by the midway point of the second half, anxiety started to increase around the Cherry Red Records Stadium. Neal Ardley made a double change up front to inject fresh impetus with Ade Azeez and David Connolly replacing Akinfenwa and Tanner.
Azeez was straight into the thick of the action and he created havoc in the area to set-up Barry Fuller, who met it with a powerful first time effort, but Macey made another fine save. However, the Dons faithful never had to wait too much longer for a second and it was Azeez who effectively sealed the match. Francomb was the instigator as he won the ball in the final third before releasing Azeez and he finished emphatically.
Azeez squandered a great chance to seal it when he was denied by Macey and the Dons were made to sweat in the latter stages when Adam Buxton bundled the ball home after good work by Naismith. However, the Dons held on to earn a victory that they fully merited on the day.
AFC Wimbledon: James Shea, Barry Fuller, Callum Kennedy, Jake Reeves, Deji Oshilaja, Will Nightingale, Sean Rigg (Sammy Moore), Dannie Bulman, Craig Tanner (David Connolly), Bayo Akinfenwa (Ade Azeez), George Francomb.