The Dons produced a stirring fightback in South Devon tonight with a goal from Ade Azeez earning a deserved point at Plymouth.
Though Wimbledon fell short of making it four wins in four seasons at Home Park, this was arguably even more impressive than those previous victories as they battled back for a 1-1 draw against a side chasing promotion.
Neal Ardley’s men were full value for the draw on the balance of play and the 143 Dons fans that made the long trip were rewarded with a goal from Azeez that came just when Plymouth had started to dominate.
Wimbledon made two changes to the starting line-up with Ade Azeez getting the nod up front in place of Craig Tanner and Jake Goodman preferred to Ryan Sweeney.
Chasing a win for the fourth successive season at Home Park, The Dons made a bright start and they came close early on when George Francomb curled a free-kick from an acute angle just wide. There was little sign of Wimbledon playing on defence against a Plymouth side bidding for promotion. However, it was certainly more than useful that Deji Oshilaja was able to play and he showed no repercussions from his injury on Saturday by getting in first to clear a dangerous cross from Tareiq Holmes-Dennis.
Bayo Akinfenwa made a bright start leading the line and he so nearly broke through after a lovely ball from Barry Fuller. Plymouth gradually came into it as the half progressed and Wimbledon were relieved that a shot from Carl McHugh was deflected just wide. James Shea was then required to make a fine save to deny Bobby Reid.
In an entertaining first half, both sides had promising moments in attack as there was a good flow to the game. With Jake Reeves and Dannie Bulman in midfield earning a fair share of possession for Wimbledon, it had been far from backs to the wall for the visitors. There was a let-off for Wimbledon though when a cross from Gethin Jones looped over Shea, but it bounced off the crossbar. At the other end, Akinfenwa was heavily involved and he had a header deflected just over. Then Akinfenwa’s header from the subsequent corner was comfortable saved by Plymouth goalkeeper Luke McCormick.
Wimbledon had played lovely football at times in the first half and all that had been missing was the finishing touch. The Dons made a change at half-time with Jack Smith, who was doubtful beforehand with a groin injury, replaced by Craig Tanner and that meant Wimbledon switched to three at the back. Plymouth wasted no time putting the pressure on after half-time and James Shea was quickly forced into action. First, he turned aside an effort from Lewis Alessandra and then he saved at his near post from McHugh.
There was better to come from Shea when he made a brilliant fingertip save to deny Alessandra. However, Wimbledon failed to defend a corner from Bobby Reid at the near post and O’Connor headed home from close range. It was now a real test of Wimbledon’s character as the home fans pumped up the volume at Home Park. However, Wimbledon showed plenty of spirit in response and earned an equaliser in the 64th minute. Akinfenwa found Tanner in space deep inside Plymouth’s penalty area and though his shot was turned aside by McCormick, Azeez was in the right place to steer home.
With home anxiety growing now, the Dons attempted to gain control and a shooting opportunity opened up for Reeves, but his effort was deflected wide. Plymouth started to pile forward though in desperate search of a winner and Shea had to hold on well to deny Alessandra.
Though the hosts continued to press, Wimbledon held firm. Alessandra missed a gilt-edged chance with the goal gaping as home frustration grew. The Dons could even have snatched it when Reeves was denied by McCormick. Dan Gallagher came on for his debut in injury time for Azeez as Neal Ardley offered another home grown talent first-team experience. The final whistle signalled a creditable point for the Dons and based on this performance they have nothing to be scared of in the rest of this season.
AFC Wimbledon: James Shea, Barry Fuller, Jack Smith (Craig Tanner), Dannie Bulman, George Francomb (Tom Beere), Bayo Akinfenwa, Sean Rigg, Ade Azeez (Dan Gallagher), Jake Reeves, Jake Goodman, Deji Oshilaja.