Wimbledon marched into the last-16 of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy in stunning style tonight with a late winner from substitute Bayo Akinfenwa completing a superb fightback at Milton Keynes.
This was certainly not a case of third time lucky for Wimbledon at the venue as they dominated for long spells and thoroughly deserved the 3-2 win.
Akinfenwa lived up to his billing as “The Beast” with a towering display as substitute, first setting up Sean Rigg’s equaliser and then netting the winner himself.
Neal Ardley made four changes to his starting line-up with significant changes up front as Bayo Akinfenwa and Matt Tubbs had to settle for places on the bench. That meant Ade Azeez was deployed up front as a lone front man with Tom Beere coming in for a start on the left flank. The other changes saw Barry Fuller restored to defence in place of captain Alan Bennett and Jake Nicholson in for Sean Rigg.
Wimbledon got off to the worst possible start inside two minutes when a back pass from Jake Nicholson fell short and Daniel Powell got there before James Shea and tapped into an empty net. Neal Ardley’s men responded with a spell of decent possession football and Nicholson delivered a lovely ball over the top for Beere, but his cross was too close to home goalkeeper Dean Martin.
There was a great chance for Wimbledon to equalise midway through the first-half when George Francomb whipped in a lovely free-kick from the right that found Azeez in space, but he headed wide. Wimbledon were really growing in confidence now and in particular the hosts were struggling to cope with the pace and movement of Azeez.
It was no surprise when Wimbledon equalised in the 26thminute. Jack Smith was the instigator as he found space on the left and sent over a cross that Azeez slotted home from close range. The young striker is making a habit of scoring real poacher’s goals this season and this was his third of the season. It was a goal greeted with delirium by Wimbledon fans high up in the away end with around 150 Dons fans making the trip.
Wimbledon’s response had been very impressive and they had a half chance to take the lead when Beere shot just over the crossbar. However, the visitors fell behind against the run of play three minutes before the break. Again, Wimbledon only had themselves to blame with Sammy Moore’s back pass falling well short of James Shea. Though Shea reached the ball first, it fell nicely for Powell and he set-up Benik Afobe to make it 2-1. It could have been worse shortly afterwards, but Barry Fuller cleared off the line from Dean Bowditch. However, a 3-1 deficit at half-time would have been harsh on Wimbledon as they contributed so much in the first-half.
It was a bold start to the second half too from Wimbledon with Azeez at the heart of it once again. The pacy striker latched onto a George Francomb pass and drove for goal, before having his shot deflected just wide. Then Azeez headed over after a fine cross from Bulman.
However, with Wimbledon having struggled to make any further impression as an attacking force Neal Ardley made a treble change with 24 minutes left. There was certainly plenty of attacking intent with the substitutes as Bayo Akinfenwa, Matt Tubbs and Sean Rigg were all introduced with Ade Azeez, Sammy Moore and Tom Beere the men to make way. It did not take long for the substitutions to make a difference as Wimbledon struck back once again. Akinfenwa’s flick sent Rigg racing clear behind the defence and he produced a fierce drive that Milton Keynes goalkeeper David Martin could only help into the net.
At this stage, Wimbledon were dominant and they came so close to taking the lead for the first time when Bulman’s searching cross found Rigg and his header was tipped over by Martin. At the other end, Shea had to be alert to deny Afobe and then the same player drilled just wide. But Wimbledon continued to probe and Akinfenwa came close twice in as many minutes, firstly when he headed over the crossbar. Then the striker came even closer when he shot just over after another superb delivery from Francomb.
Akinfenwa made no mistake eight minutes from time though when he finished off emphatically from Rigg’s cross to complete a stunning Wimbledon fightback. It was the least Wimbledon deserved for a stunning overall performance on the night and they now go marching on into the last-16 of the competition.
AFC Wimbledon: James Shea, Barry Fuller, Jack Smith, Dannie Bulman, Andy Frampton, George Francomb, Sammy Moore (Sean Rigg), Ade Azeez (Bayo Akinfenwa), Jake Nicholson, Tom Beere (Matt Tubbs), Adam Barrett.