AFC Wimbledon produced a superb second-half fightback at Crawley Town to bag a first victory of the season.
It was far from going to plan at half-time with Neal Ardley’s men on the way to a third successive defeat, but goals from Bayo Akinfenwa and Andy Barcham won it 2-1.
A first away win since Boxing Day, 2014, was fully deserved after a power-packed second half from Wimbledon, and it came in front of 1,297 travelling Dons.
Neal Ardley had vowed to make full use of the options in his squad during a hectic start to the season and his starting 11 included four changes. Jake Reeves, Tom Elliott, Andy Barcham and Karleigh Osborne were all restored in place of Dannie Bulman, Sean Rigg, Callum Kennedy and Will Nightingale. Apart from the inclusion of Meades, it was the same 11 that started against Plymouth in the opener as part of a return to a 3-4-3 formation.
With Crawley eager to make an impression in their first home match of the season, it was no surprise that it was a high tempo start. The Dons had to withstand early pressure and a direct approach that aimed to utilise the aerial prowess of Matt Harrold, who had been a thorn in Wimbledon’s side in the past. Indeed, it was Harrold with the first effort on goal as James Shea had to stay alert to hold onto his looping header.
The Dons started to put a decent spell of possession together around the 15 minute mark. There was a cutting edge too with Barcham starting to reproduce the flying form that was such a feature of his man of the match display against Plymouth. The speedy wide man first powered down the wing and had his decent cross just cut out, before he produced a similar run and picked out Lyle Taylor, but he shot wide. The direct approach almost worked for Wimbledon when Shea’s kick was controlled superbly by Bayo Akinfenwa, but Crawley got numbers back and it was cleared for a corner.
However, Wimbledon failed to build on that decent spell and Crawley raised the tempo once again after the half hour mark. That brought about an opening goal that was a bad one to concede from a Wimbledon perspective. Former Luton Town playmaker Luke Rooney sent over a cross and Gwion Edwards capitalised on slack marking to head home from six yards. There was little sign of Crawley sitting on their lead and Jimmy Smith had a decent chance to make it 2-0, but his shot was too high.
It stayed 1-0 until the half-time whistle shrilled and the Dons knew they had to do better after a first-half when Freddie Woodman was untested in the home goal. Neal Ardley responded with a half-time change as Dannie Bulman entered the fray for Tom Elliott. Bulman, who is still a favourite with Crawley supporters after his pivotal role in their rise, was given a rapturous ovation by the home faithful.
For the Dons, it meant a change to a more traditional 4-4-2. Straight from the restart there was a completely different tempo from Wimbledon as the visitors tore forward in numbers. Akinfenwa started a great move that ended with Barcham crossing the ball back for him, but the Dons striker could not get on the end of it and referee Dean Whitestone was unimpressed by appeals for a penalty. Akinfenwa then made a nuisance of himself to set-up a shooting chance for Barcham, but he fired over the crossbar.
An equaliser appeared to be a matter of time with Wimbledon now swarming all over Crawley and so it proved as the all-important leveller arrived in the 51st minute. Meades and Barcham combined superbly down the left and the latter’s sublime cross was perfect for Akinfenwa, who headed home emphatically at the back post. Jubilant scenes greeted Wimbledon’s first goal of the season and it was fully deserved after a great start to the second half from the visitors.
It was a completely different game now and the momentum was fully with the Dons. More great play by Akinfenwa set-up Jake Reeves for a good shooting chance, but his effort was charged down. Barcham then tested Woodman with a fierce effort as Wimbledon really built up a head of steam. A second goal so nearly came when Francomb delivered to the back post and Barcham cut the ball back for Akinfenwa, but he was foiled by Woodman.
The Dons never had to wait long to celebrate another crucial goal though. With 14 minutes left, Reeves set Francomb free down the right and he produced a looping cross that took a deflection and found Barcham, who headed home from close range with Woodman stranded. Neal Ardley immediately sent on Ade Azeez for Taylor and he so nearly sealed it after powering clean through, but he was denied by Woodman.
Wimbledon held out without too much trouble and the Dons will be aiming to build on a great win at home to Cambridge on Tuesday night.
AFC Wimbledon: James Shea, Barry Fuller, Paul Robinson, George Francomb, Jake Reeves, Tom Elliott (Dannie Bulman), Bayo Akinfenwa (Sean Rigg), Jon Meades, Andy Barcham, Karleigh Osborne, Lyle Taylor (Ade Azeez).