AFC Wimbledon earned a first home victory in dramatic style today with a late winner from substitute Ade Azeez ending Exeter’s brave resistance.
In front of watching Ashes hero Mark Wood, the Dons recaptured that winning feeling in front of their own fans with a 2-1 victory.
Following stubborn second half resistance from Exeter, the game looked destined for a draw until a vital intervention with eight minutes left from Azeez, who had burst back to form with a brilliant performance for the Under-21s on Tuesday.
Neal Ardley made two changes from the side that started at Carlisle with one of those enforced as Dannie Bulman missed out due to a hamstring injury. That meant a first start of the season for 20-year-old midfielder Tom Beere, who started in his favoured central role after impressing for the Under-21s in midweek. The other change involved a straight swap up front as Bayo Akinfenwa returned to the starting line-up in place of Lyle Taylor.
The Dons made a bright start and almost had an early goal to celebrate for their efforts when good work on the left from Jon Meades set-up a chance for Andy Barcham and his deflected effort rolled agonisingly wide. Neal Ardley had spoken of his admiration for Exeter in the build-up to this match and the visitors produced an attacking move that summed up what they are about just minutes later. Will Hoskins and Matt Oakley combined well to provide a good shooting chance for Lee Holmes on the left, but Barry Fuller did brilliantly to get back and block.
Wimbledon continued to get forward in numbers and Bayo Akinfenwa had a header cleared off the line, though the ball appeared to be drifting wide. Then Robinson’s header was straight into the arms of Exeter goalkeeper Bobby Olejnik. However, Wimbledon did earn the breakthrough in the 28th minute. A long throw from Meades was diverted by Tom Elliott into the path of George Francomb and he produced a lovely finish with his left foot from an acute angle to make it 1-0.
The opening goal produced a spirited response from Exeter though and the visitors were level less than four minutes later. A ball into the box from Hoskins found Ryan Harley and he made space for a shot with lovely close control, before beating James Shea with a clinical low finish. At this stage, Exeter were threatening to take a grip on the game with a spell of good possession football. Wimbledon ended the half strongly by forcing a flurry of corners, but they failed to make the most of them and it was level at the break.
Wimbledon made a fast start to the second half with a high-tempo approach forcing several corners in quick succession. Though a goal never materialised from that pressure, at least there was no repeat early in the second half of the costly lapses against Plymouth and Cambridge.
As we approached the hour mark, it had become a tight affair with Wimbledon attempting to force the play, but meeting with stubborn resistance from the visitors. Francomb had been impressive throughout and Wimbledon came closest to creating chances when he was marching down the right and getting crosses in. Barry Fuller also offered great support down the right and the Dons threatened a second when he got in a good cross from the right that found Andy Barcham, but he fired over the crossbar.
Wimbledon made a double change up front with 24 minutes remaining as Ade Azeez and Lyle Taylor both entered the fray for Elliott and Akinfenwa. The Dons pushed more men forward with 20 minutes to go in a determined effort to grab a winner. Corner after corner was forced, but Exeter continued to defend resolutely as Wimbledon threw everything at them.
With 15 minutes left Sean Rigg was introduced for Barcham. It didn’t take long for Rigg to get involved as his outstretched boot just failed to meet a deep cross from Taylor. Robinson also headed just over after another corner from Francomb. There had been plenty of endeavour from Wimbledon in the second-half and Exeter had barely managed to get into the home side’s half such was the domination.
However, clear-cut chances had been at a premium for Wimbledon until what turned out to be the winner eight minutes from time. It came about after brilliant approach play from Taylor, who beat his marker and delivered a lovely cross that Azeez headed home emphatically from close range.
That was enough to win it and to get Wimbledon’s home campaign up and running.
AFC Wimbledon: James Shea, Barry Fuller, Paul Robinson, Karleigh Osborne, Jon Meades, Tom Beere, Jake Reeves, Andy Barcham (Sean Rigg), Tom Elliott (Ade Azeez), Bayo Akinfenwa (Lyle Taylor), George Francomb.