AFC Wimbledon marched to a third successive league win for the first time in over two years with an emphatic victory against Hartlepool.
A 2-0 victory was fully merited and the margin of victory would undoubtedly have been more without the heroics of former Sunderland goalkeeper Trevor Carson.
Lyle Taylor again led the line brilliantly and scored with a goal of the season contender after a Callum Kennedy free-kick had earlier made the breakthrough.
With Wimbledon having won two games in succession on the road, it was little surprise that Neal Ardley made just one change and that was enforced. Sean Rigg missed out due to a dead leg and that meant Callum Kennedy started in the left midfield position where he finished the game at York City.
With Hartlepool having triumphed 1-0 at Dagenham in their last away game, it was clear what their main tactic was going to be as they sat deep and allowed Wimbledon to come at them. In-form Taylor was almost celebrating another goal in the eighth minute when he struck a superb first time effort from a George Francomb corner that just fizzed wide.
It was all Wimbledon in the first 15 minutes, though Hartlepool’s defensive approach made it tough to create chances. However, the Dons took the lead through an unlikely source with Kennedy claiming his first goal of the season. Kennedy’s free-kick delivery from the right was absolute quality and though Taylor almost got a touch, the ball eluded everyone and flashed past Hartlepool goalkeeper Trevor Carson to make it 1-0. A poignant celebration from Kennedy followed as he looked up to the sky in tribute to his father, who died recently.
There was no let-up from Wimbledon after taking the lead. Francomb, who has shown signs of recapturing his best form recently, turned inside smartly and struck a left-footed drive that Carson only just managed to turn wide. From the subsequent corner, Francomb swung in a lovely ball that Taylor came close to connecting with at the back post. It was a temporary reprieve for Hartlepool as a second goal arrived in superb style in the 28th minute. Showing fantastic movement once again, Taylor got in behind Hartlepool’s defence, but the angle seemed to be well against him when he took aim from the right. However, the finish was inch-perfect as Taylor produced a wonderful half volley that bounced in off a post.
As we approached half-time, Francomb shot just wide and the Dons faithful were relieved to see Taylor get back up on his feet after he was on the receiving end of a tough challenge. With Kennedy and Francomb providing good balance on the flanks and Dannie Bulman and Jake Reeves controlling matters in midfield, Wimbledon were well on top. With Azeez and Taylor causing problems up top, it had certainly been one of Wimbledon’s best halves of football this season. Apart from one shot that Wimbledon goalkeeper Ben Wilson grasped with the minimum of fuss, Hartlepool had barely mustered an attack and the Dons were full value for a 2-0 half-time lead.
There was little change at the start of the second half as Wimbledon continued to pour forward. Carson scrambled across his goal to just about tip an effort from Ade Azeez wide as Wimbledon threatened a third goal.
With an hour on the clock, Neal Ardley introduced Bayo Akinfenwa for Azeez, who had produced a good shift for his side once again. It wasn’t long before Akinfenwa was in the thick of the action and he so nearly got his head to a lovely ball from Kennedy after good work from Jon Meades. Wimbledon sensed there was more goals in this game for them and it was so nearly 3-0 midway through the second half. Kennedy, who produced brilliant crosses all afternoon, swung over a lovely delivery from the right that Taylor met with a good low header, but Carson managed to tip behind for a corner.
As Hartlepool were offering nothing as an attacking force, Wimbledon’s midfielders also started to pile forward and Reeves had a goal-bound shot just blocked after he got in behind the visiting defence. It should have been all over with 16 minutes left after Taylor was brought down in the area by Hartlepool substitute Kudus Oyenuga for a penalty. Taylor beat Carson from 12 yards, but his well struck effort hit a post and Bulman’s follow-up was saved brilliantly by the former Sunderland goalkeeper. Then from the subsequent corner, Akinfenwa – and seemingly everyone in the ground – thought he had made it 3-0 when he headed home a Francomb corner, but the referee ruled it out for an apparent foul.
Having been let off the hook, Hartlepool all of a sudden sensed they might get something out of it and Wilson saved well from Scott Fenwick, before Oyenuga struck an acrobatic effort just over the bar. With eight minutes to play, Taylor was withdrawn to a standing ovation from the home fans after another excellent forward display and Tom Elliott took his place.
Though the Dons failed to add to the score, it was a very comfortable victory on the day and it sets Wimbledon up well for an FA Cup tie at home to Forest Green next Saturday.
AFC Wimbledon: Ben Wilson, Barry Fuller, Paul Robinson, Karleigh Osborne, Jon Meades, Dannie Bulman, Jake Reeves (Christian Toonga), George Francomb, Callum Kennedy, Lyle Taylor (Tom Elliott), Ade Azeez (Bayo Akinfenwa).