Lyle Taylor struck a brilliant second-half double to earn a hard-fought point for Wimbledon that had seemed highly unlikely at half-time.
Taylor showed all of his forward qualities with two great strikes as Wimbledon battled back from 2-0 down to earn a 2-2 draw at Rodney Parade.
The Dons produced everything that had been lacking in the first-half and they could even have snatched all three points in the latter stages.
Neal Ardley decided to shuffle his pack for the match on a rain-sodden pitch with five changes made from the side that started against Stevenage. James Shea, Andy Barcham, Barry Fuller, Christian Toonga and Ade Azeez all came into the starting 11 in place of Ben Wilson, Callum Kennedy, Bayo Akinfenwa, Jake Reeves and Sean Rigg.
Wimbledon made a shaky start with Newport forcing the visitors to defend deep. There was a blow for the Dons when Paul Robinson had to go off injured with a head injury and by the time he returned from the tunnel bandaged up nine minutes later his side were 1-0 down. Alex Rodman picked the ball up 25 yards out and with no challenge forthcoming he let fly with a fierce effort that left Shea with no chance.
While Robinson was out of the equation, Fuller had to fill in at centre-back temporarily with Francomb switching to right-back. It meant that the Dons were getting completely overrun in midfield and it was so nearly two when Oliver McBurnie had a shot deflected just wide. With Robinson back on, it made no difference initially as Newport continued to dominate. The only time Wimbledon threatened in the first third of the game was when Francomb sent over a cross that Azeez reached first, but he was unable to divert it towards goal.
It was 2-0 just before the half hour mark in what was an unfortunate moment for Robinson. In a race for the ball with McBurnie, Robinson slid in and diverted the ball past Shea and the Dons now had a mountain to climb in South Wales. There may have been a touch of fortune about it, but Newport were full value for the 2-0 lead. Neal Ardley reacted by making an attacking change with Bayo Akinfenwa replacing Toonga in the 35th minute. But it almost got worse for Wimbledon when Lennell John-Lewis rounded Shea, but he shot just wide from an acute angle.
Finally, the Dons tried a shot at goal in first-half injury-time with Francomb striking a fierce goal-bound effort that was just blocked. The half-time whistle shrilled with Wimbledon 2-0 down and Neal Ardley’s men needed a dramatic improvement if they were to get anything from this game.
That’s exactly what happened though as the Dons made an almost instant impression after half-time. Francomb delivered a smart corner towards the edge of the box and Taylor struck a superb first-time effort that left previously untested Newport goalkeeper Joe Day with no chance. All of a sudden, it was a different game now and Akinfenwa headed just wide from close range. There was so nearly an instant response from Newport when a cross from McBurnie flashed across goal.
In a significant change from the first half, now everyone in a green shirt wanted the ball, Wimbledon piling players forward in search of an equaliser. Barcham showed plenty of energy on his return and he sent over a fine cross that was headed over the bar by Akinfenwa. Azeez also had a decent chance, but he fired into the side-netting. Second-half Newport attacks were rare, but Newport thought they had a third goal to seal it when Lenell John-Lewis steered home, but it was correctly ruled out for offside.
With 20 minutes to go, Tom Elliott entered the fray for Azeez and there was an even more attacking change from Neal Ardley minutes later when David Fitzpatrick was sent on for Karleigh Osborne. Wimbledon’s bold attacking approach was rewarded 10 minutes from time with a goal of real quality. Barcham put through a lovely ball that sent Taylor racing clear on goal and he slotted home with a composed finish. What a turnaround it had been from Wimbledon and it could have got even better in the latter stages. Akinfenwa headed just wide and this time Day was equal to an effort from Taylor, who had his header well saved.
In the final minute of normal time, Elliott did well to get a header in on goal, but it was well saved by Day. Though Wimbledon could not quite force a late winner during four minutes of injury-time, it had been a memorable fightback to savour for the 247 Dons fans who made the trip to South Wales.
AFC Wimbledon: James Shea, Barry Fuller, Dannie Bulman, Paul Robinson, George Francomb, Jon Meades, Ade Azeez (Tom Elliott), Andy Barcham, Karleigh Osborne (David Fitzpatrick), Christian Toonga (Bayo Akinfenwa), Lyle Taylor.