A swashbuckling display earned Wimbledon’s biggest home victory this season as Neal Ardley’s men got back to winning ways in style.
In front of a bumper crowd of 4,439, Lyle Taylor struck twice, but it was Wimbledon’s overall display that impressed during a 4-1 win as they displayed a ruthless edge in their bid for the play-offs.
On a day of numerous positives, 18-year-old Ryan Sweeney’s display shone like a beacon of hope for the future as the Dons academy product filled in superbly in defence.
Neal Ardley made four changes from the side that started against Yeovil with one of those enforced due to an injury to Karleigh Osborne. His knee injury, suffered in training on Thursday, meant that 18-year-old Ryan Sweeney was handed his first start of the season at centre-back. On-loan goalkeeper Kelle Roos came in for his debut for James Shea with Dannie Bulman and George Francomb both recalled in place of Callum Kennedy and David Fitzpatrick.
Wimbledon made a bright start, playing with a high tempo that caused Luton problems early on. Barry Fuller had a volley deflected wide, before Francomb sent over a free-kick that Tom Elliott headed across goal, but no one was able to get on the end of it. At the other end, there had been little to trouble Wimbledon in the first 20 minutes and Sweeney, making just his fourth first-team appearance, made a towering header that will have done no harm for his confidence.
There was a setback for Wimbledon in the 20th minute when Jake Reeves had to go off injured and he was replaced by Sean Rigg. However, the Dons earned a goal their opening play had deserved in the 23rd minute with Sweeney’s aerial prowess proving pivotal. The tall defender rose highest to reach a George Francomb corner and the ball was diverted in by Luton's Jack Marriott for an own goal.
Having made the early breakthrough, Wimbledon showed no signs of holding onto what they had and Neal Ardley’s men really grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck less than three minutes later. Andy Barcham, who had won the corner for Wimbledon’s opener, showed a clean pair of heels to Luton full-back Stephen O’Donnell and delivered a superb cross that fell nicely for Lyle Taylor and his header was deflected in for 2-0. Taylor had said in the build-up to this game that he didn’t care how he scored and no Dons fans around the Cherry Red Records Stadium were bothered too as they celebrated a valuable two-goal lead.
At this stage, Wimbledon were cruising, but perhaps a warning for the Dons was that Luton had come from 2-0 last season to equalise, before David Connolly’s late winner. Luton had also won at Wycombe last week with a performance that showed they’re not short of spirit. And in first-half injury-time the Dons needed Roos to rescue them when he got down well to deny Paul Benson. It had been the first chance Luton had created in the first-half of a game that Wimbledon had dominated.
If anyone was expecting a Luton fightback at the start of the second-half, they were mistaken as a rampant Wimbledon effectively sealed victory in a brilliant spell of just over two minutes. A third goal came in the 47th minute with Barcham again the instigator. The winger was simply unstoppable on the day, back to the early season form that made him such favourite with fans before his injury. Barcham sped down the left yet again and when his cross was only half cleared, Rigg’s fine volley already appeared to be heading in before it took a deflection.
Just over two minutes later and it was 4-0 when Francomb’s corner was met by a superb volley from Taylor, the striker netting his 13th goal of the season. Luton had barely created a chance of note so far and it was therefore a surprise when they got one back. It came in style too with Jack Marriott blasting home emphatically. However, that failed to change the momentum of this game as Wimbledon continued to dominate. Barcham was simply unstoppable with Luton’s right side having no answer to his power-packed runs down the flank. Though he did not score, Elliott was everywhere too up front, his tireless running and heading ability forming the basis for numerous attacks.
Paul Robinson, up from centre-back for a corner, almost scored his second league goal of the season, but Luton keeper Elliot Justham reacted well to save. At the other end, Luton did have the ball in the back of the net, but the flag was correctly up for offside, any Luton thoughts of an unlikely fightback extinguished.
Though Wimbledon failed to add to their tally on the day, the manner of victory was a big boost for everyone connected with the club after Yeovil and based on this performance anything is possible this season.
AFC Wimbledon: Kelle Roos, Barry Fuller, Paul Robinson, Ryan Sweeney, Jon Meades, Jake Reeves (Sean Rigg), Dannie Bulman, Andy Barcham, Tom Elliott (Ade Azeez), Lyle Taylor (Bayo Akinfenwa), George Francomb.
Picture credit: Stuart Butcher, Pro Sports Images.