Lyle Taylor rediscovered his scoring touch with a fine double to breathe new life into AFC Wimbledon’s play-off hopes.
AFC Wimbledon were full value for the 2-1 victory at Adams Park as Neal Ardley’s men won a “six-pointer” in the hunt for a top-seven place, narrowing the gap on Gareth Ainsworth’s Wycombe.
It was a return to the sparkling form Wimbledon showed at the turn of the year during a run of seven wins in eight games and now anything could be possible in the run-in.
Neal Ardley had hinted in the build-up to this match that it would be an attacking Dons approach at Adams Park and his team selection certainly backed that up. Strikers Lyle Taylor, Rhys Murphy and Tom Elliott were all deployed up front as part of a return to a 4-3-3 formation.
Wimbledon made a bright start with good variation causing the hosts problems early on. The direct approach was always on with Tom Elliott winning everything in the air up front, but Dannie Bulman and Jake Reeves were also getting on the ball to establish good possession in midfield. One fine move inside five minutes ended with Barry Fuller flashing a fierce cross across the face of goal.
There was no reprieve for Wycombe in the 12th minute as Neal Ardley’s men made the all-important breakthrough. Barry Fuller won possession just inside Wycombe’s half and his pass into the area found Elliott, who appeared to be fouled in the area, but no penalty award followed and Taylor reacted quickest to steer home. Wycombe manager Gareth Ainsworth claimed there was a foul on a Wycombe player in the build-up and the game was then held up for several minutes with referee Brendan Malone injured and having to be replaced by Alan Young.
Holding onto the lead or even extending it perhaps depended upon Wimbledon maintaining a high tempo in the first half an hour that maybe took Wycombe by surprise. The advantage could have been greater too inside the first third of this match. Murphy came so close after Wycombe had failed to clear a corner when his fierce effort came back off the crossbar and Jon Meades struck the rebound over the bar. Roared on by a vociferous Dons travelling support, the chances just kept on coming. A sign of Wimbledon’s attacking intent was Meades rampaging forward and he shot over after a powerful charge forward.
In a first-half dominated by Wimbledon, it was so nearly 2-0 through that man Taylor, who produced a brilliant shot from an acute angle that Ryan Allsop just managed to palm away. Wycombe had failed to create a single chance in the first-half as the Dons completely controlled matters. Elliott’s towering presence formed a platform for several attacks, Wycombe simply unable to handle his all-action approach and another of his headers so nearly put Murphy clear through on goal, but he was just unable to reach it. The only time Wycombe threatened was when a long-range shot from Jerell Sellars was deflected wide.
It had been a hugely impressive first-half from the Dons, but the one regret was that the game should have been all over. In first-half injury-time Elliott and Taylor combined to set-up Murphy, but he blazed over the crossbar from just eight yards.
A similar second-half performance from Wimbledon would surely earn a priceless victory in the play-off race and the second-half continued with the Dons dominating. Frustratingly, a second goal continued to elude Wimbledon though. Yet again, the visitors came tantalisingly close when Paul Robinson’s header thudded back off the crossbar. That proved to be a turning point as Wycombe equalised in the 57th minute. There appeared to be little danger when the ball fell to Michael Harriman just outside the box, but he let fly with a fierce low effort that arrowed into the bottom corner.
Considering Wimbledon’s domination, it could have been a big setback, but the Dons continued to charge forward and the response earned reward 25 minutes from time. A smart turn from Murphy in the area produced a reckless challenge from Aaron Pierre and the only real option was for the referee to point to the spot. Following a delay due to Wycombe’s protests, Taylor kept his cool to send Allsop the wrong way and that signalled ecstatic scenes from the travelling Dons behind that goal.
In response, Wycombe finally started to exert some pressure and the hosts were appealing for a penalty of their own for a challenge on Sellars in the box, but the referee was unimpressed. With 13 minutes to go, Neal Ardley made a substitution with Ade Azeez entering the fray for Taylor, who deservedly earned a great ovation from the Wimbledon supporters. Azeez was so nearly in straight away, but he was flagged up for offside before he could go for goal.
Though Wycombe did put late pressure on, Wimbledon held firm with the back four of Meades, Robinson, Charles and Fuller defending doggedly to help earn a deserved three points and a maximum return that keeps Wimbledon’s season alive.
AFC Wimbledon: Kelle Roos, Barry Fuller, Jon Meades, Paul Robinson, Darius Charles, George Francomb, Dannie Bulman, Jake Reeves, Rhys Murphy (Sean Rigg), Tom Elliott, Lyle Taylor (Ade Azeez).