AFC Wimbledon made a brave exit from the Capital One Cup tonight with Neal Ardley’s men pushing Championship club Cardiff all the way.
A moment of sheer quality from Craig Noone was the only difference between the two sides as Wimbledon bowed out 1-0 in gallant fashion with 550 Dons fans among the 6,314 crowd.
On the back of Saturday’s disappointing outcome against Plymouth, it showed exactly what Wimbledon’s class of 2015/16 are capable of producing. At times in the second-half, Wimbledon took the game to a side that were in the Premier League two seasons ago and the Dons could even have forced extra-time as substitute Tom Elliott headed against the crossbar late on.
Both teams made several changes for this cup tie that took place just three days after the opening Football League games. Neal Ardley made four changes to his starting line-up as part of a switch to a 4-4-2 formation. Callum Kennedy, Will Nightingale, Sean Rigg and Jon Meades all got opportunities from the start with Andy Barcham, Karleigh Osborne, Tom Elliott and Jake Reeves having to settle for places on the bench. Cardiff manager Russell Slade made seven changes, but it was still a strong starting line-up with Craig Noone, who scored as a substitute against Fulham, included.
Wimbledon sat deep early on as Cardiff pressed forward in numbers, but the Dons restricted their opponents to very little. On-loan Newcastle winger Sammy Ameobi set-up a sight of goal for Eoin Doyle, but he headed over the crossbar. Then Aron Gunnarsson cracked a decent effort over the crossbar from 20 yards. However, Wimbledon started to come into it as the half progressed. Callum Kennedy, who made a bright start down the left, put over a dangerous cross that so nearly picked out George Francomb at the back post.
There was no sign of the Dons being overawed against a club two levels above. Backed by a great away support, Wimbledon fashioned the best chance of the first half hour after an incisive team move. Kennedy, Sean Rigg and Lyle Taylor combined to provide a shooting chance for Jon Meades, who bore down on goal against his old club. However, the angle was acute in fairness and Meades dragged his shot wide. Confidence was building in the Wimbledon ranks after a very encouraging first half hour.
James Shea did not have a meaningful save to make during that spell with the centre back pairing of Nightingale and Paul Robinson offering good protection, but it had not just been about containment for Wimbledon as the Dons looked to build attacks at any opportunity. However, there was work for Shea to do in the 41st minute when he had to be alert to get a hand to a low shot from Ameobi. Just when it looked like the Dons would survive until half-time, Craig Noone had other ideas. George Francomb gave away a free-kick 20 yards out and Noone struck a superb effort into the top corner that left Shea with no chance.
Wimbledon’s start to the second half suggested the players were in no mood to settle for a bowing out gracefully. Akinfenwa headed over the crossbar after reaching a George Francomb corner first and then Lyle Taylor struck a fierce shot just over the crossbar. The game became stretched for the first time at this stage as the Dons piled forward in search of an equaliser. Ameobi made a quick break that almost caught out Wimbledon and then the impressive Noone struck a sweet angled shot just wide. Francomb was also required to charge down a goal-bound strike from former Braintree forward Alex Revell.
The Dons really went for it around the hour mark with an impressive spell of attacking that got the travelling Wimbledon support making plenty of noise. An equaliser almost came when Francomb took a quick throw in to find Meades in space and his cross was so nearly steered into the net by Taylor. Rigg showed plenty of dash down the wing throughout, building on his fine cameo against Plymouth Argyle. The left winger showed too much pace for the Cardiff defence when he burst down the flank and put over a lovely cross that Taylor just failed to reach again.
During a lively second half from Wimbledon, Akinfenwa also headed over from close range after he found space from a Francomb corner. Neal Ardley made a bold treble change with 20 minutes to play as Andy Barcham, Tom Elliott and Ade Azeez came on for Francomb, Akinfenwa and Taylor.
A sign of Wimbledon’s good display on the night was that Cardiff appeared content to stay back and settle for a 1-0 win. A rare second half foray forward from Cardiff came on the break and James Shea made a wonderful save to deny Kenwyn Jones. An equaliser so nearly came when Elliott headed against the crossbar from a Francomb corner. It was so close to forcing extra-time, but Wimbledon could be so proud of a gallant exit on the night.
AFC Wimbledon: James Shea, Barry Fuller, Callum Kennedy, Dannie Bulman, Will Nightingale, Paul Robinson, George Francomb (Andy Barcham), Bayo Akinfenwa (Tom Elliott), Sean Rigg, Jake Reeves, Lyle Taylor (Ade Azeez).