AFC Wimbledon crashed out of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy at the first hurdle tonight after squandering a 2-0 lead against Plymouth.
In a completely different match to the league meeting between these two sides on the opening day, Plymouth again proved too strong in a 3-2 win that looked highly unlikely after a bold start from Wimbledon.
Wimbledon paid the price for a crazy spell in the second half – similar to the recent midweek collapse against Cambridge - when the momentum completely changed.
As expected, Neal Ardley decided to shuffle his pack with five changes made from the side that started against Exeter City on Saturday.
Ade Azeez and Lyle Taylor, a strike pairing that conjured up Saturday’s late winner, were given an opportunity to link up from the start with Tom Elliott having to settle for a place on the bench and Bayo Akinfenwa rested altogether on this occasion. Ben Harrison, who started last season’s game against Southend at the same stage of the competition, came in for his first start of 2015/16 with Jon Meades missing out due to a bruised foot. Will Nightingale and Sean Rigg also started the game in place of Paul Robinson and George Francomb.
The Dons made a very bright start with Azeez and Taylor showing the fluent forward form that had been so impressive in the latter stages against Exeter. Taylor again found space down the left and swung over a lovely cross to the back post that was met by Azeez, but this time he headed over. Taylor then produced a fine pass to give Azeez space just outside the area, but he was crowded out. However, it was only a temporary reprieve for Plymouth as Wimbledon opened the scoring in the sixth minute.
It was a goal that was a tribute to the perseverance of Andy Barcham. The winger cut inside and unleashed a shot that Plymouth goalkeeper Luke McCormick found too hot to handle and though he also saved Barcham’s follow-up, Azeez struck from close range with a fine poacher’s goal. In response, Plymouth tested the Dons with a succession of free-kicks. Peter Hartley thought he had netted the equaliser when he headed home from a Graham Carey delivery, but the flag was up for an infringement. Then Jake Jervis produced a header from another Carey cross that James Shea reacted well to save.
With Will Nightingale producing a fine first-half display at the heart of defence, Plymouth had so far been restricted to threatening from set-pieces. And Wimbledon doubled the advantage with a superbly worked goal in the 25th minute. Azeez and Beere combined well to find Taylor in space just outside the area and he took one touch, before letting fly with a powerful low drive that left McCormick with no chance. It had been a first half that Wimbledon had impressed in and this time they had the goals to show for it after dominating the first 45 minutes of the previous league encounter.
There was a setback for Wimbledon in the 35th minute when Beere had to go off injured and he was replaced by 18-year-old Dan Gallagher, who was making just his second first-team appearance – the other having also came against Plymouth in April.
The vocal Plymouth away following in the John Green Stand had a goal to celebrate shortly afterwards when Jervis was put though one-on-one with Shea and he kept his cool with a clinical low finish.
It had been a first-half high in entertainment value as both sides went on the offensive and the free-flowing nature of this game continued after half-time. Wimbledon made a half-time change with David Fitzpatrick introduced for Barcham.
Azeez had a great chance to make it 3-1 shortly into the second half, but he fired over the crossbar and the Dons striker almost had another opportunity after good work by Taylor, but he just failed to reach the ball. There was another injury blow for the Dons with Gallagher, who only came on 10 minutes before the break, making way for George Francomb.
After being in such a promising position at 2-1 up and looking to make it three, the game was turned on its head with two Plymouth goals in three minutes. The first came after good work down the left by Jervis, who fired over a lovely cross that Ryan Brunt met with a fine low header. There was worse to come for the Dons as a cross from the right by Jervis was only half cleared and Carl McHugh powered home emphatically. At this stage, the Dons were even struggling to stay within range and Jervis cracked a shot from just outside the area that fizzed wide.
Francomb attempted to inject some life into a stunned Wimbledon side with bold runs down the right, but the Dons struggled to create anything meaningful. Jake Reeves shot over with 15 minutes to go, but Wimbledon needed to do better if they were to force penalties.
However, the Dons struggled to crank up the pressure on the visitors and Plymouth held on fairly comfortably in the end.
AFC Wimbledon: James Shea, Barry Fuller, Will Nightingale, Karleigh Osborne, Ben Harrison, Tom Beere (Dan Gallagher, George Francomb), Jake Reeves, Andy Barcham (David Fitzpatrick), Ade Azeez, Lyle Taylor, Sean Rigg.