Substitute Tom Beere emerged as AFC Wimbledon’s unlikely hero with his injury-time winner earning a first leg victory for Neal Ardley’s men.
The 21-year-old midfielder, who was loaned out to Hampton & Richmond Borough earlier this season, fired home to secure a 1-0 win against Accrington Stanley.
It was reward for Wimbledon’s persistence as they kept on plugging away against tough opposition to take a step closer to Wembley.
For the second week running, a Wimbledon academy product made the difference after the winner from Toyosi Olusanya last Saturday.
Unsurprisingly, Wimbledon’s starting 11 was far removed from the side that started against Newport County last Saturday. It was very close to the same 11 from Stevenage away with the only difference involving the inclusion of Andy Barcham, who replaced the injured George Francomb.
Roared on by a vocal home support, Wimbledon made a start that was full of energy and the visitors struggled to contain Neal Ardley’s men. Lyle Taylor, who scored twice against Accrington during the 4-3 win in October, showed sharp movement to create the first chance for himself, but his shot from an acute angle flashed wide.
Callum Kennedy was proving to be a good option on the left in the early exchanges and he twice nearly made a difference in a matter of minutes. First, he delivered a lovely free-kick from the left that Tom Elliott rose emphatically to meet, but his header bounced just wide. Then Kennedy tried his luck from 30 yards, but Accrington goalkeeper Ross Etheridge watched it go wide.
As we approached the midway point of the first-half, Accrington started to establish good possession and John Coleman’s men fashioned their first chance when Josh Windass found space and delivered a fine cross that picked out Billy Kee, but his header lacked power and it was tamely wide. It was a tough spell for Wimbledon around the half hour mark as Accrington started to dominate possession. The pressure resulted in a free-kick in a great position for the visitors after Dannie Bulman fouled Kee just outside the area, but Windass wasted it by shooting well over.
Wimbledon had struggled to build on the early promise as half-time approached with the visitors offering stubborn resistance to the all-action strike pair of Taylor and Elliott. And impressive possession football from the visitors meant that Wimbledon struggled to work up a head of steam. It needed Paul Robinson to make a fine interception to stop Windass marching through on goal just before the break and if anything the half-time whistle came at a good time for Wimbledon.
The Dons struggled to put together attacking momentum in the first 15 minutes of the second-half and that meant Neal Ardley made a change with Bayo Akinfenwa introduced up front for Tom Elliott, who had produced another tireless display up front. However, it was Accrington substitute Tarique Fosu who so nearly made an instant impact with Wimbledon just managing to survive. Fosu turned inside and struck a low effort that Kelle Roos just managed to tip onto a post and it rolled away to safety.
Akinfenwa’s introduction did spark improvement from Wimbledon. The striker threatened to do it himself when he got behind the Accrington defence, but his shot was deflected over the crossbar. Then Jake Reeves tried his luck with an effort that drifted just wide. Neal Ardley made another change up front with 14 minutes to play as Ade Azeez was introduced for Lyle Taylor. Elliott and Taylor had struggled to get any space in attacking positions, but maybe the double change up front would give Accrington something different to think about.
Wimbledon really piled the pressure on in the final stages with crosses put into the box at every opportunity. With Accrington struggling to get out of their own half, Wimbledon sensed a vital late goal was there for the taking. It so nearly came in the final minute of normal time when Akinfenwa controlled a ball forward brilliantly and struck a superb drive that bounced off the inside of a post and away to safety. It was so unlucky for Wimbledon, but it gave the Dons plenty of encouragement to keep going for the winner.
The big moment arrived deep into injury-time through an unlikely source. Following good work from Akinfenwa, Beere’s goal-bound effort was blocked, but he showed great perseverance to follow-up and send a low shot into the bottom corner. That signalled ecstatic scenes around the stadium, but the Dons were not quite there. It needed a fine save from Kelle Roos to maintain the advantage, but Wimbledon held out to earn a slender advantage for the away leg to come on Wednesday.
AFC Wimbledon: Kelle Roos, Barry Fuller, Paul Robinson, Darius Charles, Callum Kennedy, Jake Reeves, Dannie Bulman, Andy Barcham, Tom Elliott (Bayo Akinfenwa), Lyle Taylor (Ade Azeez), Sean Rigg (Tom Beere).