An extra-time goal from Lyle Taylor earned a first visit to Wembley for Wimbledon in a competitive match since the club was reformed – and it was fully deserved after a thrilling fightback.
After falling 2-0 down on the night, goals from substitute Bayo Akinfenwa and Taylor secured a 2-2 draw to earn a 3-2 aggregate victory. The Dons also had to contend with a bizarre delay as the lights went out at Accrington with seven minutes to go.
There was no shortage of quality or character on a memorable night in the history of AFC Wimbledon, the 1,067 travelling Dons rewarded for great support on the night.
Despite substitutes having made such a vital impression in the first leg on Saturday, Neal Ardley decided to keep the same starting 11. And his players made a bright start with Lyle Taylor showing promising early signs. First, Taylor showed fine individual skill to create space for himself, but his shot was too close to Accrington goalkeeper Ross Etheridge. Then Taylor popped up on the right flank and struck a decent angled drive that was deflected wide. Andy Barcham also created space for a shot, but his goal-bound effort was blocked.
There was a worrying moment 15 minutes in when Tom Davies was picked out at the far post from a free-kick, but his header was straight into the grateful arms of Kelle Roos. Billy Kee also had a heading opportunity 10 yards out, but his effort was a couple of yards wide. As we approached the half hour mark, Accrington were gradually exerting more pressure, but it was Wimbledon who had more cutting edge. Taylor was proving to be a constant nuisance to the hosts and it was his smart flick that set-up a good shooting chance for Sean Rigg, but he volleyed wide.
Though Accrington had plenty of possession, they had struggled to fashion clear-cut chances against a Wimbledon side in resolute mood once again at the back. However, that all changed in the 38th minute as Rigg was penalised for a foul in the penalty area and Josh Windass sent Roos the wrong way from 12 yards. There followed a quick response from Wimbledon to that setback and Rigg had an immediate chance to make amends when he created space for himself with a lovely piece of skill in the area, but he blazed over.
With Wimbledon having failed to really test Etheridge in the first-half, Neal Ardley decided it was time to call for Bayo Akinfenwa and he replaced Elliott. Maybe Akinfenwa could make the difference again after his excellent contribution as a substitute in the first leg. A decent shooting chance followed early in the second-half for Rigg, but he again fired over the crossbar. However, it was only a half chance and Wimbledon had yet to fashion a clear-cut chance as we approached the hour mark.
It all looked to be going against Wimbledon when the hosts marched in front on aggregate, thanks to a superb individual strike from Piero Mingoia, who fired home from 25 yards. Neal Ardley made another change midway through the second-half and it was a real positive change as Ade Azeez was introduced for Rigg. All of a sudden, the Dons were going for broke and it paid off in style with 22 minutes left. Captain Barry Fuller provided the spark as he showed great determination to get down the wing and his quality cross was given the finish it deserved by Akinfenwa, the striker heading home emphatically.
Now, it was a completely different game and Azeez headed just wide, before Barcham’s header was just saved by Etheridge. The home crowd were getting edgy with Wimbledon having their best spell of the match and maybe Neal Ardley’s men could do it without requiring extra-time. There was still danger at the other end though with Billy Kee rifling in a shot that Roos did well to save.
It needed Darius Charles to make an impressive last-gasp intervention from a cross with several Accrington players waiting in the middle to finish off. However, the Dons could have won it through that man Akinfenwa, who volleyed just wide with an absolute screamer. That was it and Wimbledon’s memorable League 2 season would now come down to half an hour extra-time in Lancashire and maybe even penalties.
Wimbledon started extra-time in determined mood to ensure that no penalties would be required and Akinfenwa again threatened to make the difference. His clever flick fell nicely for Azeez, who struck a fine effort that was cleared off the line. However, there was no reprieve for Accrington in the 114th minute when the Dons struck to devastating effect. Jake Reeves picked up the ball and showed fine skill to go clean through on goal and though his shot was saved by Etheridge, Taylor followed up and kept his cool to stab home. Accrington were all over the place now and Azeez so nearly got there before Etheridge to make it three.
However, two was eventually enough for Wimbledon on the night, but only after that floodlight failure, which forced a delay to the game. With the referee ordering the players back after the lights came back on, the Dons comfortably held on to earn a deserved place at Wembley. Even two late chances squandered by Azeez mattered little. What an achievement for Neal Ardley’s men and reward for a great second half to the season.
AFC Wimbledon: Kelle Roos, Barry Fuller, Callum Kennedy, Dannie Bulman, Paul Robinson, Jake Reeves, Tom Elliott (Bayo Akinfenwa), Sean Rigg (Ade Azeez), Andy Barcham (Tom Beere), Darius Charles, Lyle Taylor.