AFC Wimbledon’s eight-match unbeaten league run came to an end this afternoon with an injury-time header from James Hanson winning it for Bradford City.
The 3-2 victory for the visitors appeared unlikely midway through the second-half with Wimbledon taking a 2-1 lead through a Lyle Taylor penalty.
However, Hanson’s header bagged all three points for Bradford after a pulsating battle between two in-form sides, which was played in front of a bumper crowd of 4,826.
The Dons had looked to be heading for all three points when Lyle Taylor struck from 12 yards in the 68th minute, before referee Tim Robinson decided to award a spot-kick at the other end – converted by James Hanson. And Hanson rubbed salt into the wounds with his late winner, the striker heading home Stephen Darby's cross.
Neal Ardley made three changes after the win at Peterborough with Paul Robinson, Lyle Taylor and Dannie Bulman all back in the starting line-up in place of Chris Robertson, Chris Whelpdale and Tom Beere.
Wimbledon made the worst possible start against in-form opponents with Bradford securing the lead inside three minutes. Nicky Law was allowed space to get in behind down the Bradford left and his pull-back was met by Jordy Hiwula, his shot finding the net with a deflection to leave goalkeeper James Shea left with no chance.
The Dons responded well initially by creating an instant opportunity to equalise. Will Nightingale delivered a lovely through ball to pick out Taylor’s run in behind and he shot just wide of the target. Then Taylor and George Francomb linked-up well to create a shooting chance for Andy Barcham, but his goal-bound effort was blocked. In a free-flowing start, Bradford were finding gaps, particularly down their left once again, and it needed a last-ditch interception from Robinson to stop a dangerous cross finding its target.
Wimbledon struck back in the 18th minute with yet another goal coming from a set-piece. There was still a lot of work to do for Elliott when he got on the end of a Francomb free-kick to the back post, but with the angle diminishing, he cracked a brilliant strike into the roof of the net. Bradford goalkeeper Colin Doyle, previously untested, seemed bewildered by the velocity of the strike as he was beaten at his near post – and that signalled another chant of “We’ve got Tom Elliott” from the Dons faithful.
Buoyed by the equaliser, Wimbledon now powered forward with Elliott’s towering presence offering a great platform for attacks. However, it was such an open first-half that it was hard to predict what would come next and Hiwula came so close to his second when his shot trickled agonisingly just wide for Bradford. At the other end, Elliott blazed well over the crossbar and still got his name sung by the fans! That perhaps summed up his notable first-half performance and as the first-half whistle sounded, Wimbledon could take great encouragement from a fine fightback.
Wimbledon endeavoured to grab the initiative early in the second-half and a superb team move almost provided the edge. Bulman won the ball deep in his own half and picked out Jake Reeves, who switched the ball to Taylor on the right flank and his cross flashed across the face of goal with Doyle unable to get there. Another fine move involving Francomb, Reeves and Taylor ended with a shooting opportunity for Jon Meades on the overlap, but he scuffed his shot under pressure.
Though James Shea had to show his qualities to take a couple of dangerous crosses with the presence of James Hanson lurking, Wimbledon had looked the likelier to score a second and so it proved. A trademark burst forward down the left by Barcham created space and his precision pass found Reeves, who was fouled in the box by Josh Cullen. Lyle Taylor stepped up and though his penalty was driven virtually in the same spot as against Swindon – to the right of the goalkeeper – this time it nestled in the bottom corner with Doyle diving the wrong way.
A spirited response followed from Bradford and they restored parity 12 minutes from time after referee Tim Robinson decided to award another penalty. With the ball pinging around the area, Robinson adjudged that James Shea had impeded a Bradford player and Hanson made no mistake from 12 yards. Neal Ardley made a double change shortly afterwards with Tyrone Barnett and Tom Beere introduced for Tom Elliott and George Francomb. Chris Whelpdale was also introduced for Taylor.
It looked to be heading for a point each heading into injury-time, but Hanson changed all that with his dramatic winner. In a frantic finale, Barnett headed just wide and there was no further chance to salvage a share of the spoils. The Dons will now be aiming to bounce back in the FA Cup at Bury next Saturday.
AFC Wimbledon: James Shea, Barry Fuller, Paul Robinson, Will Nightingale, Jon Meades, Dannie Bulman, Jake Reeves, George Francomb (Tom Beere), Tom Elliott (Tyrone Barnett), Lyle Taylor (Chris Whelpdale), Andy Barcham.