Neal Ardley’s men provided plenty of Christmas cheer for the fans today with a superb all-round team performance earning an emphatic victory against Port Vale.
Four days after visiting St George’s Hospital to deliver Christmas presents to young patients, the players served up gifts for supporters with goals from Dominic Poleon, Tom Elliott, Tyrone Barnett and Chris Robertson securing a 4-0 win.
It consolidated a top-10 place for Wimbledon in League One during a brilliant 2016, the victory rounding off the calendar year at home in style.
Neal Ardley made two changes to his starting line-up after defeat in Buckinghamshire last time out. One of those was enforced with Sean Kelly coming in for the injured Jon Meades and the other was tactical with Lyle Taylor restored in a three-pronged attack, Dean Parrett having to settle for a place on the bench.
Vale came out of the traps quickly and it needed last-ditch defending from Wimbledon to stop them taking an early lead. Firstly, the Dons just managed to scramble a shot from Rigino Cicilia wide, before it needed Barry Fuller to clear a close-range effort from Alex Jones off the line from the subsequent corner.
Early pressure from Vale was not a sign of things to come though as Wimbledon created a host of chances in the first half an hour. Dominic Poleon was a real livewire up front and his run and cross set-up the first hint of a chance for Jake Reeves, but he blazed over the crossbar. Then Tom Elliott headed just over after a dangerous corner from George Francomb was swung in.
For a 20-minute spell in the first-half, it became all about Vale goalkeeper Jak Alnwick as he denied Wimbledon time and time again. His first save came after good link-up play between Tom Elliott and Poleon set-up Taylor, who stung the palms of the Vale keeper with a fine shot. There was even better to come from Alnwick when he dived to his left to divert Taylor’s powerful drive wide. With Wimbledon’s front three now making life very difficult for the visitors, Poleon tried his luck with a deft chip that Alnwick acrobatically tipped just over.
As we progressed towards half-time, the momentum continued for Wimbledon, but Alnwick continued to resist anything thrown at him. Most notably, he saved brilliantly from point-blank range to deny Chris Robertson after Elliott had flicked on Francomb’s corner. It would be the last contribution from Francomb as he departed injured with Dean Parrett replacing him. As the half-time whistle sounded, there had been nothing wrong with Wimbledon’s first-half performance, but Alnwick had refused to be beaten.
The second-half continued in the same fashion with Wimbledon continuing to dominate and reward came in the 53rd minute. Sean Kelly found space on the left after combining well with Taylor and he cut the ball back smartly for Poleon, who diverted it home from close-range. It was the least Wimbledon deserved and with Neal Ardley’s men continuing to pile forward, a second goal seemed inevitable. The home faithful did not have to wait long to celebrate the cushion of a second goal. Parrett swung in a dangerous corner that was perfect for Elliott to meet with a powerful header that left Alnwick with no chance.
Now 2-0 down, Vale at last started to venture out of their own half. Despite not threatening since the first few minutes, it needed James Shea to pull off a brilliant save to avoid a potentially nervy conclusion for Wimbledon. Shea did brilliantly to tip a shot from Nathan Smith onto the crossbar, before reacting well to stop the ball crossing the line after it rebounded off him.
Vale’s near miss did not result in too many shaky moments for Wimbledon as the home side regained superiority and there was the bonus of Andy Barcham entering the fray after injury with Poleon the man to make way. There was better to come as Wimbledon finished with a flourish. Just minutes after his introduction, substitute Tyrone Barnett turned smartly and produced a lovely left-footed finish to make it 3-0 after Taylor set-up the chance. Then Barcham shot just wide as Wimbledon threatened a fourth.
There was still time for Robertson to head home his first for the club with an impressive header from Dean Parrett’s corner. With victory consolidating a place in the League One top-ten, it was a great way to round off the calendar year at home and it sets the Dons up nicely for away trips to Southend United and Bristol Rovers.
AFC Wimbledon: James Shea, Barry Fuller, Sean Kelly, Paul Robinson, Chris Robertson, George Francomb (Dean Parrett), Jake Reeves, Dannie Bulman, Dominic Poleon (Andy Barcham), Tom Elliott (Tyrone Barnett), Lyle Taylor.