AFC Wimbledon fought back twice to deny Millwall in a pulsating derby clash at the Cherry Red Records Stadium.
A brilliant header from Tom Elliott, his 10th goal this season, earned a 2-2 draw that put Wimbledon back on track after ending 2016 with two successive defeats.
In a match that was a hugely entertaining way to start the new year, Wimbledon produced a much-improved display that augers well for the rest of 2017.
Neal Ardley made four changes to his starting line-up after the defeat at Bristol Rovers on Saturday. Darius Charles came in for his first League One start since October for Chris Robertson with Dean Parrett, Sean Kelly and Lyle Taylor also earning recalls in place of Dannie Bulman, Tyrone Barnett and Andy Barcham. The changes meant that Jon Meades filled a central midfield role with Kelly given another chance on the left of defence.
Wimbledon came out of the blocks quickly and created a great early chance to score when Jake Reeves lofted a ball over the top to find Taylor just six yards out, but he headed straight into the arms of Millwall goalkeeper Jordan Archer. However, the Dons found themselves behind just a couple of minutes later to a goal they could do little about. Aiden O’Brien looked up and let fly with a fierce drive that bounced in off the underside of the crossbar.
An opening goal from Millwall was far from a sign of things to come though as Wimbledon responded strongly to that setback. With the Dons piling men forward, it was no surprise when the equaliser arrived in the 12th minute. Charles rose highest to get on the end of a corner from Parrett and Lyle Taylor was in the right place to head home from close range against his old club.
In an entertaining first-half, Wimbledon really took the game to their opponents. Jake Reeves, who showed plenty of creativity in midfield, sent through another lovely ball for Taylor, but he decided to cut back inside and the chance was gone. An even better opportunity followed when Kelly found space down the left and cut back for Parrett in the box, but he dragged his shot wide. It had been a fine spell of pressure from Wimbledon, but James Shea had to stay alert to keep his side level when he reacted well to save Lee Gregory’s header. Then Millwall’s top scorer Steve Morison should have done better after getting on the end of a cross from O’Brien, but he headed wide.
With five minutes left of the first-half, Wimbledon fell behind once again. Paul Robinson's header from a long ball was too short for Shea, allowing Morison to go through on goal and this time he made no mistake with a sublime lob making it 2-1. There had been nothing wrong with Wimbledon’s first-half display as they went in at the break behind, but Millwall had been more clinical in front of goal.
Yet again, the Dons fought back with a storming start to the second-half. Another fine delivery from a free-kick by Parrett picked out Charles at the back post, but his header flashed over the crossbar. However, it was only a temporary reprieve for Millwall as Wimbledon equalised in stunning style. Taylor, who produced a forward display full of verve and energy, showed his quality on the ball with a lovely cross from the right and Elliott gave it the finish it deserved with a superb diving header.
In a topsy-turvy encounter, Wimbledon seized control again and a great move brought a chance to make it 3-2. Taylor sent over another raking cross from the right that Elliott headed back, but Francomb's close-range effort was over the bar. Millwall responded with an aerial bombardment on Wimbledon’s box that almost yielded a third goal for the visitors. Paul Robinson could only divert a long ball back towards his own goal and Shea just managed to get his hand to it before it crossed the line with Meades completing the clearance. With several corners following in succession, Wimbledon needed to show plenty of defensive resilience, particularly when Gregory’s close-range shot was deflected over.
Midway through the second-half, Neal Ardley made his first change. Elliott, who had produced one of his trademark all-action displays, departed to a great ovation from the home faithful with Tyrone Barnett entering the fray. Dominic Poleon was also introduced for George Francomb with 15 minutes to play as Neal Ardley showed no sign of settling for a draw. A third goal almost followed for Wimbledon when a cross from Poleon eventually fell for Reeves, but his shot was deflected just wide.
A winner did not really look like coming in the latter stages, unsurprising considering how much energy had been put into this game by both teams. It was a game Wimbledon could take plenty from as they made life very difficult for an in-form Millwall side with a performance that augers well for the FA Cup tie at Sutton on Saturday.
AFC Wimbledon: James Shea, Barry Fuller, Sean Kelly, Paul Robinson, Darius Charles, George Francomb (Dominic Poleon), Jake Reeves, Jon Meades (Dannie Bulman), Dean Parrett, Tom Elliott (Tyrone Barnett), Lyle Taylor.