Bayo strikes late on to keep play-off hopes alive
Substitute Bayo Akinfenwa struck a dramatic late winner to earn a vital victory for AFC Wimbledon in the play-off race.
Akinfenwa’s looping header earned a 2-1 win at the home of a Plymouth side chasing automatic promotion and it was Wimbledon’s fourth victory in five seasons at Home Park.
More importantly, it was a big three points in Wimbledon’s play-off chase and rewarded the 399 travelling Dons fans who made the long trip.
Neal Ardley made just one change from the side that so impressed in victory at Wycombe Wanderers last Saturday. In a return to a more traditional 4-4-2, Andy Barcham was restored to the starting 11 with Rhys Murphy having to settle for a place on the bench.
The Dons were so fortunate to survive just 23 seconds after the first whistle when Jake Jervis got in behind and set-up Graham Carey, who struck a fierce effort that beat Kelle Roos, but bounced back off the crossbar and away to safety. Following that near miss, Wimbledon eased the pressure with an attack of their own and Paul Robinson so nearly got on the end of a well delivered corner from George Francomb.
Following the early scare, Wimbledon started to get on the ball in midfield with Jake Reeves and Dannie Bulman combining well. Barcham was bright early on as he attempted to make the most of his recall. However, Carey once again showed his danger after cutting in from the flank when he unleashed a powerful drive that flashed over the crossbar. However, the Dons defended well in the first half an hour with only Carey’s first minute shot threatening an opener. In particular, Darius Charles got in some vital interceptions to once again show his defensive qualities.
As we approached the half hour came a pivotal moment in the match. There was relief for Wimbledon when Kelle Roos missed a corner, but no one in a Plymouth shirt was there to convert and then in one swift movement Wimbledon took full advantage. The ball was worked to Jake Reeves and he sent a lovely defence-splitting pass through for Lyle Taylor, who found the back of the net with a composed finish. It was reward for a resolute away display from Wimbledon so far, Plymouth unable to get in behind with any regularity. Crosses continued to come in, but Robinson and Charles were equal to most of them.
Plymouth ended the half strongly though and had opportunities to equalise. First, Jordon Forster was left free in the box, but he headed wide and then Carey had a header well saved by Roos. The half-time whistle signalled a job well done so far, Taylor striking with a goal of real quality and Wimbledon defending well to quell Plymouth pressure.
Yet again, Wimbledon were at their most vulnerable from the kick-off, but this time the Dons had Roos to thank for maintaining the lead and not the crossbar. Hiram Boateng got in behind Robinson and struck a fierce angled drive that Roos did well to beat out and the ball was scrambled to safety. Wimbledon came into the game and produced a spell that could so easily have resulted in the all-important second goal. Francomb flashed a powerful cross across the face of goal with Plymouth lucky to survive and then Wimbledon came even closer. Francomb then sent over another cross that Barcham deflected into the path of Taylor, but this time Plymouth goalkeeper Luke McCormick got the better of the one-on-one to make a vital save.
As we approached the hour mark, pressure started to build as Wimbledon were forced to defend deep. Following a shot from Jake Jervis that fizzed just wide, there was no reprieve for Wimbledon. It was a fine equaliser from the hosts too as Gary Sawyer delivered a cross that was emphatically volleyed home by Carey, who had been Plymouth’s most dangerous player all day.
Wimbledon had to stay strong in defence to repel Plymouth attacks as the hosts drove forward in search of all three points. Fuller got in a vital last-ditch block to stop Plymouth and then Peter Hartley headed a great chance over. However, the Dons also threatened to win it too. Neal Ardley made a double change with 20 minutes left as Bayo Akinfenwa and Ade Azeez entered the fray for Lyle Taylor and Tom Elliott. Azeez, who scored in the 1-1 draw here last season and in the JPT defeat against Plymouth earlier this season, was involved straight away when he turned inside and curled wide with a decent effort.
There was certainly no sign of Wimbledon settling for a point and the Dons won it in dramatic style with two minutes of normal time left. Francomb headed the ball towards the area and Akinfenwa used his strength to get on the end of it, before beating McCormick with a looping header to send the travelling Dons faithful into ecstacy.
AFC Wimbledon: Kelle Roos, Barry Fuller, Dannie Bulman, Paul Robinson, George Francomb, Jake Reeves, Tom Elliott (Bayo Akinfenwa), Jon Meades, Andy Barcham (Sean Rigg), Darius Charles, Lyle Taylor (Ade Azeez).
Pic credit: Stuart Butcher, Pro Sports Images.