By Chris Slavin
AFC Wimbledon produced a team display full of grit and character to secure an important victory against promotion-chasers Bradford City today.
Cody McDonald and Lyle Taylor struck the goals in a 2-1 victory, but it was a win that owed plenty to hard work and drive from everyone in blue and yellow.
The performance was just enough to beat an in-form team near the top of League One – and it provided Christmas cheer for everyone connected with the club.
Neal Ardley was forced into a change for this match with Harry Forrester missing out due to suspension and that meant a return for Jimmy Abdou in midfield. Wimbledon came into this match aiming to put last Saturday's 4-0 defeat against Wigan behind them, but that performance had been nowhere near as bad as the score-line had suggested.
Wimbledon were prepared for a tough battle against a Bradford side offering a more direct approach than last week's opponents. However, it was the long ball that earned Wimbledon the ultimate reward in the seventh minute. Barry Fuller's searching pass over the top had the Bradford defence struggling and Cody McDonald showed great determination to get there first, before beating Bradford keeper Rouven Sattelmaier. It could have been 2-0 almost immediately when Lyle Taylor sent in a teasing free-kick delivery that was met by Jon Meades, but his header was too high.
Bradford did hit back with moments of real threat, most notably when Matthew Kilgallon headed against the crossbar after getting there first from a corner. However, with Liam Trotter, Tom Soares and Abdou working well in midfield to earn plenty of possession, it was Wimbledon creating all the chances in the first-half. McDonald volleyed just wide with an opportunistic effort, as Wimbledon's front pairing caused plenty of problems for the visitors. That was highlighted when Taylor broke free down the right with clever movement, before crossing for McDonald, but his shot was well over.
Though George Long had to make a full length save to tip aside a free-kick from Tony McMahon, Wimbledon continued to have the better of it. Andy Barcham cut inside and tried his luck with a curler that Sattelmaier did well to divert wide. There was a key moment just before half-time when McDonald showed lovely skill to set-up Taylor, who was clean through, but his shot was too close to Sattelmaier. From a Wimbledon perspective, it was a real opportunity to go 2-0 up at a key time. At the other end, Trotter showed his defensive qualities to stop a goal-bound effort from McMahon, which meant that Wimbledon held the advantage at half-time.
With Wimbledon having had the better of the first-half in terms of chances created, you sensed that Bradford would offer more after the break and that's the way it turned out. Less than two minutes had elapsed when Bradford restored parity. Alex Gilliead found space on the Bradford right and though Charlie Wyke was unable to covert, the ball fell nicely for Paul Taylor, who cracked home from close-range. All of a sudden, Bradford were committing more men forward and everyone in blue and yellow was relieved to watch a header from Jon Meades flash just wide of his own goal.
At the hour mark, Wimbledon had steadied the ship to defy Bradford's spell of pressure and a decent chance followed for the Dons when Fuller sent over another searching cross to pick out McDonald, but his header was well held by Sattelmaier. Fuller produced a typical captain's performance, driving the Dons forward when it was really needed, and his attitude seemed to rub off on everyone else. The tempo noticeably increased midway through the second-half with Wimbledon now driving forward for a second goal. A flurry of set-pieces failed to yield the ultimate reward, but the elusive second goal did arrive in the 70th minute. Taylor tried his luck from 25 yards and his fierce drive eluded the grasp of Sattelmaier, before nestling in the back of the net. It signalled ecstatic scenes among the Dons faithful as they watched their side close in on three significant points just before Christmas.
You knew that Bradford would come storming back in search of an equaliser and the Dons were fortunate to see Nicky Law's header bounce off a post and straight into the hands of George Long. However, that was not the signal for incessant pressure as Wimbledon retained a resilient shape and almost sealed it at the other end too. Following a quick break, Barcham found Taylor and his goal-bound shot was just blocked. Then a wonderful free-kick from George Francomb produced a fingertip save from Sattelmaier. The Dons held firm as Bradford piled players forward during six minutes of injury-time, but with almost the last kick of the game Adam Thompson cracked a shot against the woodwork. It was a big relief, but Wimbledon had earned that bit of luck and it was a really resilient display to secure a valuable three points.
AFC Wimbledon: George Long, Barry Fuller, Jon Meades, Deji Oshilaja, Darius Charles, Jimmy Abdou (George Francomb), Liam Trotter, Tom Soares, Cody McDonald, Lyle Taylor (Egli Kaja), Andy Barcham (Will Nightingale).
Pic credit: Simon Davies, Pro Sports Images.