By Chris Slavin
Wimbledon today earned a first win at Bristol Rovers since returning to the league in style with three stunning goals securing victory.
Years of difficult away days at the Memorial Stadium were banished with a 3-1 win that could easily have been more. All three Dons goals were of real quality, Andy Barcham paving the way inside two minutes, before Harry Forrester and Cody McDonald struck.
It was a great way to reward the 410 travelling Dons who made the trip to Bristol.
Neal Ardley made just one change from the side that started against Peterborough with fit-again Jon Meades handed his first league start since Bradford away in April, George Francomb sitting this one out due to suspension.
At a venue which had brought five defeats and just one goal for the Dons since returning to the league, Neal Ardley’s men made a wonderful start. Following on from Lyle Taylor’s goal after just 36 seconds last week, it was Andy Barcham’s turn to open the scoring early on. It was a goal taken in great style. Barcham latched onto a clever flick from Taylor, before beating two men, and then he kept his cool with a lovely chipped finish over Rovers keeper Adam Smith.
It could have been 2-0 in the fifth minute when Cody McDonald, who opened his league account for Wimbledon last week, got behind the Rovers defence and rounded Adam Smith, but with the goal gaping, he lifted his shot over. There was no let-up from Wimbledon in pursuit of a second goal and it almost arrived when Tom Soares delivered a lovely cross to the back post, but Deji Oshilaja headed over.
In a first 15 minutes of complete Wimbledon domination, McDonald came so close to making amends for his earlier miss when he got on the end of Harry Forrester’s deft cross, but he headed over the crossbar. With 20 minutes gone, Rovers had their first meaningful chance when Tom Broadbent found space in the box from a corner, but he fired wide from close range. Though Rovers came more into the game by the half hour mark with Tom Nichols testing George Long from an acute angle, Wimbledon continued to have gilt-edged chances, without taking them. Taylor was clean through once again, but his shot was too close to Smith.
Rovers presented Wimbledon with a great chance to double the advantage in the 36th minute, but it was spurned. Following lovely link-up play between Meades and Barcham, the latter’s cross was dropped by Rovers keeper Smith into the path of Taylor, but he shot wide from just six yards out. With Wimbledon having had five or six clear-cut chances, one wondered if Neal Ardley’s men would pay the price for missed opportunities. However, deep into first-half injury time Wimbledon secured the cushion of a second and it was a goal of supreme quality. There looked to be nothing on when Harry Forrester took possession of the ball 20 yards out at an acute angle, but he looked up and cracked a fantastic strike into the top corner. What a way to end the first-half for Wimbledon and that elusive win at Bristol Rovers looked to be on the cards.
The hosts had to commit more men forward in search of a route back into the match, but Wimbledon continued to play well in the second-half. Taking control of possession, Wimbledon spread the ball around well and the impressive Barcham almost got through once again after a fine move, but he just ran it too far. With Wimbledon’s back four of Barry Fuller, Darius Charles, Deji Oshilaja and Jon Meades well protected by Liam Trotter and Tom Soares, Wimbledon held firm. Rovers struggled to pose any threat and the home faithful were starting to grow restless.
A third goal arrived for Wimbledon in the 64th minute and it was another classy strike. George Long’s clearance travelled all the way through for McDonald, who cracked a fierce low drive past Smith. It was the signal for ecstatic celebrations among Dons players, supporters and staff, with Bayzo saluting keeper Long for his assist. So far, Wimbledon had simply been too good for Rovers on the day and it was hard to see a way back for the hosts. Considering it was his first league game back, Meades showed plenty of positive signs, one interception midway through the second-half showing what he is all about.
Harry Forrester limped off with 10 minutes to go, replaced by Jimmy Abdou, but it didn’t look serious, and he was given a standing ovation from the travelling Dons after his impressive performance. Though Rovers did strike a goal back through Lee Brown with three minutes to play, the final stages were played out comfortably for Wimbledon and it was perhaps the most complete performance from Neal Ardley’s men this season and certainly something to build on.
AFC Wimbledon: George Long, Barry Fuller, Jon Meades, Deji Oshilaja, Cody McDonald, Harry Forrester (Jimmy Abdou), Liam Trotter, Andy Barcham (Toby Sibbick), Tom Soares, Darius Charles, Lyle Taylor (Anthony Hartigan).
Pic credit: Graham Hunt, Pro Sports Images.