By Chris Slavin
Lyle Taylor struck a superb hat-trick to help AFC Wimbledon to an impressive victory against Rotherham tonight.
The Wimbledon forward produced a clinical display in front of goal to secure a 3-1 win against the men from South Yorkshire and it was a fine way for the Dons to make it two successive victories.
It was certainly the loudest atmosphere at the Cherry Red Records Stadium this season, as the home faithful watched their side produce a display full of attacking verve and energy.
Wimbledon came into this match buoyed by a hard-fought 1-0 win at Northampton, but it promised to be even harder tonight against a Rotherham side with five league victories out of the last six. Neal Ardley selected an unchanged starting line-up after the victory at Northampton and Wimbledon made a swift start that gave the fans something to shout about. Plenty of high pressing forced Rotherham into mistakes near their own area, Egli Kaja epitomising the effort by harassing the opposition defence at every opportunity.
Bearing in mind the opening spell to this game, it was no surprise when Wimbledon marched into the lead in the 16th minute. It was a wonderful goal too with Tom Soares picking out Andy Barcham just inside Rotherham's half and his incisive pass sent Lyle Taylor racing through the middle. There was still plenty of work to do for the Wimbledon striker, but he chipped the ball nonchalantly over Rotherham keeper Richard O'Donnell and into the back of the net. What an early boost that provided for the Dons and the advantage was almost doubled when a defensive scramble from a corner ended with Keiffer Moore clearing off the line.
It took until the midway point of the first-half for Rotherham to exert any pressure. Moore headed a decent chance over the crossbar after good work down the flank by Anthony Forde. Dons keeper George Long then gathered a shot by Anthony Forde fairly comfortably. At the other end, a lovely ball from Harry Forrester almost fashioned a good chance for Taylor at the near post. Another encouraging moment came when George Francomb found Taylor with a smart short corner to the near post, but the Wimbledon striker's cut-back failed to find a blue shirt in the box.
As we approached half-time, Rotherham applied a fair bit of pressure, but Wimbledon stood up to the test and it could have been 2-0 in first-half injury-time. Barcham produced lovely skill to pick out Forrester in space and he beat his man well, but his shot was too close to O'Donnell. The half-time score of 1-0 had been hard-earned for Wimbledon with a high tempo having made it really tough for Rotherham.
Rotherham came out for the second-half in much more determined mood and Wimbledon had to stay resolute to remain in front. Anthony Forde broke through with plenty of pace on the right side and struck an angled drive that George Long just managed to save and the ball was just scrambled clear. With Barcham showing plenty of dash down the left, Wimbledon managed to relieve the pressure. Egli Kaja continued to produce a display full of energy and he almost put Taylor clean through with a defence-splitting pass. The advantage was so nearly doubled in style when Forrester beat one man with lovely skill, before attempting to beat Richard O'Donnell with a sublime chip, but the Rotherham keeper tipped the ball onto the bar.
Just when it looked like Wimbledon had quelled the pressure, Rotherham struck a fine equaliser. Substitute Joe Newell pounced on a half cleared cross and struck a superb effort that arrowed into the bottom corner, leaving George Long with no chance. It was a different game now and Rotherham needed no second invitation to go for the jugular. With crosses peppering the Dons area, cool heads were needed at the back and Darius Charles made a vital clearance in the box. However, a quick Wimbledon break so nearly resulted in a second goal. Forrester and Liam Trotter combined to find Taylor in space and his cross provided a brilliant chance for Barcham, but he fired over the crossbar.
It was a promising sign for Wimbledon and the second goal came with four minutes to go. What a strike it was too from that man Taylor, who latched onto Forrester's pass, before cutting inside and unleashing a fierce drive that left O'Donnell with no chance. It appeared to be a great way to decide the outcome, but there was still more to come. Taylor got in behind the Rotherham defence once again and though his initial shot was saved, he found the bottom corner with the follow-up. It concluded a brilliant win for Wimbledon against one of the promotion contenders in League One.
AFC Wimbledon: George Long, Barry Fuller, George Francomb, Will Nightingale, Darius Charles, Harry Forrester (Paul Robinson), Tom Soares, Liam Trotter, Egli Kaja (Jimmy Abdou), Lyle Taylor, Andy Barcham.
Pic credit: Matt Redman, Pro Sports Images.