By Chris Slavin
AFC Wimbledon battled back from a two-goal half-time deficit to secure a thrilling victory at Walsall today.
An injury-time penalty from Dean Parrett earned a 3-2 win for the Dons after goals from Joe Pigott and Lyle Taylor had levelled it up.
The Dons looked down and out after falling 2-0 down by half-time, but it was a completely different story in the second-half, and what a way it was for Wimbledon to move closer to safety.
A total of 733 travelling Dons provided fantastic support, making it a memorable AFC Wimbledon occasion as the club celebrated Volunteers' Away Day with a valuable victory.
Neal Ardley made just one change to his starting line-up after the excellent victory against Charlton with Will Nightingale missing out due to injury and he was replaced by Darius Charles. Wimbledon came into this match aiming to take another vital step towards survival after impressive performances against Scunthorpe and Charlton, but the Dons were made to pay for a shaky start. Luke Leahy tested George Long and Darius Charles cleared a goal-bound effort in the opening exchanges, but there was no reprieve for Wimbledon in the sixth minute. Erhun Oztumer, so often Wimbledon's nemesis in recent seasons, curled in a lovely free-kick from the Walsall right that Jack Fitzwater got the slightest of touches on with his head and the ball flashed past Long for the opener.
In response, Wimbledon gained plenty of possession with the hosts lying deep and inviting Neal Ardley's men to break them down. Dean Parrett and Lyle Taylor linked up well after 20 minutes, but the latter's shot was deflected wide. Then from a half-cleared corner the ball fell nicely for Liam Trotter and he struck a volley really well, but it flashed wide of the near post. There was a setback for Wimbledon in the 33rd minute when Harry Forrester was forced to go off injured and he was replaced by Andy Barcham.
In a first-half of few chances, Wimbledon had opportunities in the 35th minute. Good build-up play involving Parrett set-up Joe Pigott, but he missed his kick, before Barcham's curler was charged down, and then Tom Soares struck a fierce volley that just went wide. It appeared to be heading towards a 1-0 half-time score-line, but the Dons conceded another in first-half injury-time. It was a bad goal to concede from a defensive perspective. With Wimbledon on the attack, Walsall cleared it and quickly worked the ball to Julien Ngoy, who beat both Darius Charles and Deji Oshilaja, before clinically slotting the ball past Long.
Neal Ardley made a half-time change with Jimmy Abdou introduced for Tom Soares. Wimbledon started the second-half on the front foot and lovely wing play by Andy Barcham got the Dons back into it. Cutting in from the left, Barcham showed impressive skill to set-up a shooting chance, but Nicky Devlin scythed him down before he could take a shot and it was a definite penalty. Though Lyle Taylor's penalty was smothered by Walsall keeper Liam Roberts, Joe Pigott followed up quickly and smashed the ball home.
Getting one back revitalised Wimbledon and it was a completely different game now. Just minutes later, the Dons were inches away from making it 2-2 when Taylor cracked against a post and the ball rebounded to safety. Wimbledon continued to attack and Walsall were restricted to playing deep on defence. Another chance arrived when Taylor's searching cross picked out Pigott, but the Dons striker was unable to get enough on his header, though he appeared to be phased out by a Walsall defender.
Andy Barcham, who was back to his brilliant best in the second-half, curled just wide of the far post with a fine effort after a lovely pass from Pigott opened up Walsall. It looked to be a matter of time before the equaliser arrived and so it proved. Long launched a deep clearance from his own penalty area that Taylor managed to get on the end of and he produced a fantastic volley that left Roberts with no chance.
In a second-half completely dominated by Wimbledon, Fuller had a shot deflected just wide. Then Pigott claimed that he was hauled down in the box after he attempted to meet a cross from Fuller, but referee Mark Heywood pointed for a corner. With time running out, it appeared to be heading for a 2-2 draw, but there was a twist in the tale in the sixth minute of injury-time. This time Heywood did point to the spot after Taylor had been hauled down by Kory Roberts and Parrett kept his cool with a well-struck penalty into the top corner. What a way to secure victory and it signalled ecstatic scenes among the travelling Dons support, players, and staff.
AFC Wimbledon: George Long, Barry Fuller (George Francomb), Jon Meades, Deji Oshilaja, Harry Forrester (Andy Barcham), Liam Trotter, Dean Parrett, Tom Soares (Jimmy Abdou), Darius Charles, Lyle Taylor, Joe Pigott.
Pic credit: Simon Davies, Pro Sports Images.