By Chris Slavin
AFC Wimbledon marched to an impressive opening day victory at Fleetwood with Joe Pigott striking yet another important goal for Neal Ardley’s men.
Pigott, who scored vital goals last season to help keep the club in League One after joining in January, struck a 61st minute winner to earn a 1-0 victory for Wimbledon.
All of the pre-match focus had been on Joey Barton’s first match as manager of Fleetwood, but it was Wimbledon’s overall performance that stole the show. Wimbledon had heroes all over the pitch and it was certainly tough to select a man of the match as this was a real team performance. Deji Oshilaja led Wimbledon to victory in his first competitive match as captain and it was a fine defensive display from the Dons.
Neal Ardley handed full debuts to four players with Tom King, Tennai Watson, Ben Purrington, and Mitch Pinnock all starting the game. Though Wimbledon had two new full-backs making their debuts with Watson and Purrington both getting the nod, familiar faces were at the heart of defence with Deji Oshilaja partnering Will Nightingale. Joey Barton decided to go for three debut players in his chosen 11 for his first competitive game as a manager.
AFC Wimbledon started the game brightly with Mitch Pinnock offering a good outlet on the right. Though his first effort was well over the crossbar, there was much better to come from his next meaningful contribution. The tall winger looked up and picked out Joe Pigott in space at the back post, but his header was over the crossbar. Pigott’s strike partnership with Kwesi Appiah was certainly looking promising, but the pair got in each other’s way midway through the first-half. Following a lovely through ball from Tom Soares, Wimbledon’s front pair both hesitated in getting a shot on goal and Pigott’s subsequent effort was blocked.
Wimbledon had by far the better of the first 25 minutes with Fleetwood only offering rare attacks on the break. Tom King was called into action for the first time in the 16th minute when he saved from Conor McAleny and the Dons just scrambled the rebound away from danger. New Dons captain Deji Oshilaja also showed good awareness to stop McAleny going through on goal. However, most of the action was at the other end with Wimbledon forcing a succession of corners. Though Fleetwood coped well from set-pieces, there was a good chance for Wimbledon in the 32nd minute when Pinnock swung in a lovely delivery from the right that picked out Appiah, but his header was saved by Alex Cairns.
With five minutes to go in the first-half, Wimbledon had yet another chance. This time Appiah did really well to get above his marker from another Pinnock delivery, but his header was well held by Cairns. Wimbledon could be very satisfied with an impressive first-half with only the finishing touch lacking from a first-half that ended 0-0.
Though Fleetwood attempted to up the tempo at the start of the second-half, Wimbledon held firm. When the hosts did finally break through, Tom King oozed assurance and he reacted superbly to deny Tommy Spurr the opening goal. However, Wimbledon didn’t have to really withstand too much pressure and just after the hour came the opener for Neal Ardley’s men. Ben Purrington put over a lovely cross from the left that was flicked on by Andy Barcham at the near post and Joe Pigott showed plenty of desire to bundle the ball over the line. It was not pretty, but no one in blue and yellow cared, particularly the Dons travelling support behind the goal, as they celebrated wildly.
Though Fleetwood attempted to step up their attacks in response, Wimbledon held firm with impressive last-ditch defending from the back four of Purrington, Oshilaja, Nightingale, and Watson. Tom Soares offered rock-solid protection in front of them, the holding midfielder having one of his best games in a Dons shirt. A second goal on the break appeared likely for Wimbledon with Fleetwood pushing extra bodies forward in search of an equaliser. First, Kwesi Appiah curled just wide after a fine run down the Wimbledon left, before the same player was denied by Cairns. Neal Ardley made a double change in the 76th minute with James Hanson and Scott Wagstaff entering the fray for Kwesi Appiah and Mitch Pinnock.
There was big relief for Wimbledon seven minutes from time when Bobby Grant struck a 30-yard drive that struck the inside of a post and bounced to safety. Wimbledon had certainly earned that luck though after an impressive performance on the opening day and it was a fully deserved victory. The real bonus was that all of Wimbledon’s new signings performed with real credit on the day and it was all very encouraging for the season ahead.
AFC Wimbledon: Tom King, Tennai Watson, Ben Purrington, Deji Oshilaja, Will Nightingale, Kwesi Appiah (James Hanson), Mitch Pinnock (Scott Wagstaff), Liam Trotter, Andy Barcham (Tyler Garratt), Tom Soares, Joe Pigott.
Pic credit: Craig Galloway, Pro Sports Images.