Neal Ardley saluted his side’s fighting spirit after the Dons came from behind to secure a place in the second round of the Carabao Cup.
Speaking after the 2-1 win at Portsmouth, a victory that meant AFC Wimbledon had made progress in the EFL Cup for the first time since returning to the league in 2011, Neal said: “I think something we struggled with last season was believing that we had goals in us, believing that we could come from behind in a game. We had the overall combination from staff and players. We were brave enough to go for it and play three centre forwards so that we really mixed it up. The players were good enough to adapt to that, despite not really working on it. We penned them in during the second-half and created the chances that got us goals against a really well drilled defence.
“We’ve talked about a winning mentality and we’ve worked on that. There was a belief about us: we kept on driving, kept on going forward. I think the first-half was really boring, the two teams cancelled each other out. I think Kenny (Jacket) would have wanted Portsmouth to come at us a bit more and we played too slow. We could not really open them up. I think both managers got stuck into their teams to be braver in the second-half and we saw a game that opened up. You could hear Kenny trying to get his team to drive forward and we were doing the same. The game then became end to end.
“There have been plenty of firsts in the six years or so that I’ve been here. To have another first – to be the first manager to take us into the next round – is something I’m really proud of. The fans were brilliant, they sung all the way through and drove us on. It was great that they were down the end that we were attacking in the second-half.”
Neal felt that the energy in midfield of Scott Wagstaff and Anthony Wordsworth was integral in Wimbledon’s second-half fightback.
“Both Scott and Anthony have incredible energy levels and legs, they don’t stop running,” added Neal. “No matter how tired they are, both of them keep going. They both could have scored and Scott put in a great cross for the first goal. There were loads of positives from them, but all the boys who made their full debuts played well. The biggest thing is the mentality of the group. The players were in the dressing room afterwards and they were really buzzing, but they know they have to get ready for the toughest game of the season on Saturday.”
The picture above (taken by Adam Rivers, Pro Sports Images) shows Joe Pigott heading home the equaliser at Fratton Park.
Look out on Wednesday for full interviews on iFollow with Neal and Scott Wagstaff after the victory at Portsmouth.