AFC Wimbledon came through a very testing first-half at FC Halifax to secure a place in the third round of the Emirates FA Cup.
The Dons won it 3-1 with goals from Ben Purrington, Anthony Wordsworth, and Joe Pigott, but the National League club provided a difficult challenge in the first-half. The two-division gap eventually told though and an improved second-half showing from Wimbledon rewarded the 314 travelling fans that made the long trip to West Yorkshire. Interim Manager Simon Bassey got his team working completely differently after the break with the Dons playing good football on a difficult pitch.
Simon Bassey made two changes from the side selected to start at Peterborough. Andy Barcham missed out due to injury and Liam Trotter had to settle for a place on the bench with Jake Jervis and Anthony Hartigan both recalled. The Dons were up against a Halifax side aiming for another league scalp after beating Morecambe at home in the last round.
Wimbledon were put on the back foot right from the outset and Joe McDonnell was called into action less than two minutes in when a cross from Jordan Preston was deflected into his arms. The hosts managed to put plenty of early pressure on by winning free-kicks in dangerous positions and the Dons were fortunate to survive in the ninth minute when Dayle Southwell's goal-bound effort was deflected wide. There was chaos in the Wimbledon box a few minutes later from a corner with the hosts putting McDonnell under pressure and his weak punch should really have been capitalised on. Fortunately, Josh Staunton scooped over the crossbar and Wimbledon were still level.
Halifax came so close to taking the lead in the 19th minute, as Wimbledon were almost punished for getting caught on the break. Matty Kosylo produced a brilliant run from his own half to go clean though and the opening goal appeared to be inevitable, but his shot struck the inside of a post and bounced to safety. It was a big relief for Wimbledon, but the match continued in the same pattern with Halifax dominating. Preston put in another teasing free-kick that Matty Brown reached first, but his header did not have enough on it.
By the half hour mark, Wimbledon had yet to fashion a chance worthy of note, but the Dons at least started to get on the ball and a first chance for the visitors came in the 32nd minute. Joe Pigott showed good awareness to set-up Mitch Pinnock and his powerful shot was well saved by Sam Johnson. At the other end, Wimbledon needed McDonnell to react well to save Cameron King's shot, before the same player's follow-up was blocked by Will Nightingale. The defending had been desperate at times as Wimbledon clung on to stay level, but it was 1-0 to the Dons in the 42nd minute. Pinnock swung in a cross from the right and though Jake Jervis completely missed it, the ball fell for Purrington, who struck a powerful effort that was deflected in.
The half ended with Wimbledon under pressure and Matty Brown headed off target from close range, but Halifax appeals for a penalty fell on deaf ears. The half-time shrilled with Wimbledon fortunate to be in front, but the Dons had shown gradual improvement during the first-half.
Wimbledon started the second-half with plenty of possession and certainly showing more encouraging signs of mastering a pitch that had become very heavy due to the incessant rain. Certainly, Wimbledon started to dominate, playing some good football in the process, and the chances started to come. Pinnock volleyed wide of the near post after showing good initial control, before the same player blasted over the crossbar with another fine effort. As Wimbledon continued the momentum, Halifax retreated deeper and deeper. Jervis threatened a second goal with a fine effort that was blocked.
The second goal did arrive in the 72nd minute and it was a fine goal too. Oshilaja found Anthony Wordsworth in space just outside the box and he let fly with a rocket of a shot that arrowed into the top corner, leaving Johnson with no chance. Far from settling for just the two, Wimbledon poured forward and a third goal arrived less than two minutes later. Pigott showed fine awareness in the box to steer the ball home from close-range, ending a goal drought after his superb early season form.
That was effectively it and game over now, the two-division gap eventually proving the difference. Wimbledon had shown good character to emerge triumphant after a very testing first-half. Halifax certainly deserved a goal for their efforts, but Mekhi McLeod shot into the side netting. However, the hosts did have a goal to celebrate when a cross was deflected in by Wimbledon substitute James Hanson. The Dons had done enough though and now we can all look forward to being in the hat for the Emirates FA Cup third round on Monday night.
AFC Wimbledon: Joe McDonnell, Ben Purrington, Deji Oshilaja, Will Nightingale, Anthony Hartigan, Jake Jervis (James Hanson), Mitch Pinnock, Tom Soares (Liam Trotter), Rod McDonald, Joe Pigott, Anthony Wordsworth (Scott Wagstaff).
Pic credit: Malcolm Bryce, Pro Sports Images.