By Chris Slavin
Joe Pigott headed home a dramatic injury-time winner to secure a much-needed victory for AFC Wimbledon.
The game appeared to be heading for a 0-0 draw, before Pigott’s last-gasp intervention - heading home a lovely cross from Harry Forrester - ended a run of four successive defeats with a 1-0 victory.
The winner was reward for a performance full of grit and determination from Wimbledon. Though it was not pretty, no one in blue and yellow cared, as the Dons grabbed a very important win in the battle to stay up.
Following the 4-2 defeat at Plymouth, Neal Ardley made four changes to his starting line-up. Jon Meades, George Francomb, Andy Barcham, and Cody McDonald were all recalled in place of Callum Kennedy, Harry Forrester, Tom Soares and Joe Pigott. Wimbledon came into this match seeking a much-needed win after a difficult February so far, but Neal Ardley’s men faced an in-form Bristol Rovers side, who were starting to entertain thoughts of a play-off charge.
The first significant attack came from Rovers and it ended with George Long showing good awareness to come off his line and stop Stuart Sinclair from getting in on goal. Wimbledon appeared happy to let Rovers have the ball in the early stages, but the significant opportunities were created by the hosts. In similar fashion to his opener in the home match against Bradford, McDonald made the most of a long ball by winning the race for possession, but his well struck volley was held by Rovers keeper Adam Smith. Fit-again Andy Barcham then provided a spark, darting off on one of his trademark runs down the left, before crossing for McDonald, who headed the ball back for Liam Trotter, but his shot flashed over.
As we approached the midway point of the first-half, Wimbledon had pressed high when required and limited Rovers to very little, while also providing threat at the other end. There was a half chance for Rovers in the 23rd minute when Ollie Clarke found space just outside the box, but his shot was wide of the target. In a first-half of few chances, Wimbledon needed George Long at his best in the 37th minute. A quick Rovers break ended with Ellis Harrison finding Liam Sercombe in space and he had a great chance to score, but Long was out quickly to block his effort.
The first-half had been a very even affair with two closely matched teams. Though Wimbledon had struggled to replicate the excellent attacking play at Rovers in November, there had been encouraging signs going forward and the visitors had been well nullified in the first 45 minutes. Wimbledon came close in first-half injury time when Lyle Taylor lofted a free-kick towards the back post and Oshilaja did well to meet it, but his header was just wide. The 0-0 half-time score suggested that it was going to prove difficult to separate the two sides, but the first-half was certainly full of promise from a Wimbledon perspective.
Wimbledon attempted to push forward at the start of the second-half, but Rovers were proving to be stubborn opponents. McDonald almost made the most of a poor clearance from Smith, but he was crowded out before he could get in a shot. A good Dons move ended with a cross from Andy Barcham that picked out George Francomb, but the offside flag was up. At the other end, there was relief for Wimbledon when a free-kick picked out Rovers top scorer Ellis Harrison, but he headed well wide.
Midway through the second-half, Wimbledon were forced into a change with Darius Charles going off injured. Harry Forrester was introduced and that meant a defensive reshuffle with Fuller switching to centre-back and Francomb reverting to right-back. With Wimbledon struggling to break down Rovers, there was a further change in the 70th minute with Joe Pigott introduced for McDonald. Despite showing little ambition, Rovers still offered a threat on the break and Long made a good save to stop a fierce drive from Joe Partington.
With 15 minutes left, Wimbledon supporters cranked up the decibel levels as they watched the Dons pile forward in search of a winner. It threatened to come when Forrester’s nice lay-off created space for Taylor on the right, but his cross was beaten out by Smith. Forrester had certainly made a favourable impression after entering the fray with his creative talents giving Rovers something different to think about. The on-loan Rangers midfielder came close after lovely build-up play involving Jimmy Abdou and Trotter, but his shot flashed over.
It appeared the game was heading for a 0-0 draw, but then came that dramatic finale. Pigott, who had already shown his qualities as a substitute on his debut, met Forrester's pinpoint cross with a downward header over Adam Smith. That signalled ecstatic scenes from the Wimbledon supporters, players and coaching staff. It could turn out to be a very important victory indeed.
AFC Wimbledon: George Long, Barry Fuller, Jon Meades, Deji Oshilaja, Darius Charles (Harry Forrester), George Francomb, Liam Trotter, Jimmy Abdou, Cody McDonald (Joe Pigott), Lyle Taylor, Andy Barcham (Tom Soares).
Pic credit: Matt Redman, Pro Sports Images.