AFC Wimbledon were eliminated from the Carabao Cup tonight after battling back to force a penalty shoot-out at the Cherry Red Records Stadium.
In an eventful match that included a penalty squandered from both sides in normal time, Wimbledon marched into an early lead through a superb strike from Scott Wagstaff, but needed a last-gasp cracker from Luke O'Neill to salvage a 2-2 draw.
Wally Downes made two changes to his starting line-up after the narrow defeat at Fleetwood Town. Scott Wagstaff was recalled in place of Mitch Pinnock and Dylan Connolly’s inclusion on the right side meant a switch to a 4-4-2 formation. Milton Keynes Dons came into this match on the back of a first League One victory of the season.
This Carabao Cup first round tie took little time to get going with the first major incident happening inside three minutes as the visitors were awarded a penalty. Nik Tzanev came out and appeared to make contact with Regan Poole and the referee decided that it was a penalty. It was a great opportunity for the away side to take a grip on this contest, but Conor McGrandles fired well over the crossbar from 12 yards. That reprieve sparked Wimbledon into action and Luke O’Neill curled a free-kick just wide. The home faithful didn’t have long to wait though to cheer an opening goal and it came in fine style in the eighth minute. Anthony Hartigan’s corner was only half cleared and Scott Wagstaff struck a superb half volley that left MK keeper Lee Nicholls with no chance.
After taking the lead, there was no let-up from Wimbledon and a rampant spell threatened to take the game beyond the visitors. Callum Reilly came close with a shot from just outside the area, before captain Joe Pigott almost played in his strike partner Kwesi Appiah. Dylan Connolly was also showing up well on the right side, causing problems with his direct running. Despite Wimbledon’s early superiority, an equaliser arrived for the visitors in the 16th minute. McGrandles created space for himself in the box with a nice touch, before making amends for his earlier penalty miss with a fine low finish.
As the half progressed, Wimbledon attempted to regain supremacy and Pigott made space for a shot just outside the area, but he shot over the crossbar. However, the away side fashioned a very good chance 10 minutes before the break when Callum Brittain found space down the right and crossed to the back post for Jordan Bowery, but he headed over from close range. The half ended with the visitors on the attack and Terell Thomas was forced into a vital last-ditch challenge on the edge of his own six-yard box. The half-time whistle shrilled with the match evenly balanced at 1-1. Wimbledon had produced a flying start, but it had been difficult to regain supremacy after the equaliser.
It was a tough start to the second-half for Wimbledon with the visitors earning the lead in the 50th minute. There appeared to be little danger when David Kasumu received possession just outside the area, but he curled a superb effort into the top corner, leaving Nik Tzanev with no chance. However, Wimbledon responded well and there was a golden opportunity to equalise just before the hour. Kwesi Appiah was scythed down in the area by Ryan Harley and the referee pointed to the spot. Joe Pigott stepped up to take it, but his spot-kick was too close to the middle and Lee Nicholls saved it comfortably.
Wally Downes was already in the process of making a double change and that’s what followed with Rod McDonald and Paul Osew on for Dylan Connolly and Nesta Guinness-Walker. Just as in his pre-season appearances, Osew offered plenty of attacking verve on the left hand side, making good runs and offering a useful outlet on the flank. Pigott, who was desperate to make up for failing to convert from the penalty spot, showed lovely skill to set-up a shooting chance, but his subsequent shot was over the crossbar. Wimbledon came closer shortly afterwards when substitute Michael Folivi latched onto a through ball and powered through on goal, but his shot was well saved by Lee Nicholls.
Wimbledon piled forward in the latter stages in search of a late equaliser and Luke O’Neill sent over a superb free-kick delivery from the left that was begging to be finished off, but no one was able to get on the end of it. However, Jordan Bowery came close to winning it through a header, before that thrilling finale. Rod McDonald launched a ball into the box and when his cross was only half cleared it fell nicely for Luke O’Neill, who blasted a superb effort into the back of the net. It was a deserved equaliser for Wimbledon, certainly a reward for keeping going after coming through a difficult spell at the start of the second-half.
The 2-2 draw at full-time meant that it went to penalties. Though Nik Tzanev saved a spot-kick from Callum Brittain, MK scored the other four to win it 4-2 on penalties after Lee Nicholls saved Callum Reilly’s effort and Joe Pigott fired over from 12 yards. It was a harsh way for Wimbledon to exit the competition, but avoiding defeat for the first time this season in normal time was perhaps a step in the right direction with Accrington Stanley up next on Saturday.
AFC Wimbledon: Nik Tzanev, Luke O’Neill, Terell Thomas, Scott Wagstaff, Anthony Hartigan, Kwesi Appiah (Michael Folivi), Dylan Connolly (Rod McDonald), Nesta Guinness-Walker (Paul Osew), Paul Kalambayi, Callum Reilly, Joe Pigott.
Pic credit: Matt Redman, Pro Sports Images.