Joe Pigott kept his cool from 12 yards to strike his hat-trick and earn a dramatic victory for AFC Wimbledon.
Pigott slotted home emphatically from the penalty spot in injury-time after Steve Seddon had been fouled in the area and it secured a vital 4-3 victory in the battle to stay in League One.
The Dons had shown character in abundance to come from behind twice, but it appeared that Wally Downes's men had let victory slip through their fingers after being pegged back to 3-3.
It was reward for the 144 travelling Dons that provided great support on a Tuesday night up north and the win provided real hope that Wimbledon can stay up against the odds.
Wally Downes made just two changes to his starting line-up after the gallant FA Cup exit against Millwall. With Deji Oshilaja missing out due to injury, Terell Thomas was recalled at the heart of defence. Steve Seddon returned at left-back after being cup tied for the cup game with Tyler Garratt missing out.
Wimbledon made the worst possible start by conceding inside two minutes. A free-kick from the left was swung in deep by Joseph Bunney to the back post and an unmarked Rekeil Pyke had the simple task of slotting home from close-range. It was a really poor goal to concede and Wimbledon now had a mountain to climb. The only crumb of comfort was that Wimbledon defended diligently after that setback, at least offering a platform to get back into it.
The Dons had a first effort in the 10th minute when Anthony Wordsworth tried his luck from 20 yards, but his shot was wide. There was also a good Wimbledon move to provide Toby Sibbick with a shooting chance, but he shot over the crossbar. As we progressed towards the midway point of the first-half, Wimbledon were now controlling possession and there was so nearly an end product to match. Wordsworth struck an absolutely superb volley that Rochdale keeper Andy Lonergan was unable to get anywhere near, but it bounced off a post and away to safety.
Wimbledon did earn a deserved equaliser in the 36th minute. The ball was well worked to Joe Pigott just outside the area and he struck a fine effort that just beat Lonergan at his near post. After working so hard to get back into it, The Dons conceded another less than a minute after restoring parity. Ethan Hamilton was allowed to turn just outside the area and his well struck shot beat Aaron Ramsdale at his near post. Far from feeling sorry for themselves, the setback galvanised Wimbledon. A good Dons move ended with Pigott going clean through, but his shot was too close to Lonergan, who saved from point-blank range. The half ended with Wimbledon so unfortunate not to be level. Pigott’s shot was scrambled to safety by Lonergan and then McDonald’s effort was just saved by the Rochdale keeper with the referee adjudging that the ball had not crossed the line.
Following a first-half when Wimbledon were so unlucky not be level, it took 36 seconds into the second-half for Pigott to strike a second equaliser. Toby Sibbick was the instigator as he powered clear down the right and crossed for Pigott to shoot home from close range. Though Bunney struck an effort over the crossbar, Wimbledon started to dominate at the start of the second-half. Pigott should have put Folivi clean through, but he delayed his pass and the move ended with Shane McLaughlin’s cross flashing across the face of goal.
With Wimbledon going all out for a winner, it did leave the door ajar at the other end, and it needed Aaron Ramsdale to make a brilliant save to stop Rochdale in the 63rd minute. Reacting superbly to come off his line, Ramsdale denied Pyke with an impressive stop. Ramsdale then had to make a more routine save to deny Hamilton. The Dons so nearly got a third when Steve Seddon struck a shot just wide of the far post. However, there was no reprieve for Rochdale in the 76th minute when Pigott’s smart flick put Wordsworth through and he finished emphatically.
At this stage, Wimbledon looked in the mood to score more. Pigott’s free-kick was just charged down as The Dons went in search of number four. Considering what had gone before, it was harsh on Wimbledon when Rochdale drew level. Wimbledon were caught out on the right and a shot from the left was scrambled clear by Ramsdale, but it only fell into the path of Ian Henderson, who made it 3-3. However, there was still a final sting in the tail with Wimbledon having a chance to win it in injury-time. Seddon was tripped in the box and Pigott made no mistake with an emphatic strike from 12 yards to send the travelling Dons into raptures.
AFC Wimbledon: Aaron Ramsdale, Will Nightingale, Terell Thomas, Anthony Hartigan, Steve Seddon, Toby Sibbick, Rod McDonald, Shane McLaughlin (Scott Wagstaff), Joe Pigott, Anthony Wordsworth (Mitch Pinnock), Michael Folivi (Jake Jervis).
Pic credit: Simon Davies, Pro Sports Images.