A dramatic 90th minute winner from Kwesi Appiah secured AFC Wimbledon a place in the fourth round of the Emirates FA Cup for the first time since the club was reformed.
The Dons won it 3-2 with a superb strike from Appiah proving to be decisive after Fleetwood had come back from 2-0 down to level the score with 18 minutes left. It had appeared that Wimbledon had missed the chance to win it on the day, but Wally Downes’s men showed plenty of character to bounce back and earn victory.
Wally Downes made one just change to his starting line after the gallant defeat to League One leaders Portsmouth last time out. It was a significant one though with goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale thrust straight in for his debut just one day after signing on loan from AFC Bournemouth. Nineteen-year-old Paul Kalambayi retained his place at the heart of defence after his impressive display on his league debut at Fratton Park.
Fleetwood had the better of the opening exchanges and Ramsdale was called into action in just the eighth minute when he reacted well to save Ashley Hunter’s shot. Kalambayi went into the referee’s book just two minutes later for a late tackle on Paddy Madden, the defender making the challenge to stop a Fleetwood break. The early pressure from the hosts continued and it needed fine defending from Tennai Watson to keep Wmbledon level when he twice blocked shots from Ched Evans.
After defending stoutly early on, Wimbledon marched into the lead with a goal of real quality. Mitch Pinnock’s throw-in was knocked back to him by Kwesi Appiah and his ball in was a lovely one as it picked out Andy Barcham in the box. There was still a lot of work to do for Barcham with his back to goal, but he turned smartly and struck a superb effort into the top corner. There was almost a chance to double the advantage shortly afterwards when Nightingale’s pass picked out Appiah, but he was caught offside.
As we approached the half hour mark, Fleetwood started to apply pressure. Hunter’s free-kick flashed just wide and then Craig Morgan headed against the crossbar, but the flag was up for offside. Fleetwood created a good chance to equalise in the 35th minute when a nice move ended with James Wallace finding Evans in the box and his shot was well struck, but Ramsdale did really well to save it and he reacted well to stop Hunter’s follow-up. With six minutes left of the first-half Fleetwood had their best chance so far when a good move ended with Evans finding Hunter just six yards out, but he shot over from close range.
The half-time whistle signalled a job well done from Wimbledon. Though attacking opportunities had been limited for the Dons, the defending had been good enough to limit Fleetwood to very little.
Fleetwood started the second-half full of attacking intent and Ramsdale was required to be alert to stop Wes Burns from halving the deficit. However, that was a rare second-half opening for Fleetwood as Wimbledon continued to defend resiliently and the advantage was doubled in style with 10 minutes of the second-half gone. A long ball picked out Appiah, who showed good awareness to hold the ball up and pick out Anthony Hartigan. The 18-year-old struck first time with a lovely effort that left Fleetwood keeper Alex Cairns with no chance.
At 2-0 up, Wimbledon appeared to have one foot in the fourth round, but Fleetwood kept on going and they halved the deficit in the 69th minute. A free-kick was swung in by Ross Wallace to pick out James Wallace and though his initial header was well saved by Ramsdale, Paddy Madden slotted home the rebound. It was a different game now and three minutes later it was 2-2. Ched Evans cut inside from the left wing and the referee adjudged that Tennai Watson’s challenge was worthy of a penalty. It appeared to be a harsh decision, but Fleetwood took full advantage with Evans striking home the equaliser from 12 yards.
Though Fleetwood pushed for a winner, Wimbledon’s players steadied the ship and then went in search of a decisive goal. Mitch Pinnock almost found the key to the door when he powered down the right flank, but his cross flashed across goal with no one able to get on the end of it. Anthony Wordsworth also had a shot charged down as Wimbledon sensed that a victory could still be secured. Fleetwood threatened to win it in the latter stages when Ramsdale saved at his near post from Evans, but the Dons were not to be denied. Appiah turned onto his left foot and struck a cracking effort from outside the area that found the bottom corner. The travelling Dons went absolutely crazy in the away end, celebrating wildly with the players. What a way to secure a place in the fourth round of the FA Cup!
AFC Wimbledon: Aaron Ramsdale, Tennai Watson, Terell Thomas (Liam Trotter), Paul Kalambayi, Ben Purrington, Will Nightingale, Anthony Hartigan, Kwesi Appiah, Mitchell Pinnock, Andy Barcham (Jake Jervis), Anthony Wordsworth.