AFC Wimbledon’s four-match unbeaten run came to an end this afternoon with Gillingham coming from behind to earn victory.
At 1-0 up and with Wimbledon playing really well, there was little indication of what was to come, but Gillingham scored twice in three first-half minutes and eventually triumphed 4-2. James Hanson's header came deep into injury-time and it was of consolation value only.
A fine start to this game had suggested that Wimbledon were in the mood to build on the impressive run of five wins in seven matches, but that all changed with that goal blitz before the break. With seven matches still to play this season, it’s vital that Wimbledon’s players put this performance behind them.
Wally Downes was forced to make one change to his starting line-up due to Will Nightingale’s knee injury and that meant a recall for Rod McDonald after his midweek appearance for the development squad. The Dons came into this match full of confidence after a superb run of five wins in the last seven games, though Gillingham were sure to be a tough nut to crack after drawing at Champions-elect Luton last time out. Gills selected former Dons captain Barry Fuller in their starting line-up at left-back with Dean Parrett, who also helped us to stay in League One last season, on the substitutes’ bench.
Wimbledon started brightly with in-form marksman Joe Pigott showing signs of promise. Pigott sent over a superb cross from the left that found his strike partner Michael Folivi, but his header was too close to Tomas Holy, who did well to hold it. In an all-action start from Pigott, the forward then did well to find space on the right and his cut-back picked out Steve Seddon, but his shot was wide and claims for a corner fell on deaf ears. The Dons came so close to an opener in the eighth minute when Pigott struck a superb effort that thudded against the inside of a post and Gills just scrambled the ball to safety.
Considering how the first 20 minutes had gone with Wimbledon dominating, it was no surprise when the breakthrough was made and it was a goal of real quality too. Sibbick found space on the right to pick out Scott Wagstaff, who showed fine composure to find Folivi and he produced a clinical finish to make it 1-0. It was certainly a deserved lead, but the goal stirred Gillingham into action with the visitors starting to become a threat. A first real chance for Gills followed with Leonardo Da Silva Lopes setting up Brandon Hanlan, but his shot was well saved by Aaron Ramsdale.
As we approached the latter stages of the first-half, The Dons were maintaining a good shape and solidity in defence, but the equaliser arrived in the 40th minute. Lopes found Hanlan on the right and his powerful shot from an acute angle beat Ramsdale at his near post. Less than three minutes later, Gillingham were in front through a fortuitous goal. Graham Burke tried his luck with a speculative shot from 30 yards and Ramsdale allowed it to slip through his fingers and just over the line.
Having come into this game on the back of four clean sheets, The Dons had conceded two goals in three minutes. A quick-fire equaliser almost arrived when Pigott found space in the box, but he was denied by a good save from Holy and Gillingham scrambled the rebound clear. For the majority of the first-half, Wimbledon had played very well, and that offered encouragement that there could be a route back into this match. However, it was 3-1 to Gillingham in the 50th minute when Wimbledon allowed Lopes space in the area from a throw-in and he drilled home superbly. Gillingham threatened to make it four when Burke was put through by Lopes, but he toe-poked wide.
In an effort to turn it around, Wally Downes made a treble change just before the hour with James Hanson, Dylan Connolly, and Shane McLoughlin introduced for Michael Folivi, Scott Wagstaff, and Anthony Hartigan. However, any momentum Wimbledon looked to build was disrupted when the referee ordered that turf near to the centre circle had to be attended to. The groundsmen came on and the game was held up for a few minutes before it was re-started.
With Hanson in the thick of the action now, it was more of a direct response from Wimbledon, playing up to a target man and seeking to work off his knock downs. Gillingham stayed strong at the back though, making it difficult for Wimbledon to find a way back into it. The game was effectively all over in the 83rd minute when Tom Eaves headed home emphatically. Though James Hanson's header reduced the arrears in injury-time, it came too late to make any difference. It had been a tough afternoon for Wimbledon with Gillingham displaying ruthless finishing in the second-half. However, there is no time for Wimbledon’s players to feel sorry for themselves with seven games to go in the battle to stay up and a trip to Scunthorpe United up next.
AFC Wimbledon: Aaron Ramsdale, Terell Thomas, Scott Wagstaff (Dylan Connolly), Anthony Hartigan (Shane McLoughlin), Steve Seddon, Toby Sibbick, Rod McDonald, Paul Kalambayi, Joe Pigott, Anthony Wordsworth, Michael Folivi (James Hanson).
Pic credit: Matt Redman, Pro Sports Images.