A well-taken goal by Scott Wagstaff against his former club Gillingham earned an important victory for Wimbledon today.
Wimbledon's captain finished off a fine team move and that was enough to secure a 1-0 win - a first Dons victory since 19 October against Portsmouth. Last-ditch defending from Wimbledon's back-line and plenty of fighting spirit helped achieve a vital victory before Wimbledon go into an enforced break due to being out of the cup. In a frantic finale of Gills pressure late on, Ben Pringle was sent off for the visitors as Wimbledon closed in on victory.
Glyn Hodges made three changes to the Wimbledon side that had started the Emirates FA Cup defeat at Doncaster. Marcus Forss was straight back into the team in attack, the on-loan Brentford striker having not been permitted to play by his parent club in the cup. Kwesi Appiah therefore had to settle for a place on the substitutes’ bench. Paul Kalambayi and Max Sanders were both restored to the side in place of Terell Thomas and Anthony Hartigan. Former Dons captain Barry Fuller was in the Gillingham side and it was another milestone for the experienced defender as he made his 500th career start against his old club. Gillingham, now managed by Steve Evans, came into this match with eight points more than a Wimbledon side seeking a first win since the end of October.
Wimbledon had to withstand wave after wave of Gillingham pressure early on and it was credit to the back four and Nathan Trott that the score remained level. The first real chance came in the 10th minute when Brandon Hanlon shot from close-range, but Trott reacted well to save. Kalambayi then put his body on the line to stop a goal-bound shot, as Gills tested Wimbledon’s resilience. It was therefore against the run of play when Wimbledon made the breakthrough in the 20th minute. However, there was no doubting the quality of the move that led to the chance and the execution of the finish by Scott Wagstaff. Callum Reilly picked out Mitch Pinnock on the right and he switched the ball to the over-lapping Wagstaff, who slotted home superbly with his left foot.
Reilly and Wagstaff had both served Gillingham in the past and Wimbledon needed another former Gills player to make a key contribution shortly afterwards. Hanlon, who was a real handful in attack, powered through on goal, but Luke O’Neill got back quickly and made an impressive last-ditch block. Mikael Mandron then had a good chance, but he completely missed his kick. Gillingham came close again on the half hour with this time Ryan Delaney called upon to stop the visitors. With Hanlon clean through on goal, Delaney just managed to get a tackle in and the ball squirmed wide of the target. Madron also headed over the crossbar as Gillingham continued to press for a goal.
The half-time whistle signalled a job well done so far from Wimbledon. The defensive resilience shown so far had been every bit as impressive as the quality of the first-half goal and Wimbledon were going to need more of the same in the second-half. Gillingham started the second-half on the front foot once again and the visitors claimed that one of their players had been shoved in the box by Pinnock, but the referee was unimpressed. Though the visitors continued to go forward, the defending was nowhere near as last-ditch as before the break. The Dons also exerted good pressure at the other end around the hour mark. Sanders sent over a lovely free-kick from the right that deserved a goal, but no one was able to get on the end of it. Kwesi Appiah’s first contribution after coming on as a substitute was to cause the visitors problems through the middle. The striker, who replaced Marcus Forss, was almost picked out by Joe Pigott, but the ball fell nicely for Pinnock and his shot was well saved by Gills keeper Jack Bonham.
As we progressed towards the 70th minute mark, Wimbledon had defended very well in the second-half, restricting the visitors to very little. Hanlon, who had a big battle with Kalambayi all day, had Gillingham’s best chance after the break when his marker misjudged the bounce, but he curled wide of the far post. As we entered the latter stages, both sides threatened. Pinnock did very well to find space and get in a cross to set-up Pigott, but his volley was just over. At the other end, Hanlon had a decent chance, but in fairness the angle was against him and he shot wide of the target.
Though Gillingham piled on the pressure in the final stages, Wimbledon held firm at the back, showing admirable spirit and graft to earn a hard-fought win.
AFC Wimbledon: Nathan Trott, Luke O’Neill, Scott Wagstaff, Mitch Pinnock, Marcus Forss (Kwesi Appiah), Ryan Delaney, Max Sanders, Paul Kalambayi, Callum Reilly, Paul Osew, Joe Pigott (Nesta Guinness-Walker).