A superb first-half display was just enough for AFC Wimbledon to secure a morale-boosting three points today.
Goals in the first half an hour from Marcus Forss, Paul Osew, and Mitch Pinnock marched Wimbledon into a commanding lead, but it was a different game in the second-half as Rochdale came back into it. The 3-2 victory was certainly merited for a highly impressive first-half display, Rochdale's second goal coming with virtually the last kick of the game.
Glyn Hodges made four changes to his starting line-up after the narrow loss at Peterborough United last time out. Marcus Forss was handed an immediate recall after returning from suspension with Kwesi Appiah having to settle for a place on the bench. Mitch Pinnock, Anthony Wordsworth, and Paul Kalambayi were also back in the side in place of Luke O’Neill, Callum Reilly, and Ryan Delaney. The latter missed out due to the match coming against his parent club and O’Neill was ruled out due to injury. That meant Scott Wagstaff filled a right-wing back role on the right side.
Wimbledon enjoyed the perfect start inside two minutes with an absolutely cracking strike from that man Forss. There was still plenty of work to do when a half cleared cross from Mitch Pinnock came in his direction, but he met the ball with a wonderful volley that left Rochdale keeper Robert Sanchez with no chance. Despite such a positive start, we had certainly been here before with Wimbledon having squandered leads on so many occasions this season. However, The Dons drove forward, continuing to pile the pressure on the visitors. Wagstaff and Paul Osew were simply rampant on the flanks, powering forward at every opportunity. Osew, making his full home debut, showed his pace and trickery to get down the left, before crossing well for Joe Pigott, who headed just over.
Bearing in mind how well Wimbledon had started, it was no surprise that the advantage was doubled in the 16th minute. Wagstaff showed admirable perseverance to win back the ball close to the Rochdale touchline after his initial run had been thwarted and his pull-back picked out Osew, who slotted home emphatically for his first Wimbledon goal. With our home support really cranking up the decibel levels in response to such a ferocious start from their team, it was a cracking atmosphere around the Cherry Red Records Stadium and there was a third goal to celebrate before the half hour mark. Pinnock, rejuvenated since his return to the team, struck a sweet strike from outside the area that arrowed into the bottom corner.
Rochdale desperately tried to get one back before the break, the visitors rightly believing that a goal at this stage would change matters and offer a chance to turn it around in the second-half. Aaron Wilbraham had a shot saved by Nathan Trott, before MJ Williams fired in a shot that drifted wide. However, Wimbledon’s defence held firm before the break to go in 3-0 up at half-time. The score-line certainly didn’t flatter the home side with Wimbledon producing a first-half full of impressive attacking play.
Glyn Hodges made no half-time changes and that was unsurprising as Wimbledon had played so well in the first-half. Another one of Paul Osew’s rampaging runs down the left caused panic in the Rochdale defence, but no one was able to get on the end of his cross. However, Rochdale substitute Ian Henderson almost made an instant impression when a ball in from Luke Matheson found him in the box, but he headed wide.
Rochdale had their best spell of the game midway though the second-half as they sensed there was still a way back into this match. It needed a superb point-blank save by Nathan Trott to stop Fabio Tavares from reducing the deficit. Ollie Rathbone then struck a shot on target that Trott did well to hold. At the other end, Wimbledon came so close to a fourth when Wordsworth’s low strike was cleared off the line. The visitors did get a goal back in the 66th minute through Henderson, whose shot from close-range had enough power to beat Trott, who had got a hand to it. The visitors now piled forward in search of another goal back, as Wimbledon now had to stay resilient in defence.
Rochdale had chances to turn up the heat on a Wimbledon side starting to get really nervy in the latter stages. Henderson missed the target from close-range after good work by Wilbraham and then there was a real scare for Wimbledon when a shot from Rathbone bounced off the inside of a post and away to safety.
Though the visitors piled forward in search of a second, it didn't arrive until deep into injury-time when Henderson scored again. Thankfully, the three goals were just enough to earn a victory for Wimbledon at the 12th time of asking in the league this season.
AFC Wimbledon: Nathan Trott, Will Nightingale, Terell Thomas, Scott Wagstaff, Mitch Pinnock (Callum Reilly), Marcus Forss (Michael Folivi), Max Sanders, Paul Kalambayi, Paul Osew, Joe Pigott, Anthony Wordsworth (Anthony Hartigan).
Pic credit: Matt Redman, Pro Sports Images.