Substitute Ethan Chislett struck a dramatic winner to secure an excellent away victory in the circumstances for AFC Wimbledon.
The Dons made light of the enforced break from action with a hard-fought 1-0 win at Rochdale,resilient defending combined with a cutting edge right at the death. The substitutions made by Glyn Hodges were absolutely crucial with Jack Rudoni helping to turn the match Wimbledon's way, before Chislett's late intervention. Indeed, the Dons benefited from the rule change of five substitutes being permitted with four made on the day including Chislett.
After 18 days without a game, Wimbledon’s line-up showed just one change from the side that started our Plough Lane return match. Daniel Csoka returned to the starting 11 in place of Paul Kalambayi. There was a significant inclusion on the substitutes’ bench with Ben Heneghan in the squad for the first time. Following an enforced break, the Dons were aiming to recapture the impressive away form shown earlier this season at a venue that had been a happy hunting ground in recent seasons.
The Dons started with attacking intent and captain Will Nightingale got up well to head at goal, but Rochdale keeper Jay Lynch saved comfortably. At the other end, Terell Thomas was required to make a vital last-ditch clearance to cut out a dangerous cross by Aaron Morley, as Rochdale’s pressure started to build. Wimbledon stayed resolute at the back though with captain Will Nightingale leading a well-drilled Dons defence. The midfield three of Alex Woodyard, Anthony Hartigan, and Callum Reilly offered good protection to the back-line as Wimbledon put the emphasis on staying strong at the back.
In a first-half of few chances, Wimbledon had the first hint of an opportunity in the 15th minute. Shane McLoughlin showed good movement down the right to find space and get a cross in, but Ryan Longman was stretching to reach it, and his subsequent shot was wide of the target. The Dons put together an impressive attacking move midway through the first-half. Alex Woodyard’s fine pass out to the right started it, and McLoughlin was quick to pick out Pigott, who set-up Longman, but Lynch reacted well to save. At the other end, a quick Rochdale break ended with a good attacking move setting up a half chance for Rochdale’s top scorer Matthew Lund, but he volleyed over the crossbar.
The hosts finished the half strongly and Dons keeper Connal Trueman had to stay alert to collect a header by Lund, who was aiming to get forward from midfield at every opportunity. Wimbledon had defended well in the first-half against a Rochdale side that had come into this match more as it progressed. Rochdale certainly grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck at the start of the second-half. Oliver Rathbone came so close to breaking the deadlock five minutes after the break when he beat Trueman in a race for the ball, but his shot drifted just wide of the far post.
Wimbledon came under increasing pressure as we approached the hour mark. Twice in a matter of minutes it needed our keeper Trueman to be at his best from crosses, the on-loan Birmingham stopper twice reacting well to turn away balls into the box that turned into shots from Aaron Morley and Tolaji Bola. With the hosts having increased the tempo, it needed Wimbledon to bounce back and restore a semblance of control. Glyn Hodges recognised that by introducing Jack Rudoni for Callum Reilly. Rudoni’s youthful exuberance almost had the ultimate instant response when he struck a fine effort on goal that Lynch did well to save.
With the Dons having stemmed the tide, Woodyard sent over a cross from the right that agonisingly missed everyone in the box, as the pendulum started to swing Wimbledon’s way. There was a key substitution with 11 minutes to go as Ben Heneghan came on for his Dons debut in place of Terell Thomas. The Dons had made a significant improvement as the second-half wore on, but a late winner appeared to be eluding them until Chislett's intervention, the midfielder turning in the box to crack home a superb winner. What a way for Wimbledon to return to action, and it was a classic away win, as the Dons defended well and found the all-important winner.
AFC Wimbledon: Connal Trueman, Daniel Csoka, Alex Woodyard (Ethan Chislett), Will Nightingale, Terell Thomas (Ben Heneghan), Anthony Hartigan, Shane McLoughlin, Ryan Longman (Ollie Palmer), Callum Reilly (Jack Rudoni), Joe Pigott, Steve Seddon.