A first goal at senior level by Jack Rudoni earned Wimbledon a place in the last-eight of the Papa John’s Trophy.
Rudoni's goal on the hour was enough for the Dons, thanks to an impressive defensive display at the Memorial Stadium. It was a venue that already had good memories for our young match-winner as he made his full debut in a victory at Rovers last season. This 1-0 win was certainly deserved as Wimbledon produced a fine away display to secure a hard-fought passage into the next stage of a national competition that ends with a final at Wembley.
The last meeting between these two sides ended in a 4-2 win for Bristol Rovers, but that match was unlikely to have a bearing on this one. Though both teams were strong, consisting of first-teamers, Paul Tisdale fielded just three of the side that won at Plough Lane with Wimbledon’s side containing six of the team that started back then. Glyn Hodges decided to hand a debut to new goalkeeper Sam Walker, who had saved a penalty at this venue just 10 days ago.
Wimbledon started brightly at the Memorial Stadium with Ollie Palmer finding space in the box to head at goal, but his effort was saved by former Dons loanee Joe Day. Wimbledon had a lot of possession in the first 20 minutes and Will Nightingale sent through a fine pass that almost picked out Palmer, but Day got there first. Wimbledon reverted to a 4-4-2 formation for this match with Will Nightingale and Dan Csoka flanked by Shane McLoughlin and Nesta Guinness-Walker. McLoughlin still managed to join in the attack when opportunities were presented and it was good to see him marauding down the right flank after his recent injury problems.
With half an hour gone, Wimbledon’s new keeper Sam Walker had been untroubled so far as the Dons defended diligently. At the other end, Palmer showed good hold-up play to fashion an opportunity for Ethan Chislett, but he was unable to get a proper connection on his shot. The best chance of the match so far came in the 36th minute when Michael Kelly sent in a free-kick from the left that Mark Little headed against the crossbar, Walker's vital touch with his fingertips diverting it against the woodwork. Apart from Palmer twice threatening to break the deadlock and Little heading against the crossbar, it had been a game of limited goalmouth incident and the half-time score of 0-0 reflected that.
The Dons started the second-half well, aiming to take the game by the scruff of the neck with more players getting forward. Enjoying the majority of possession, Wimbledon worked promising attacking positions as the second-half progressed and the breakthrough was made on the hour. Jack Rudoni found space in the box and let fly with a well-struck shot that took a slight deflection, leaving Day with little chance of saving it. All of a sudden, Rudoni was everywhere, as he aimed to orchestrate the play in midfield after his all-important goal. The young midfielder delivered a wonderful free-kick from the left that picked out Ollie Palmer, but the Dons striker was only able to guide the ball wide.
Glyn Hodges made a treble change midway through the second-half with Joe Pigott, Callum Reilly, and Cheye Alexander entering the fray for Ollie Palmer, Ethan Chislett, and Shane McLoughlin. With 12 minutes remaining, Wimbledon needed new keeper Sam Walker to be at his best as he reacted superbly to make a save from Jonah Ayunga, who had looked certain to score after going clean through. However, Wimbledon responded by twice coming close to sealing victory in quick succession. First, Alex Woodyard was one-on-one with the keeper, but he shot wide, before Rudoni struck a fine effort that Day palmed away to safety.
It was hardly backs to the wall stuff in the latter stages as Rovers pressed, but Alfie Kilgour headed a good chance into the side netting in injury-time. That was almost the last action of the match and the final whistle signalled a job well done on the night from Wimbledon as Glyn's boys marched into the last eight of the competition.
AFC Wimbledon: Sam Walker, Daniel Csoka, Alex Woodyard, Will Nightingale, Ollie Palmer (Joe Pigott), Ethan Chislett (Callum Reilly), Jack Rudoni, Jaakko Oksanen, Nesta Guinness-Walker, Shane McLoughlin (Cheye Alexander), Ryan Longman.