Wimbledon produced a second-half display full of energy and battling spirit to almost earn three points at Plough Lane today.
Though Ryan Longman's second of the match was a complete gift, Wimbledon's display certainly merited at least a point in a very entertaining 2-2 draw against a side chasing a play-off place. Mark Robinson's side showed plenty of resilience to stay in it, before producing a rousing finish that could have yielded all three points. Longman struck his seventh and eighth goals since joining the Dons on loan, but it was his overall performance that caught the eye as he was simply relentless with his forward running, Charlton simply unable to handle him.
Mark Robinson made four changes, two of those enforced with Darnell Johnson and Callum Reilly both ruled out due to ankle injuries. Johnson was replaced by right-back Luke O’Neill with Cheye Alexander switching to left-back and Nesta Guinness-Walker on the bench. The inclusion of Ayoub Assal was particularly notable as the 19-year-old, who scored as a substitute at Shrewsbury recently, was handed his first league start for Wimbledon with Ollie Palmer having to settle for a place on the bench. Jaakko Oksanen and Alex Woodyard also earned recalls to the starting line-up. The Dons were taking on a Charlton side in good form and with new manager Nigel Adkins aiming to engineer victory in his first match in charge.
Aiming for just a third league victory at Plough Lane since moving into the new stadium in November, Wimbledon made a bright start. Attacking midfielder Assal, who was supporting front men Joe Pigott and Ryan Longman as part of a diamond formation, didn’t take long to make an impression. Barely 60 seconds had elapsed when he had a shot well saved by Charlton keeper Ben Amos after good work by Pigott. Wimbledon’s early attacking caused plenty of problems for the visitors and they just managed to scramble the ball clear after a good move involving Longman and Assal. The visitors were forced into an early change in just the fifth minute when Conor Washington had to go off injured and he was replaced by Diallang Jaiyesimi.
It had been all Wimbledon in the early exchanges, but the visitors opened the scoring with their first attack in the 10th minute. Liam Millar was allowed too much space down the Charlton left and he sent over a cross that Jayden Stockley headed home at the near post. From a Wimbledon perspective, there was not enough pressure on the visitors to stop the opening goal. However, what followed was a great response from the Dons as the score was level less than five minutes later. A fine ball through the middle by Luke O'Neill picked out Pigott, who quickly kept the ball moving by finding Longman. The on-loan Brighton forward resisted the opportunity to go down after being clipped, before cracking home an emphatic low finish that left Amos with no chance.
In a game that ebbed and flowed with both sides attacking at every opportunity, the visitors marched into the lead in the 21st minute. Millar was again the instigator as he found Jaiyesimi, who was given too much time in the box, and he tucked the ball past Nik Tzanev. At this stage, Wimbledon needed to dig in to stay in the game. Thankfully, Stockley dragged a volley wide shortly afterwards. With Wimbledon struggling to conjure up a response, Pigott attempted to do it by himself when he fired a shot at goal, but it was deflected wide, and the Dons failed to make use of the corner. As we approached half-time, it needed Nik Tzanev to make a fine save to stop Millar scoring a third goal for Charlton. The half-time whistle sounded with Wimbledon still 2-1 down, the Dons having lost their way a bit after that second goal. Following a promising first 20 minutes from Wimbledon, Charlton had shown why they are fighting for a play-off place at the other end of the table.
The second-half opened with Charlton finding space down their left again and Ian Maatsen picked out Millar, but he delayed a chance to shoot and the Dons managed to clear. Wimbledon then enjoyed a very good spell, threatening to equalise for a second time. Assal again provided an attacking spark as he drove forward, showing lovely skill, but his pass was just cut out before Longman had a chance to register his second of the afternoon. A long-throw was subsequently launched in by Cheye Alexander and it fell nicely for Ben Heneghan, but he shot over the crossbar. Luke O’Neill also sent in a superb free-kick from the right that was just cleared before Pigott could get there and then Nightingale headed straight into the arms of Amos.
As we approached the hour mark, Wimbledon came tantalisingly close to an equaliser. Oksanen did very well to pick out Longman, who showed impressive speed to charge down the right, before sending over a cross that the Finish midfielder just failed to get on the end of. With half an hour remaining, this match was still very much in the balance. Charlton showed they were still a big threat on the attack when Andrew Shinnie shot just wide of the far post.
Mark Robinson decided to make a double change in the 64th minute with Jack Rudoni and Nesta Guinness-Walker replacing Ayoub Assal and Luke O’Neill. A minute later the Dons were level in bizarre circumstances. Amos played a pass to Akin Famewo, who gave the ball straight to Longman inside the area – and he had the simple task of slotting home. That’s eight goals for Longman since he joined and certainly none were easier than this one. However, Longman had been absolutely relentless on the day, powering down the right side on a number of occasions, his powerful running and directness creating panic in the Charlton defence.
The Dons came so close to a third goal with 20 minutes left when Alexander found Pigott in space and he drove at the Charlton defence, before striking a shot that bounced off the near post. Since the equaliser, it had been all Wimbledon as the visitors really struggled to cope with an all-action Dons display. Rudoni’s introduction on the right had certainly added a bit of variety to the attack and he won a free-kick that almost earned a third for Wimbledon. Pigott struck a fine effort from the subsequent set piece, but Amos did very well to save his well struck effort.
Charlton threatened to win it in injury-time when a shot by Chuks Aneke bounced off a post and away to safety, but that would have been harsh on Wimbledon after an impressive second-half display that deserved a share of the spoils.
AFC Wimbledon: Nik Tzanev, Luke O’Neill (Nesta Guinness-Walker), Alex Woodyard, Will Nightingale, Cheye Alexander, Jaakko Oksanen, Ayoub Assal (Jack Rudoni), Ben Heneghan, George Dobson, Ryan Longman, Joe Pigott.