AFC Wimbledon earned a dramatic victory today with an 89th minute strike by Joe Pigott proving decisive.
That only told half the story though as Nik Tzanev's contribution was every bit as important, the New Zealand international diving to his right to make a brilliant penalty save in the fifth minute of injury-time.
The nature of this 1-0 victory yet again highlighted Wimbledon's welcome habit of scoring late goals, something that's going be pivotal during the battle to stay up.
Mark Robinson made just one change to his starting line-up after the draw versus Charlton last Saturday. Jack Rudoni was recalled into the midfield in place of Ayoub Assal, as the Dons searched for a first victory since the 1-0 win versus Gillingham, which was achieved thanks to a late cracker by ‘Rudi’. Northampton came into this match on the back of an impressive midweek victory versus Oxford United and their recent 0-0 draw at Doncaster Rovers showed what they were capable of on their travels.
With so much at stake in this game – just three points separated the two sides before kick-off – it was unsurprising that it was a cagey first 15 minutes with little goalmouth action. The Dons had a good spell midway through the first-half, attempting to spread the ball around and use the attacking instincts of full-backs Luke O’Neill and Cheye Alexander, both attempting to provide width against a massed Northampton defence. Alexander produced a fine run down the left, turning his marker inside out on one occasion, but his cross was cut out. O’Neill then showed his fine crossing ability from the other flank when a corner was played short to him, and the full-back’s delivery was headed wide by Will Nightingale. That was the closest either side had come in the first 25 minutes.
The Dons had a great chance to take the lead in the 28th minute when Ryan Longman, just a week after his bizarre goal versus Charlton, was gifted the ball again by the visiting defence. This time it was a lot harder as Longman was 35 yards out, and he powered through on goal, before being denied by Northampton keeper Jonathan Mitchell. Just after the half hour mark came a delay to this match with one of the assistant referees having to go off injured. Following a delay of six minutes, one of our match day volunteers Dennis Lowndes answered the call! Dennis, a qualified referee, took on the role of fourth official with a replacement assistant referee coming on.
The match restarted with Wimbledon continuing on the front foot against a Northampton side showing little ambition. Longman showed his threat once again with an impressive change of pace down the right, before cutting inside, but his shot was over the crossbar. Rudoni also had a shot deflected wide as Wimbledon ended the half on top. Alex Woodyard had intelligently found pockets of space on the right during the first-half, but Northampton had defended stoutly, demonstrating the resilience that earned a clean sheet at the home of promotion-chasers Doncaster recently.
The second-half started in a similar pattern, Wimbledon dominating possession, but finding it difficult to create clear-cut chances against a well-drilled Northampton defence. There was a half chance a few minutes after the break when Rudoni latched onto a loose ball in the box, but his shot was deflected wide. As the time ticked towards the hour mark, Northampton had their best spell of the match, finally showing a bit more attacking ambition. The visitors had a decent chance from a free-kick in a central area after a foul by Woodyard, but Sam Hoskins drove the ball over the crossbar. It then required Luke O’Neill to put his body on the line for the team as he did well to block a goal-bound shot from Joseph Mills. Northampton’s best chance so far followed when Mills delivered a fine free-kick from the right that picked out Peter Kioso, but he headed wide from close-range.
With Wimbledon having struggled to get going as an attacking force in the second-half, Mark Robinson decided it was time in the 68th minute for something different and Ollie Palmer was introduced for Ryan Longman up front. A double change also followed with 15 minutes remaining as Ethan Chislett and Shane McLoughlin entered the fray, as Wimbledon searched for a bit more creativity in midfield. George Dobson and Jack Rudoni made way.
With neither side really able to make an impression, it appeared to be another draw for Wimbledon, but Pigott had other ideas. After Nightingale's close-range effort from a corner was blocked, Pigott showed plenty of determination to force the ball home. That seemed to be it and a dramatic win for Wimbledon, but there was one final twist in the tale. A melee in the box resulted in the referee giving a penalty and Sam Hoskins stepped up, but Tzanev did superbly to make a fantastic save.
AFC Wimbledon: Nik Tzanev, Luke O’Neill, Alex Woodyard, Will Nightingale, Cheye Alexander, Jack Rudoni (Ethan Chislett), Jaakko Oksanen, Ben Heneghan, George Dobson (Shane McLoughlin), Ryan Longman (Ollie Palmer), Joe Pigott.