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Dons exit FA Cup after pushing Ipswich all the way

Wimbledon eliminated after bold first-half display had threatened an upset

6 January 2024

Club News

Dons exit FA Cup after pushing Ipswich all the way

Wimbledon eliminated after bold first-half display had threatened an upset

6 January 2024

The Dons bowed out of the Emirates FA Cup after Championship side Ipswich eventually proved too strong.

A 3-1 home defeat meant that FA Cup dreams will have to wait for another year, but Wimbledon's players and fans could certainly hold their heads up high after pushing Premier League hopefuls Ipswich all the way.

Indeed, the Dons were well in this tie at 2-1 down when Harry Pell was sent off just before the hour. That incident gave Ipswich an advantage they were too canny to turn down, but they needed until the final minutes to seal a place in the fourth round when Jack Taylor steered home from close-range. 

Prior to kick-off, we had the privilege of welcoming a pair of Wimbledon goalkeeping greats onto the pitch to greet supporters with Dave Beasant and Dickie Guy receiving a rapturous reception from all in yellow and blue. It was certainly the perfect way to gear up for a big FA Cup tie with Beasant and Guy having been involved in Wimbledon’s two stand-out matches in the competition – ‘Lurch’ having played a key role in the 1988 FA Cup Final win and our Club President having defied Leeds United back in 1975.

There was a bumper FA Cup crowd in attendance for this latest opportunity to create more cup magic with 8,595 packing into the Cherry Red Records Stadium. Three changes to the starting line-up were made by Wimbledon with Alex Pearce, Harry Pell, and Aron Sasu recalled in place of Joe Lewis, Omar Bugiel and Ali Al-Hamadi. In opposition was a strong Ipswich side who are bidding for a Premier League return after an impressive first half to this season.

The Dons were forced to defend deep early on as Ipswich got their passing game going effectively and the visitors took the lead through a goal that was disappointing from a Wimbledon perspective. A routine corner kick was delivered to the near post and Nathan Broadhead was allowed to get there first, but there was a real slice of fortune for Ipswich as his shot was deflected in.

Far from being disillusioned about conceding so early on against higher level opponents, Wimbledon’s response was exactly what was required in the circumstances. Ryan Johnson headed over in the 13th minute after a corner had been played short to Armani Little, who delivered a superb cross from the right to pick him out.

There was more to come as Aron Sasu and Jack Currie both produced lung-bursting runs down the left to get the Dons moving in the right direction – and our home supporters responded by cranking up the decibel levels.

Currie’s contribution led to the opener as he earned a corner that resulted in Ipswich midfielder Jack Taylor being penalised for handball in the box. Captain Jake Reeves, who converted two penalties in the win versus Notts County, stepped up confidently to make no mistake again. It was certainly another ice cool spot-kick from our experienced midfielder as Ipswich keeper Christian Walton was well beaten by the shot that arrowed into the top corner.

The jubilation that greeted Wimbledon’s equaliser signalled that we now had a real cup tie on our hands!

And Wimbledon wasted no time going for the jugular. Sasu, who had been lively from the outset, got in behind to latch onto a through ball from Huseyin Biler, but he was crowded out before he could get a shot in from an acute angle. Then Davison produced a dashing run down the left, before crossing to find Pell, but he was just unable to use all of his sizeable frame to divert the ball goalwards.

At this stage, the Dons were on track to cause another cup upset – higher level clubs Coventry City, Cheltenham, and Portsmouth already beaten in knockout competitions this season – but a real setback followed in the 34th minute. Alex Pearce was forced to go off injured, with Paul Kalambayi replacing him at the heart of defence.

Worse was to come from a Wimbledon perspective as Ipswich regained the lead. Though Broadhead’s shot was well saved by Alex Bass, it turned out to be only a temporary reprieve. Yet again, the goal came from a corner with the Dons punished for failing to deal with a ball that was swung in towards the near post and Axel Tuanzebe scored from close-range. Following that setback, the Dons responded well and there was a great opportunity for Lemonheigh-Evans, but he shot into the side netting.

A 2-1 half-time deficit meant that the Dons had a tough task now to make more FA Cup progress. Indeed, Ipswich almost had the cushion of a third goal when a cross was diverted onto a post by Paul Kalambayi.

But the visitors were given a real advantage in the 58th minute when Harry Pell was sent off for a second bookable offence – the men in yellow and blue now having a mountain to climb to stay in the famous knockout competition. In the immediate aftermath of that game-changer, the Dons responded well to stay in it. And a well-worked corner routine at the other end fashioned a half chance for Kalambayi at the back post, but he was unable to steer the ball towards goal.

The visitors should really have sealed it midway through the second-half when a well-worked move down their left created a gilt-edged chance for Marcus Harness, but he shot wide from close-range. That miss was almost punished as Armani Little struck a superb effort that required an impressive save by Walton.

In the circumstances, the Dons did well to prevent Ipswich from adding the all-important third goal. Alex Bass reacted superbly to turn away a header from Cameron Humphreys, but at the other end Wimbledon showed this game was not yet over when Little’s dangerous cross had to be palmed away to safety by Walton. Indeed, the spirit shown by Wimbledon with one man less was admirable, as Ipswich were at least made to work to secure a place in the hat for the fourth round.  

However, it was game over with a minute of normal time remaining when Taylor slotted home from a rebound after Bass had saved the initial shot. Though there was obvious disappointment as the Dons bowed out of the FA Cup, this was certainly an admirable display against a side vying for the Premier League. 

AFC Wimbledon: Alex Bass, Huseyin Biler (James Ball), Jake Reeves, Ryan Johnson, Harry Pell, Josh Davison, Armani Little, Alex Pearce (Paul Kalambayi), Connor Lemonheigh-Evans (James Tilley), Jack Currie, Aron Sasu.

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