AFC Wimbledon 2
Harrison 13, Yussuff 90
by RICK COWDERY
THE home form that is making the Pilgrims’ progress that much more difficult, post-administration, again reared its ugly head.
An early goal from Wimbledon, whose form coming into the game had suggested that Argyle might reasonably anticipate a comfortable three points, put them on the back foot.
Carl Fletcher does not strike you as a gambler, but his decisions to crank up the Pilgrims’ attacking options throughout a second half, which ended with Argyle top-loaded with forwards, eventually paid dividends.
A penalty in the 89th minute from Rhys Griffiths appeared enough to earn another point but the Dons rallied and nicked the victory in stoppage time through Rashid Yussuff.
Argyle had made four changes to the starting line-up that pegged Wycombe 1-1 at Adams Park on Tuesday, fielding a totally new strike pairing in Paris Cowan-Hall and Rhys Griffiths.
The Welshman, who was making his long, long-awaited full Football League debut at the age of 32, replaced the midweek goalscorer Guy Madjo, who dropped to the substitutes’ bench, while Cowan-Hall came in for the injured Warren Feeney.
Injuries also prevented the inclusion of previously ever-present centre-back Max Blanchard, who has been suffering from concussion and failed a match-day fitness test, and never-present-at-Home-Park midfielder Ross Jenkins, whose loan spell from Watford has consisted of two away matches punctuated by injury.
To fill their places, manager Carl Fletcher dipped into the talent that has been supplied by the Argyle youth-team assembly line, replacing the absentee Frenchman with Curtis Nelson and promoting Luke Young from the bench.
Nelson thus retained his place in the initial 11, having deputised for the previously suspended – and straightaway recalled – Durrell Berry in midweek.
Wimbledon, with only a win against Wycombe to show for efforts in their previous six matches, had confined themselves to one change from the side that had lined up against, and briefly led, Oxford four days earlier.
That was in midfield, where Christian Jolley stepped down in favour of Yussuff.
As they had at Wycombe, Argyle went behind early on to their opponents’ first attack of the game with some similarly uncertain defending.
Possession was ceded on the left flank and George Francomb’s subsequent low, driven, cross was allowed, with the help of a touch from Jack Midson, to progress all the way across the face of the Pilgrims’ goal to the far post, where Byron Harrison touched the ball home from feet, rather than yards.
The goal knocked the Pilgrims out of kilter and they endured one of those horrible little spells when seemingly nothing they tried would go for them.
Indeed, it could have been whole lot worse, had goalkeeper Jake Cole’s confident run of form not continued with a good save from Yussuff’s drive.
It took a driving run into the Dons’ penalty area from Cowan-Hall to shake things up. Although it produced nothing more than a corner, it helped settle things down and preceded a spell which at least relieved the pressure on the back four.
The closest Argyle came to levelling in that spell was when Robbie Williams made a bid to regain top spot in the club’s scoring charts with a trademark low wall-beating free-kick that Dons’ keeper Seb Brown scrambled away from inside his post.
However, despite the improvement, and some tactical tweaking from the timbers, the Pilgrims were unable to get on terms, and were inches from going into the interval when George Francomb sent another right-wing cross over.
This time, the trajectory towards the far post was higher, but the chance was as clean as the one that had led to the opener, with Harrison this time heading wide of the post with Cole in no man’s land.
With no further alarms, Argyle were looking to make the same quick post-interval re-start that hass led to swift second-half goals in their previous two games.
When it was not immediately forthcoming, Fletcher sent on Madjo for Africa-bound Bhasera, giving himself, effectively, four forwards.
One of those, Griffiths, immediately underlined the intent with a header from Conor Hourihane’s corner that was always high.
Griffiths and Madjo then linked well for the latter to be thwarted by a timely tackle, before Brown denied Hourihane’s cutely-placed precise goalbound strike with a fully outstretched paw.
The top-loaded Pilgrims, with Madjo making his presence felt, continued to take the game to the Dons and had to be wary of a quick breakout.
The attacking philosophy was enhanced when winger Joe Lennox came on for Berry, and Nick Chadwick replaced Hourihane. Alex MacDonald was, at this time, playing right-back and Young was not exactly overblessed with central midfield colleagues.
Griffiths had the ball in the net, after Brown had made one save to conceded a corner and another from Cowan-Hall’s shot, but was denied a second career goal outside Wales by the linesman’s offside flag.
Minutes later, Griffiths grabbed the ball after Mambo had hauled down Madjo and strode to the penalty spot with the confidence of a man with near-on 300 career goals.
It appeared enough to salvage a sixth draw from nine matches, and third successive 1-1, at that.
1 Jake Cole; 2 Durrell Berry (19 Joe Lennox79), 5 Darren Purse (capt), 17 Curtis Nelson, 3 Robbie Williams; 32 Alex MacDonald, 8 Luke Young, 6 Conor Hourihane (9 Nick Chadwick 81), 14 Onismor Bhasera (18 Guy Madjo 58); 7 Paris Cowan-Hall, 10 Rhys Griffiths. Substitutes (not used):
20 Rene Gilmartin (gk), 21 Matt Lecointe, 23, Jamie Richards, 27 Andres Gurrieri
Berry 18, Williams 35, Purse 34.
AFC Wimbledon (4-4-2):
1 Seb Brown; 24 George Francomb, 29 Will Antwi, 30 Yado Mambo, 15 Jim Fenlon; 28 Steven Gregory, 11 Luke Moore (17 Huw Johnson 81), 8 Sammy Moore (capt), 23 Rashid Yussuff (22 Curtis Haynes-Brown 90); 9 Byron Harrison (12 Christian Jolley 72), 10 Jack Midson. Substitutes (not used)
: 4 Louis Harris, 20 Frankie Merrifield, 21 Charlie Strutton, 33 Mikhael Jaimez-Ruiz (gk).
Mambo 1, Yussuff 51.
: Keith Stroud.
6,271 (285 away).