AFC Wimbledon 1
NEVER. Say. Die.
Argyle’s ultimate away adventure of 2013 matched the excitement of their penultimate one as Christmas Sunday provided late drama.
Leading scorer Reuben Reid netted his 12th goal of the season two minutes from time to maintain the Pilgrims’ unbeaten Christmas run.
Dons’ forward Michael Smith’s header two minutes after half-time had looked like proving the difference between two evenly-matched sides as John Sheridan’s men maintained the level of performance that has seen them reach mid-season in a comfortable mid-table position.
The Pilgrims had travelled to Kingsmeadow with high hopes of franking the splendid Boxing Day win at Oxford United and notching a third successive Sky Bet League 2 victory .
Instead, at a ground where they had not previously lost, they left it late to come away with a point that has seen them achieve two wins and a draw in Christmas week.
Sheridan had not surprisingly given a vote of confidence to the starting 11 that had achieved the 3-2 win at high-flying Oxford.
That meant a second game in four days for youth-team captain Ben Purrington, 17, after a debut at the Kassam Stadium described by his manager as “excellent”; this despite the availability, after injury, of Durrell Berry.
Berry was rehabilitated as a substitute, with centre-back Guy Branston dropping out of the 18-strong party for the Pilgrims’ second road-trip in 96 hours, and instead carrying out a scouting mission at Torquay.
Wimbledon came into the match on the back of a 1-0 home defeat by Southend United, in which midfielder George Francomb had been sent off. The club immediately appealed the decision and, with the hearing unable to be held in Christmas week, could select the former Norwich man as substitute.
The displaced Dons also had captain Alan Bennett back in the centre of their back four after an ankle injury.
On a bumpy pitch, playing into a bright setting sun, the Pilgrims had to tough things out in the first half, especially early on, when Wimbledon went close when Charlie Sheringham headed wide.
Not as close, though, as Argyle’s opening salvo, which came from a corner after a quick breakout initiated by goalkeeper Luke McCormick and taken on by Lewis Alessandra. Andres Gurrieri’s flag-kick was met by Caolan Lavery whose downward header hit the turf and bounced way over the crossbar.
Alessandra then forced Dons’ goalkeeper Ross Worner into a sharp save from a powerful shot low to the near post.
McCormick, who has maybe recently looked a little short of the high standards he has set this season, then came to Argyle’s rescue with a fine save, outwitting Michael Smith after the Wimbledon forward had broken through the Argyle back line to go one on one with the Argyle custodian..
That presaged a period of home pressure in which strength of body and mind was required to keep the Green goal intact. The success with which this was achieved was evidenced by the few times McCormick was called into action as last line of defence.
One such rare occasion was when Sheringham got his head on a cross from Callum Kennedy to send the ball looping to the ’keeper’s right.
When Argyle decided that attack was the best form of defence, they found the Dons’ defence did not look so assured, but just as resilient. Alessandra and Lavery were to the fore during a period of sustained pressure before the break, with the latter teeing up the former on the pip of half-time for a curling low shot that Worner did well to keep out.
The breakthrough came, as it had done at Oxford, within seconds of the restart; this time, though, it was not Argyle who made it.
The left-hand side had proved a fertile area for the Dons in the first half and they exploited that flank again when Peter Sweeney crossed for Smith to head home.
The Pilgrims responded positively, with Reid crossing low from the right and Alessandra reading his delivery to arrive at the near post with perfect timing. His touch, however, was not telling and the ball went wide.
It was a signal of intent from the Pilgrims which saw them produce their best spell of the game: sustained pressure; switching play from one flank to the other; crosses and shots going in from all angles.
On the back of this, Sheridan brought on Berry for Gurrieri and shuffled things to match up their hosts’ shape and stultify the Dons’ attacking threat.
The Pilgrims search for an equaliser was nearly aided by the Dons’ when Max Blanchard’s cross was headed only narrowly wide of his own goal by Kennedy, with Worner a spectator. The Dons then managed to scramble out Alessandra’s subsequently well-delivered corner.
There was no faulting Argyle’s work-rate and commitment as they battled to salvage at least a point but Wimbledon limited opportunities to, at best, half-chances. Twice, the ball was swung into areas which bamboozled the Dons’ defence but found a vital touch wanting.
Sherdian sent on Tope Obadeyi and Nathan Thomas for the final 15 minutes and immediately the former took Argyle up the pitch. When the ball went loose, Reuben Reid smashed in a shot that Worner saved well.
Reid was not to be denied a few minutes later, however, as he judged Purrington’s delivery across the face of the goal to perfection and fired home from a tight angle at the far post.
AFC Wimbledon (3-5-2)
: 1 Ross Worner; 2 Barry Fuller (14 Will Antwi 68), 6 Alan Bennett (capt), 5 Andy Frampton; 15 Jim Fenlon, 8 Sammy Moore (7 George Francomb 87), 11 Luke Moore, 4 Peter Sweeney, 3 Callum Kennedy; 18 Charlie Sheringham (10 Jack Midson 71), 9 Michael Smith.
Substitutes (not used)
: 16 Kevin Sainte-Luce, 21 George Porter, 22 Seb Brown (gk), 39 Kaid Mohammed.
: Midson 76.
: 23 Luke McCormick; 4 Max Blanchard, 16 Neal Trotman, 17 Curtis Nelson, 25 Ben Purrington; 27 Andres Gurrieri (2 Durrell Berry 59), 11 Dominic Blizzard, 6 Conor Hourihane (capt), 7 Lewis Alessandra (19 Nathan Thomas 82); 9 Reuben Reid, 13 Caolan Lavery (26 Tope Obadeyi 81).
Substitutes (not used)
: 1 Jake Cole, 8 Rommy Boco, 14 Luke Young, 15 Paul Wotton.
: Berry 75.
: Andy Woolmer.
: 4,763 (817 away).