AFC Wimbledon 2
Midson 42, Appiah 59
by Rob McNichol
THREE was the number at Home Park on Easter Monday – but it was anything but magic.
In the third last game of the season, there were three goals on show, but with two being scored by AFC Wimbledon, it would take an illusionist of the highest order to make positives appear out of thin air as this season limps to a close.
It was the third loss in a row in Sky Bet League 2, a third consecutive loss at home and, on their third ever visit to PL2, a win for the Dons. They have claimed three points every time they have visited Home Park.
Argyle made a bright enough start, scoring through captain Conor Hourihane after seven minutes, but goals from Jack Midson, just before half-time, then Kwesi Appiah, on the hour, saw Wimbldeon home.
As one might have suspected given the nature of Argyle’s 4-0 defeat at Bury three days previous, John Sheridan made some sweeping changes. Firstly, the system; gone, after one return visit, was the four at the back employed at the JD Stadium. Instead, three central defenders and two wing backs were to be deployed, as has been the norm in recent months.
It was, though, a back five that had never lined up together before. Veteran defender Paul Wotton anchored the central trio, flanked by Curtis Nelson and Dominic Blizzard. The latter had taken a spot in Argyle’s back-line before – in fact he did so on Friday – but it had always been as a result of a reshuffle in the ranks. Matt Parsons, absent of late through injury, took a spot on the left, with Andres Gurrieri on the opposite flank.
Of the back four that started at Bury, three – Neal Trotman, Ben Purrington and Durrell Berry – did not even make the 18-man squad.
Luke Young returned to Argyle’s midfield, alongside Conor Hourihane, with Jason Banton acting as the link man between them and forwards Reuben Reid and Lewis Alessandra.
Wimbledon sparked early nerves among Pilgrims when George Francomb swung in a cross that Jack Midson headed goalwards, prompting a smart save by Jake Cole. Moments later, the same duo of Dons attempted to combine again, but a seemingly dangerous ball in by Francomb was cut out before his colleague had a chance for a clear run on goal.
After seven minutes, though, it was Argyle who broke the deadlock. Wimbledon probably felt that they had dealt with an Argyle attack which came along after a lengthy spell of Green possession. A clearance felt to Hourihane, thirty yards out and seemingly with nothing on. It was perhaps a situation where a defending team thinks they have all bases covered, no team0mates available for the man on the ball to pass to – ‘Have a go,’ you can imagine them thinking, since nine times out of ten the ball will fly into the stands.
Hourihane, though, doesn’t score mundane goals, and he calmly curled the ball over a startled Ross Worner and into the net for a spectacular opener.
It was a settler that Argyle needed. There was a notable air of a nervous team at the outset, but also one sent out with a methodology of approaching the game in a calm manner, with an emphasis on passing short where possible. Jake Cole place kicks tended to find a nearby team-mate rather be blasted up the park, although if the direct approach was necessary, Argyle looked to employ it.
The goal certainly signalled the onset of a bright spell for the Pilgrims, but the visitors reminded Argyle of their presence with firstly a neat solo run by Kewis Appiah that saw a deflected shot go just wide, before the same player shot over after a knock-down by Francomb.
Reid, who uncharacteristically was awarded a free-kick by a referee – we haven’t checked, but it is the first since about January, we think – was causing a lot of problems for the Dons backline, and a typical bustling piece of action saw him muscle a defender away, keep the ball in play, then arc back to have a shot from the edge of the area. It went wide, but drew enthusiastic applause from the Home Park faithful – and a comment of ‘He’s good, that lad, isn’t he?’ from a visiting pressman. That is a sentiment sure to be shared by a few managers this summer.
Wimbledon have a couple of decent players themselves, though, and their front two combined to give them an equaliser as half-time approached. Appiah used a bit of leverage to ease Wotton off of the ball, and in doing so gave he and strike partner Midson plenty of space. A shuffled ball to Midson followed, and he had an easy task of clipping past Cole. Wotton was cautioned for his vehemently pleading his case to referee Keith Hill, but he will not have changed a referee’s mind in his previous 489 games, and he was not about to start now.
It meant that Argyle went into the break on level terms rather unexpectedly, though it would be difficult to suggest that Wimbledon, who had created plenty of chances, didn’t merit it just a little bit.
Contrarily, Argyle began the second half in control, playing some nice stuff and dictating the pace of the game – so, naturally, it was Wimbledon that notched the next goal. Argyle, with Banton having perhaps his best game since his return to the club, were stroking the ball around, but admittedly not displaying a cutting edge. Still, a move that ended when Reid headed into Worner’s hands from a Parsons cross was signs of Argyle showing intent.
Not so. A ball over the top caught novice defender Blizzard unawares, and as he and Wotton scrambled to recover, Appiah withheld their attention and clipped past Cole.
A little like the second goal at Bury, this seemed to impact on Argyle severely. Less a case of the wind being taken out of the sails, and more like the sails taken down from the mast, folded neatly and stored in the harbourmaster’s office until August.
Long John Sheridan, looking to inject a little ‘yo-ho-ho’ into his lost boys, brought on Enoch Showunmi and Max Blanchard, removing Wotton and Gurrieri and switching to 4-4-2. It nearly paid immediate dividends as Alessandra, now operating from the right flank, cut inside dangerously, beat a man and shot goalwards. It was blocked – by an arm, if you believe Lewi - and went for corner, which came to nought.
Banton was removed, possibly limping, in preference for Marvin Morgan, leaving Argyle with essentially four forward on the pitch, but it was to no avail. The woodwork was struck twice in the closest moments – first by Dons substitute Danny Hylton, whose shot hit the post in the last minute of normal time, then by Argyle replacement Max Blanchard, who rattled the bar with a shot saved by Worner.
May 4, frankly, cannot come soon enough.
(3-5-2): 1 Jake Cole; 11 Dominic Blizzard, 15 Paul Wotton (4 Max Blanchard 68), 17 Curtis Nelson; 27 Andres Gurrieri (29 Enoch Showunmi 68), 14 Luke Young, 20 Jason Banton (10 Marvin Morgan 81), 6 Conor Hourihane (capt), 26 Matt Parsons; 7 Lewis Alessandra, 9 Reuben Reid. Substitutes
(not used): 8 Rommy Boco, 18 Tyler Harvey, 19 Nathan Thomas, 32 Cameron Dawson (gk).
: Wotton 42, Reid 68
(4-4-2): 1 Ross Worner; 2 Barry Fuller (capt), 28 Darren Jones, 5 Andy Frampton, 36 Tom Richards; 7 George Francomb (14 Will Antwi 87), 12 Harry Pell (4 Peter Sweeney, 63), 8 Sammy Moore, 27 Aaron Morris (9 Danny Hylton 75); 10 Jack Midson, 37 Kwesi Appiah. Substitutes
(not used): 11 Luke Moore, 19 Chris Arthur, 22 Seb Brown (gk), 29 Jake Nicholson.
: S Moore 36, Appiah 90
: Keith Hill.
: 6,618 (270 away).