AFC Wimbledon 1
by Rob McNichol
ON Saturday, Argyle engaged in a huff-and-puff battle with Mansfield Town, and beat them 2-1. Three days later, they produced a fluent attacking performance with chances aplenty, and drew the game 1-1. Who will ever explain football?
Anthony O'Connor's goal ten minutes into the second half gave the Pilgrims a thoroughly deserved lead, but an equaliser eight minutes later via Adebayo Azeez procured a point for the Dons that only the staunchest Womble can believe was deserved.
There were two stand-out performances on the night. Argyle's Bobby Reid was at the centre of everything good in green and white - and there was plenty to speak of - driving Argyle on time and again to put Wimbledon under pressure.
But there may have been one player on show who had a better night, and that was Wimbledon goalkeeper James Shea. His exceptional performance is basically the sole reason that Argyle do not sit more comfortably in the play-off zone.
Sit in it they do, though, with results elsewhere doing little or no damage.
John Sheridan made two changes to his starting line-up from the eleven that beat Mansfield on Saturday. Captain Curtis Nelson retook his position on the right of Argyle's established back-three after serving a one-game suspension, with Anthony O'Connor facilitating the switch with a move into the middle of midfield. Gethin Jones also came back into the side, replacing Kelvin Mellor in a straight swap in the right wing-back position.
Wimbledon lined up with a 4-4-2 formation, with a double Bayo-ed attack. The self-styled 'Beast' Adebayo Akinfenwa was joined in attack by named Adebayo Azeez, and it was the pair of them who found themselves more employed in the opening stages than their Argyle counterparts. The Dons had easily the best of the opening ten minutes, and almost took the lead when George Francomb's dead-ball from wide on the left took a layer of paint off of the goalframe.
Argyle saw out the early charge, though, and looked to assert themselves from set-pieces of their own, from which they have had a degree of success of late. A flurry of corners came for several minutes around the 20 minute mark, with the best chance fallen to Carl McHugh, whose fierce shot was deflected just wide of the post.
McHugh then got his head to another good delivery from Bobby Reid, from a left-flank free-kick, which goalkeeper James Shea pouched. Bobby himself then wriggled free and struck a powerful low drive from twenty yards that Shea pushed out. Within seconds, Lewis Alessandra whizzed one wide from outside the area, as Argyle looked to amp up the pressure on their visitors.
The next chance came as a real bolt from the blue, as after Reuben Reid played in Jones on the overlap, the Welsh youngster's cross curled over Shea's head and onto the crossbar, with no Argyle attacker able to follow up.
With ten minutes to half-time, Argyle did well to ignore gripes about any lack of urgency by keeping the ball exceptionally patiently, and eventually building the ball into Bobby Reid's feet on the edge of the box. Reid, comfortably the most creative player on either side to this point, skipped past one man before unleashing a shot that Shea did smartly to turn wide.
Akinfenwa's looping header at the other end was close, but found only the roof of the net. Inexplicably, a corner was given, and Jake Goodman headed into Luke McCormick's hands from it.
As the half-time whistle approached, Bobby Reid swung a leg at a Jones centre but could not quite connect - a shame, as "1-0, B Reid" would have been a fitting way to go the break.
Wimbledon boss Neal Ardley removed his left-back Jack Smith, replacing him with Craig Tanner and essentially shifting to a 3-4-3 formation, to ask some fresh questions of Argyle, whose back three had comfortably dealt with the Dons threat to that point.
The shift did not immediately hold back the Pilgrims. A gloriously floated ball by O'Connor to Jones saw a cut back that landed at the feet of Alessandra, who drew another decent save out of the overworked Shea. From the corner, McHugh made a now-familiar near post run and made Shea work again.
The Wimbledon goalkeeper was starting to have the game of his life. A slick Argyle move down the left involving Reuben Reid and Tareiq Holmes-Dennis saw a ball land at the feet of Alessandra. His shot on the turn was not powerful, but it was swift and accurate. Shea's save, behind him and to the left, was top drawer. It felt as though a team of brickies could have spent the afternoon securing the goalmouths, and still not have been as effective at repelling Argyle, but ten minutes into the second period, Shea's resistance was finally breached.
The Dons goalie was hardly at fault, though. The goal came from the umpteenth high-quality delivery from Bobby Reid, swinging in a ball that Curtis Nelson leaped high to meet and flick-on, with O'Connor powering in at the far post to prod home.
Argyle continued to impress in the moments after the goal, but were hit by the footballing equvilent of a punch in the stomach in the form of a Wimbledon equaliser. Akinfenwa's flick to Tanner saw the sub get a shot away that McCormick saved, but Azeez, following up, scooped up and over the prone Argyle keeper.
The goal took the wind out of sails from Home Park to the Plymouth Sound breakwater. It took Argyle a little while to haul around and find the prevailing breeze again. By the time they had, there were 15 minutes to go, and Reuben Reid had been replaced by Zak Ansah. Alessandra earned a free-kick on the edge of the box, and when Bobby found him with a low centre, the Argyle number seven looked in a prime position, but he skied his effort.
It was all Argyle again, but when Dominic Blizzard had the ball at his feet in the area he struck against O'Connor and Shea gratefully gathered. O'Connor then reacted quickest as Wimbledon dithered, and fed Alessandra, but his shot was straight at Shea.
With five minutes left on the watch, Bobby Reid's cross was knocked away into the path of Alessandra, who looked set to clinch a crucial winner. His strike was true, but his sight was slightly off, and the ball fizzed wide.
As the fourth official prepared to lift his board, Holmes-Dennis launched a Hail Mary free-kick that McHugh headed down and Peter Hartley struck well, but Shea held.
Wimbledon almost dealt the cruellest of blows when Tanner's effort drew a superb save by McCormick, and late sub Olly Lee drew one final save out of Shea, but Argyle were forced to settle for a point.
In some ways, it felt like a defeat, having dominated for so long. On the other hand, a glance at the table still leaves Argyle in a position plenty would envy.
To Carlisle - we may set off now...
Argyle (3-5-2): 23 Luke McCormick; 5 Curtis Nelson (capt), 16 Carl McHugh, 29 Peter Hartley; 20 Gethin Jones, 17 Bobby Reid, 19 Anthony O'Connor, 11 Dominic Blizzard (21 Olly Lee 86), 13 Tareiq Holmes-Dennis; 7 Lewis Alessandra, 9 Reuben Reid (27 Zak Ansah 72). Substitutes (not used): 1 James Bittner (gk), 2 Kelvin Mellor, 4 Lee Cox, 8 Jason Banton, 28 Ryan Brunt.
AFC Wimbledon (4-4-2): 20 James Shea; 2 Barry Fuller (capt), 33 Jake Goodman, 40 Deji Oshilaja, 3 Jack Smith (27 Craig Tanner half-time); 7 George Francomb (21 Tom Beere 78), 4 Dannie Bulman, 19 Jake Reeves, 11 Sean Rigg; 10 Adebayo Akinfenwa, 14 Adebayo Azeez (37 Dan Gallagher 90). Substitutes (not used): 1 Ross Worner (gk), 15 Mark Phillips, 29 Ben Harrison, 32 Ryan Sweeney.
Bookings: Bulman 43
Referee: Kevin Johnson.
Attendance: 6,900 (143 away).