AFC Wimbledon 2
Taylor 31, Akinfenwa 88
by Rob McNichol
A LATE goal by Wimbledon substitute Adebayo Akinfenwa condemned Argyle to their second 2-1 in two weeks, and dealt another blow to Argyle's ailing promotion hopes.
As sucker punches go, if Ollie Watkins' brace for local rivals Exeter last week was a combination to the ribs, this was a cross from nowhere across the jaw that sent the Green Army reeling. Argyle had trailed at half-time despite dominating, with Lyle Taylor's breakaway goal giving Wimbledon an unlikely lead.
Argyle rallied, with Graham Carey's volleyed effort drawing the Pilgrims level on the hour. However, Akinfenwa took advantage of uncertainty in the Argyle defence to head over Luke McCormick and give play-off chasing Wimbledon all three points.
Reuben Reid's absence with an injury left a space in the starting line-up, and it was duly filled by Hiram Boateng, making his first start for Argyle since October 31. Hiram took his place on the left-hand point of a diamond-shaped Argyle midfield, in which Carl McHugh formed the defensive base. Graham Carey slotted in behind Argyle's front two of Jake Jervis and Jamille Matt, with Jordan Houghton furthest to the right.
After the moving pre-match festivities honouring our Armed Services, Argyle almost made the perfect start, as Jervis put pressure on Dons' defenders and retrieved the ball. His set-back to Carey saw the Irishman strike powerfully against the crossbar only for it to rebound down the wrong side of the line from an Argyle perspective. This was all in the first 30 seconds of the match.
Carey, from the off, showed signs of reveling in the freedom granted to him, and after drifting right, picked up the ball, cut inside and curled not far over from 20 yards.
There followed a rather curious 20-minute period where remarkably little seemed to happen. Wimbledon looked to match up Argyle's diamond, and despite efforts from full-backs Gary Sawyer and Jordon Forster to get forward and support, Argyle did not have the requisite width to get behind and trouble the Dons.
It was increasingly looking like a case of Argyle being patient and working their way to unlocking Wimbledon's rearguard, as they were facing little trouble at the other end.
Corners, it seemed, might be Argyle's best chance of breaking through. Carey's delivery on three right-wing corners in a short space of time sent palpitations through the Dons each time, and an immediate one from the other wing was scrambled away after Jervis' equally good cross.
The break, though, was decisive. Wimbledon sprung forward a little quicker than the Pilgrims retreated, with Jake Reeves leading the way. His through-ball reached Lyle Taylor, who clipped past the oncoming McCormick to give the Dons a lead out of nowhere.
If Home Park was a nervy place before the opening goal, the tension levels notably escalated after it. It was not helped by a run of incidents where a ball in the area would either fall to the fortunate feet of a Dons defender, or in front of a Argyle man who was not quite ready. Factor in headers by Jervis and Forster that they will probably feel they ought to have got more on, and it led to an understandably frustrated Argyle side trailing 1-0 at half-time.
Even as the board was being shown for an additional minute of play before the break, the presence of Jervis and Matt created space for Carey to nick a toe on the ball and force a save from Kelle Roos, and there was still time for the number 10 to put an ambitious effort from a direct free-kick into the side-netting.
Believe it or not, Argyle's first chance of the second half came even more quickly than in the first. A direct, on-the-floor, passage of passing got the ball to Boateng, who turned his man, drove into the box and shot low, forcing Roos to save the ball low to his left.
George Francomb had a sighter for Wimbledon as they tried to double their lead, before Taylor had a golden opportunity to make Argyle's task twice as hard. As the ball fell to him, no more than six yards out, a second Dons goal looked a certainty. McCormick, however, repelled the ball where it seemed impossible to do so, and the deficit was still one.
The dream narrative would then be for Argyle to drive upfield and equalise, with the save being the crucial turning point. The dream did not become reality immediately, but a speculative effort from Jervis that whizzed not far wide of the near post certainly threatened.
Then, it came; a dream goal in many ways. To tell the story, sure, but also for the dream connection that Carey achieved with his left foot from an inch-perfect cross by Sawyer. The left-back received the ball from an intelligent header by McHugh, and assessed his options. Most - Wimbledon defence included - would have expected a whipped, curling cross, but instead Sawyer clipped the ball with the top of his foot towards Carey, who had pulled away at the far post. He met the falling ball perfectly, and Argyle had parity.
Derek Adams had been planning to bring on Gregg Wylde before the equaliser, and saw through his plan, taking off Houghton to make way. It did not take Wylde long before he was off on his favourite pursuit, causing havoc down the flank. One direct, speedy run actually saw two Wimbledon defenders collide and spill like a Keystone Cops routine, but the slapstick moment was not revealing of Wimbledon's general demeanour.
Rather than Argyle powering on to victory after the equaliser, it seemed that the visitors were galvanised by it. A double change, with two Adebayos - Akinfenwa and Azeez - replacing Wimbledon's front two of Taylor and Elliott coincided with the shift in momentum, and one downward flick by Akinfenwa allowed Azeez to nip in, but McCormick held well.
Back at the other end, Hartley headed over when in space from a corner, then Jervis's long cross deliberately found Wylde, but his cut-back to Matt got stuck under the forward's feet and the chance was lost.
Then, the sucker punch. A long ball forward was not dealt with, and simply went straight up into the air. McCormick had come off his line in anticipation of a ball nodded back to him. Instead, Akinfenwa outmuscled Nelson to meet the ball first, and headed over the stricken McCormick to give Wimbledon the lead, and the win.
Wimbledon saw out the remaining minutes easily enough, with the impressive substitute Azeez actually going close to extending the lead.
The result was another body blow, and leaves Argyle against the ropes.
The knockout blow, though, is not dealt. There are five rounds still to go. Seconds out...
Argyle (4-4-2): 23 Luke McCormick; 28 Jordon Forster (2 Kelvin Mellor 74), 5 Curtis Nelson (capt), 6 Peter Hartley, 3 Gary Sawyer; 4 Carl McHugh, 32 Jordan Houghton (11 Gregg Wylde 62), 10 Graham Carey, 20 Hiram Boateng (27 Craig Tanner 86); 19 Jamille Matt, 14 Jake Jervis. Substitutes (not used): 16 Ben Purrington, 24 Louis Rooney, 31 Vincent Dorel (gk).
AFC Wimbledon (4-4-2): 29 Kelle Roos; 2 Barry Fuller (capt), 6 Paul Robinson, 32 Darius Charles, 12 Jon Meades; 7 George Francomb, 4 Dannie Bulman, 8 Jake Reeves, 17 Andy Barcham (11 Sean Rigg 83); 9 Tom Elliott (10 Adebayo Akinfenwa 72), 33 Lyle Taylor (14 Ade Azeez 72). Substitutes (not used): 1 James Shea (gk), 3 Callum Kennedy, 20 Ryan Sweeney, 39 Rhys Murphy.
Referee: Kevin Wright.
Attendance: 8,852 (399 away).