AFC Wimbledon 2
Azeez 6, Taylor 24
Jervis 37, Brunt 53, McHugh 56
by Dan Waterfield
That is not the winning raffle ticket, not a three-digit security number, not a new, revolutionary (and highly illegal) formation.
It is the number of days since Plymouth Argyle went behind in a football match and came back to win.
That was exactly what they did, though, as they produced a stunning fight-back to send themselves into the draw for the second round of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy on a cold, wet night in south-west London.
Argyle found themselves 2-0 down inside 25 minutes, after strikers Adebayo Azeez and Lyle Taylor put the home side ahead, but Argyle fought back brilliantly with a goals from Jake Jervis reducing the deficit before half-time. Ryan Brunt finished off a wonderful team move to restore parity shortly after the restart, before the Pilgrims found a winner.
On that day 913 days ago, Argyle had gone a goal down to Barnet at Home Park, before Irishmen Conor Hourihane and Ronan Murray scored to give Argyle three points to aid their battle against the drop.
This time, Donegal’s Carl McHugh was the right place to spot a dropping ball and volley home, giving Argyle the win.
Less than a month after the Pilgrims kicked off the season with a 2-0 win at the Cherry Red Records stadium, they were back again to face Wimbledon in the first round of this season’s Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.
In his first managing appearance in the competition, Derek Adams showed from the off that he was taking it seriously, opting to field the same starting XI who performed so well in the 1-0 win over Newport County at the weekend, with the exception of the inclusion of fit-again Gregg Wylde for Craig Tanner.
It was also near enough the same starting line-up as on the opening day with Reuben Reid the only absentee from that day, replaced by Ryan Brunt.
If there wasn’t enough deja-vu about this fixture before the start, it carried on in the opening minutes, as Wimbledon bossed the play in the same manner they did just a few weeks ago.
As Argyle were still settling, the first chance came after just three minutes, with Taylor firing a cross in for his strike partner Azeez, but he couldn’t keep his header down.
Azeez took his second chance, though, with McCormick picking the ball out of his net after just six minutes. Barcham strode down the left and had his cross blocked. A lucky ricochet saw him pick up the ball inside the box, forcing a save out of McCormick. The loose ball, though, fell nicely, and Azeez was there to stab home the rebound.
Chances were few and far between in the opening ten, with Azeez’s two the only real efforts of note. Argyle were starting to grow into it though and they won a free-kick inside the Dons’ half. Carey whipped it in, but Nelson couldn’t get any meaningful contact on the ball, and it ran through to ‘keeper Shea.
Wylde, back to full fitness after only playing a part of the game on Saturday, was Argyle’s liveliest spark as he fizzed in a number of crosses from the left, but nobody could get on the end.
Argyle thought they had a leveller when Graham Carey whipped in a cross that Peter Hartley headed down and after a deflection, found the net. A flag had been raised, though, and the brief notion of an equaliser disappeared.
Argyle were starting to gain control and Wimbledon were committing more and more fouls. Carey delivered once more, and Nelson got there, only to see James Shea pull off a good save, allowing the Dons to clear.
With 20 minutes on the board, Boateng broke through the Dons midfield, and spread the ball to the advancing Kelvin Mellor. His whipped cross was cleared, but it fell to Carey who shot high and wide. With four goals in five games, who could blame him for having a go.
The Dons were proving a different test to the side we faced on the opening day. The absence of Akinfenwa up front meant their forwards were a little less physical, but it did provide Argyle two strikers to deal with instead of one.
On 24 minutes, they made that pay. Taylor picked up the ball on the edge of the box, and fired home past McCormick, doubling the Dons’ advantage.
Argyle settled well after going two down, and they were bossing possession once more. Carey, though, found himself coming deeper to get involved, as Wimbledon were doing a good job of keeping him out of the game.
On 37 minutes, the Green Army had a moment to cheer. A perfectly placed through ball from Ryan Brunt found Jake Jervis, who calmly slotted under the on-rushing Shea from the edge of the area to pull Argyle back into the game.
Wimbledon did not take kindly to that and within 30 seconds of the restart, Azeez was testing McCormick once again. Luke showed what a good shot stopper he is though, saving well to his right.
Argyle were well on top overall, though, and pressing high up the pitch. McHugh won a free-kick on the right hand side and Carey delivered yet another excellent set piece. This time Brunt got up for the header, sending it agonisingly wide of the post.
Argyle came straight out of the traps in the second period and were on the front foot from the off. Jervis forced a good save from Shea, and after a scramble from the resulting throw-in, Dons cleared.
Just moments later, Azeez found himself through on goal, but Luke stood tall and Azeez couldn’t keep his shot down, firing high and wide when one on one. It proved costly.
On 53 minutes, Argyle deservedly got their equaliser. A gorgeous move on the left, started by Jervis, saw Gary Sawyer flick the ball over Fuller’s head, and Gregg Wylde put in a stunning first time cross. Brunt could not have been better placed, and his header brought Argyle level, in front of the Green Army, numbering well over a quarter of the crowd.
Just moments later, the Green Army were in pandemonium. Jervis beat Harrison down the right, put in a teasing cross which wasn’t dealt with, and Carl McHugh was queueing up to volley home into the bottom right.
‘We want four’ was the chant from the Green Army, and Argyle were giving it their best. Jervis nearly made it four on 62 minutes. He picked up the ball on the edge of the area, and the Dons’ defence stood off, almost waiting for him to shoot. He duly obliged, and sent it inches wide of the right post.
Jervis was finding himself at the centre of everything. After a Dons attack, Carey carried Argyle up the pitch, delayed his pass to Jervis until the opportune moment, but Shea was equal to his effort.
Wimbledon started to come back into it, and found themselves with a free-kick near the right side corner flag. They attempted what can only be described as ‘a move from the training ground’, but Boateng was wise to it and cleared it to safety.
Jake Reeves, who was showing his frustration, broke through on 71 minutes after escaping a tackle from Boateng, but the midfielder’s strike from just outside the box was high, wide, and not at all handsome.
Adams decided it was time for a change on 73 minutes, and it was the hard-working Ryan Brunt who made way, with Craig Tanner coming on in his place. Tanner was deployed through the middle, with Derek clearly seeking to make the most of Tanner’s pace, with the Dons’ defence starting to tire.
McHugh very nearly had his second of the night, but for a stunning save from Shea. Wylde crossed to the penalty spot, and McHugh placed a great header on goal, but Shea stuck a leg out and somehow it went wide of the post.
Mellor was unlucky to receive the first card of the evening on 79 minutes, and McHugh followed him into the book just seconds later after a pull back on Francomb, as Argyle used everything in their power to prevent a shoot-out.
Oscar Threlkeld, signed just a few days ago, came on for his debut in the 83rd minute, replacing Wylde. The change saw Carey shift out to the left hand side, with Oscar joining McHugh and Boateng in the centre of midfield.
Argyle were coming under more and more pressure, but Tanner broke away down the right with just three minutes left on the clock. He beat his man, but his cross was turned away for a corner.
The chefs at Wimbledon might be looking for their kitchen sink tomorrow, as Wimbledon were throwing players forward with five minutes of added time.
Francomb cut inside Mellor with just moments to go, firing a shot towards goal which fortunately for Argyle, sailed just over the right side of the bar.
With Argyle fans whistling to the referee begging him to blow for full time, Sawyer conceded a free kick to the right side of the box. Francomb delivered, but it sailed over everybody and rolled out for a throw to Argyle on the far side.
As the referee blew the final whistle, cries of ‘We’re going to Wembley’ rang out from the Green Army, capping off a thrilling encounter – and who would begrudge their optimism.
Argyle have come from behind to win, and it feels so good to say it. Just let’s not wait another 913 days.
Argyle (4-2-3-1): 23 Luke McCormick (GK); 2 Kelvin Mellor, 5 Curtis Nelson (Capt), 6 Peter Hartley, 3 Gary Sawyer; 4 Carl McHugh, 20 Hiram Boateng; 11 Gregg Wylde (26 Threlkeld 83), 10 Graham Carey, 14 Jake Jervis; 17 Ryan Brunt (27 Craig Tanner 73). Subs not used: 30 Corey Harvey (GK), 7 Lee Cox, 15 Tyler Harvey.
Booked: Mellor 79, McHugh 81.
Wimbledon (4-4-2): 1 James Shea (GK); 2 Barry Fuller (Capt), 5 Will Nightingale, 22 Karleigh Osborne, 23 Ben Harrison; 16 Tom Beere (25 Dan Gallagher 33, 7 George Francomb 51), 8 Jake Reeves, 17 Andy Barcham (19 David Fitzpatrick. Half-time), 11 Sean Rigg; 33 Lyle Taylor, 14 Adebayo Azeez. Subs not used: 24 Joe McDonnell (GK), 9 Tom Elliott.
Attendance: 1251 (356 away).
Referee: Craig Breakspear.