AFC Wimbledon 2
Taylor 64, Barnett 67
by Charlie Hempstead
ARGYLE'S long unbeaten run came to an end at the Cherry Red Records Stadium, as Sky Bet League One side AFC Wimbledon lowered the Greens’ colours, just as they had done at Wembley in May.
Second-half goals from Lyle Taylor and Tyrone Barnett were enough for the Dons to outscore Connor Smith’s opener, ensuring that if the Pilgrims are to progress to the knockout stages of the Checkatrade Trophy, they will have to do it by getting the better of Swansea City in their final group match.
As he had done in the previous fixture in the competition against the other AFC in the group, when the Pilgrims beat Newport County 4-1, Derek Adams rang the changes, retaining just the back four from Saturday’s sparkling 4-1 win over Yeovil. Even within them there was a change in personnel, as Yann Songo’o dropped into the defensive unit from his regular midfield berth,
Behind them, Vincent Dorel donned the gloves, while further up the pitch, there were starts for David Ijaha, Oscar Threlkeld, Craig Tanner, Jordan Slew, David Goodwillie and Connor Smith, the only one of the eleven to have started the play-off final – in the blue of Wimbledon.
Adams’ opposite number, Neil Ardley, also shuffled his pack, making six changes from the team that had secured an impressive 2-0 win over Gillingham three days previously.
It did not take long for Smith to reintroduce himself to his former employers in dramatic fashion. After Goodwillie had been flattened from behind, Smith’s free-kick from the left was headed straight back to him by a Wimbledon defender, and the Irishman drilled a sweetly-timed half-volley through a ruck of bodies and beyond James Shea in the home goal.
Although the crowd was so modest that even Wimbledon’s landlords, Kingstonian, would have called it sparse, both teams showed considerable appetite for the task. Only a fine challenge from Songo’o thwarted Tyrone Barnett, and Dorel was forced into a diving save from the same player, before Slew saw his thunderous shot at the other end superbly parried by Shea.
With players keen to make an impression on their respective managers, no tackles were shirked. Home skipper Jake Reeves had to be replaced before the half hour after taking a knock, and Dean Parrett and Threlkeld also required treatment after robust challenges.
Although hierarchically inferior, the visitors were more than a match for their hosts, who struggled to extend the Argyle defence or to test Dorel. When they did manage to hoist the ball into Le Nouveau Keeper’s realm, his handling was impeccable. Only when Tom Beere thrashed a shot just wide of the post on the cusp of half-time was his sang froid momentarily disturbed.
The second half was a different tale.
The Dons came perilously close to levelling things in the first minute after the restart, as Lyle Taylor beat Dorel, only to see his effort magnificently cleared by the covering Ben Purrington from virtually on the goal line.
Next to threaten was Tanner, who tried to emulate his fellow ex-Don by putting his name on the scoresheet, but his low free-kick did not unduly trouble Shea.
Threlkeld’s evening came to an early end in the 50th minute, when he again came off worse in a tackle and had to be replaced by Ryan Donaldson.
As Argyle adjusted, so Wimbledon accelerated. Fine work down the right flank by George Francomb deserved better than the wild volley with which Dom Poleon met his cross, while Barnett produced something much better – but not quite good enough – as his curling effort beat both Dorel and the far post.
The pressure told in the 64th minute, with Taylor pouncing on a knock-down following a long free-kick and squeezing the ball home from close range.
One quickly became two. Taylor tricked his way into the box and his deflected cross presented a chance on the proverbial plate for Barnett. His strike partner couldn’t miss, and didn’t.
A double substitution in the 70th minute, with Tanner and Slew making way for two of the stars of Saturday’s show, Graham Carey and Jimmy Spencer, threatened to turn the tide. Donaldson fired just over the bar as Argyle finally managed to play further up the pitch, and Carey almost released Purrington in the penalty area, but chances remained elusive, and the hosts eventually saw out the victory with something to spare.
The format of the tournament means that the battle may have been lost, but the war has not.
Argyle (4-2-3-1): 21 Vincent Dorel; 2 Gary Miller (capt), 4 Yann Songo’o, 5 Nauris Bulvitis, 16 Ben Purrington; 22 David Ijaha, 18 Oscar Threlkeld (11 Ryan Donaldson 50); 6 Connor Smith, 27 Craig Tanner (10 Graham Carey 70), 8 Jordan Slew (9 Jimmy Spencer 70); 7 David Goodwillie. Substitutes not used: 25 Marc McCullum (gk), 14 Jake Jervis, 19 Karleigh Osborne, 24 David Fox.
Booked: Miller 65.
AFC Wimbledon (4-3-3): 1 James Shea; 7 George Francomb, 5 Will Nightingale, 34 Chris Robertson, 22 Sean Kelly; 16 Tom Beere, 18 Dean Parrett (28 Alfie Egan 45), 8 Jake Reeves (capt, 4 Dannie Bulman 29); 10 Dom Poleon (9 Tom Elliott), 23 Tyrone Barnett, 33 Lyle Taylor. Substitutes (not used): 24 Joe McDonnell (gk), 11 Chris Whelpdale, 19 David Fitzpatrick, 30 Paul Kalambayi
Booked: Taylor 28, Beere 70, Barnett 87 .
Referee: Tom Robinson
Attendance: 936 (197 away).