AFC Wimbledon 2
Wordsworth 32, Pinnock 75
ARGYLE and Wimbledon swapped spectacular first-half goals before the Dons secured victory in this Boxing Day encounter with a pantomime third that consigned the Pilgrims to the bottom of Sky Bet League One.
Argyle took the lead in spectacular fashion, with David Fox scoring an exquisite long-range volley midway through the first half. It was only the veteran midfielder’s second EFL goal for the Pilgrims – his other had, coincidentally, been another worldy goal against Wimbledon.
The lead lasted less than ten minutes as Wimbledon responded with a Christmas cracker of their own, Anthony Wordsworth firing home after showing similarly brilliant technique.
The Dons’ winner came deep into a second half over which Argyle had increasingly exerted a measure of control and, in some ways, it summed up the Pilgrims’ season in an instant.
Yann Songo’o had been an utter behemoth in the middle of a three-man central defensive unit, but his one error of the afternoon proved fatal. What should have been a routine dealing of a hopeful ball played forward by the home side just inside his own half turned into a horrible miscalculation that allowed substitute Mitch Pinnock free passage to score.
Ryan Taylor had been recalled to the Argyle line-up, after an extensive period on the Pilgrims’ bench, for only his third EFL start of the campaign.
His last previous start had come way back on August 12, in Argyle’s opening home game of the season at home to Southend United.
Since then, he has been eclipsed by the form of 12-goal Freddie Ladapo, but manager Derek Adams found room for both in Kingston after the Pilgrims’ leading scorer recovered from an ankle injured in Saturday's home defeat by Accrington Stanley.
He did so by benching Joel Grant, scorer of the winner at Wimbledon last season, and first-year professional Luke Jephcott from the side that had lost 3-0 at home to Accrington four days earlier.
Ryan Edwards was also recalled to a rare three-man central defence, where he partnered Songo’o and captain Gary Sawyer, with Joe Riley and Ash Smith-Brown playing as wing-backs.
Second-year apprentice Tom Purrington had been included in the match-day party but was not named in the squad of 18 against the side where big brother Ben is on loan from Championship side Rotherham United.
Wimbledon's line-up included another former Pilgrim, also on loan - Jake Jervis, now of Luton Town, who had scored his first goal for his temporary employers in their 2-1 pre-Christmas win at Wycombe.
Jervis was fairly prominent in the opening exchanges, during which he suffered painfully after an important penalty-area block by Sawyer, but goalkeeper Matt Macey was relatively untroubled as the game meandered along during the opening quarter.
It burst into life unexpectedly and from an unlikely source. A Wimbledon clearance found Sawyer advancing from his own half to return the ball forward, first time, to Fox. The veteran Argyle midfielder allowed it to bounce across him before sending a screaming, dipping volley over the head of Tom King, who would not have reached the ball had he been standing on Matt Macey’s shoulders.
Macey kept the score level in the afterglow of the supreme strike by getting down quickly to keep out a shot on his near post by Anthon Hartigan.
The Green Army had too little time to reflect on their lead and the manner in which it was achieved before Wimbledon pulled a special goal of their own out of the locker.
Just as with Fox’s opener, there seemed to be little danger when Wordsworth picked up the ball on the right edge of the Pilgrims’ penalty area. However, with a low exocet of a volley that would have had even his Poet Laureate namesake reaching for a thesaurus in order to describe it, he zipped a shot inside Macey’s left-hand post.
Just like the goal which it levelled, the quality equaliser had a rarity value to it, being the former Colchester and Southend man’s first goal for Wimbledon in his first season with the Wombles.
Having seen off the home side’s early momentum, Argyle now had to dig in to repel their resurgence.
The three-man central defence, in which Songo’o was both a tower of strength and a ball-magnet, stood firm for the most part, although the back line was nearly exposed by Kwesi Appiah’s pace.
Riley’s determination to not let him get away – attention which Wimbledon claimed loudly was not entirely legal – and Macey’s swiftness from his line combined to thwart the striker and send the teams into the break on level terms.
Argyle started the second half, keeping the ball well, but Wimbledon made it hard for them to find space. Patience saw Graham Carey eventually find Antoni Sarcevic in the clear for a shot that King felt the need to dive for before seeing it go over.
The Dons responded through Andy Barcham, who seized on an opportunity that fell to him after a poor clearance to send in a shot that Macey brilliantly clawed away.
As Argyle began to get some sort of control in the middle of the park, Grant was sent on in place of Smith-Brown to play just off the Ladapo-Taylor partnership.
Then, not for the first time, a self-inflicted wound burst that bubble of confidence. Songo’o, who had barely put a foot wrong all afternoon, misjudged a routine punt forward, allowing Pinnock to capitalise fully, dinking the ball past the exposed Macey.
There was no way back for the Pilgrims, despite plenty of endeavour, and after another Wimbledon substitute Tyler Burey had obliged Macey to make another good save, what looked momentarily like a dramatic last-minute leveller was ruled out for a close-call offside
AFC Wimbledon (4-4-1-1): 1 Tom King; 2 Tennai Watson, 5 Will Nightingale (capt), 6 Terrell Thomas, 3 Ben Purrington; 8 Anthony Hartigan, 40 Anthony Wordsworth, 17 Andy Barcham (12 Tyler Garratt 85), 10 Jake Jervis (32 Tyler Burey 71); 9 Kwesi Appiah; 18 James Hanson (11 Mitch Pinnock 25). Substitutes (not used): 14 Liam Trotter, 19 Tom Soares 24 Joe McDonnell (gk), 30 Paul Kalambayi.
Argyle (3-5-2): 1 Matt Macey; 5 Ryan Edwards, 4 Yann Songo’o, 3 Gary Sawyer (capt); 2 Joe Riley, 7 Antoni Sarcevic, 8 David Fox; 10 Graham Carey, 23 Ashley Smith-Brown (16 Joel Grant 70, 11 Ruben Lameiras 86); 9 Ryan Taylor, 19 Freddie Ladapo. Substitutes (not used): 20 Gregg Wylde, 21 Kyle Letheren (gk), 22 Tafari Moore, 25 Scott Wootton, 35 Luke Jephcott.
Booked: Sarcevic 26, Smith-Brown 59.
Referee: Craig Hicks.
Attendance: 4,434 (550 away).