AFC Wimbledon 0
GAME, set and match.
It has been a while coming but Argyle claimed their first Sky Bet League One win of the 2018-19 season – and avoided an unwanted club-record winless streak – thanks to Freddie Ladapo’s haeder midway through the second half.
Ladapo had earlier spurned an opportunity of a golden hue and fair play for him for not letting that haunt him, as he stole in to convert Graham Carey’s cross to the far post in front of the Devonport end.
The Pilgrims lined up precisely as they had done for Tuesday's 1-1 draw at Barnsley, with the manager keen to emphasise in his pre-match interviews that the selection had been entirely dictated by the quality of performance at Oakwell.
To underline his point, Jamie Ness had to be content with only a place among the substitutes' bench on his return to colours after a groin problem. Young Dan Rooney stood down.
Wimbledon, who suffered a 1-0 home defeat by Bradford City in midweek, made just one change, with Andy Barcham coming into the midfield in place of Mitch Pinnock. Their line-up included a couple of familiar and loved former Pilgrims, Ben Purrington, who is on loan at Kingsmeadow from Rotherham United, and Jake Jervis, who has been similarly borrowed from Luton Town.
The former of those two saw more of the ball in the opening exchanges as Wimbledon matched Argyle in trying to build patiently from back to front, neatly encapsulating just how much football has evolved since the days of the Crazy Gang.
Neither goalkeeper had much more to do in the opening 20 minutes than field passes from their own team-mates, although Matt Macey probably had reason to be grateful for a couple of whole-hearted blocks after a Wimbledon corner twice broke kindly for Joe Pigott.
Maybe that acted as a spur to Argyle, for they were immediately a greater force going forward, with Ruben Lameiras at the heart of most of what was good. A one-two between the Portuguese midfielder and Ladapo saw the Pilgrims’ front-man loose off a shot that was deflected for a corner.
With Macey largely protected by a green blanket, the platform was there for Argyle to try to break down their equally disciplined visitors and they came close when Carey and Ladapo combined on the right to work an opening for Stuart O’Keefe, whose shot under pressure did not trouble Joe McDonnell in the Wimbledon goal.
Argyle patience seemed set to pay a dividend when Ladapo was sent away clear on the Dons’ goal. It turned out to be one of those weird situations that you see sometimes where a player has too much time to make up his mind.
With McDonnell staying big and forcing Ladapo to make a decision, the Argyle man delayed fatally for the split second that allowed Dons’ captain Adedeji Oshilaja to make a challenge that ensured the final shot was more of a harmless trickle.
Wimbledon’s first clear cut chance came after an interval which, for the second successive home game, seemed to interrupt Argyle’s rhythm. Jervis’s quick pass found Pigott, whose curling shot was a little too close to the goal for comfort.
The momentum seemed to stay momentarily with the visitors and, after they won a corner on the right, it took a brave and accurate header from Yann Songo’o to deny Oshilaja at the near post.
If Macey had not been called upon to make a save of note until this point, he had not allowed his inactivity to adversely affect his sharpness.
When a Dons corner that made its way to the far post was returned by Oshilaja to Jervis, barely two yards from goal, it seemed that all the ex-Pilgrim had to do was lay a boot on the driven cross. He did, but Macey somehow reacted to push the effort away.
As the game opened up, Carey found enough space to thread a pass through to Ladapo, who did well to beat one man before shooting, but Purrington had got back in the nick of time to deflect the ball away.
From the resulting corner, Ryan Edwards timed his run to meet Carey’s delivery at the near post, but his powerful header was just off target.
Then came Ladapo’s redemption, reward for not letting his head drop. A short corner on the right; Carey carried the ball along the bye-line. A cross to the far post begging for a player whose intelligent run had taken him into the right area to nod it in. Ladapo obliged.
With 15 minutes to play, Argyle showed little regard for sitting on their priceless lead, showing a determination to look for the clincher; Carey went close with a shot and had a free-kick blocked.
Confidence now flowing through their veins and showing in their play, the Pilgrims were more of an attacking threat than they had been when chasing the opener.
Home Park kept them in that frame of mind and the final 15 minutes were less of an ordeal than they might have been.
Argyle (4-3-3): 1 Matt Macey; 22 Tafari Moore, 5 Ryan Edwards, 24 Peter Grant, 23 Ashley Smith-Brown; 4 Yann Songo’o, 8 David Fox (capt), 13 Stuart O’Keefe; 10 Graham Carey, 19 Freddie Ladapo, 11 Ruben Lameiras. Substitutes (not used): 6 Jamie Ness, 16 Joel Grant, 17 Lionel Ainsworth, 18 Calum Dyson, 20 Gregg Wylde, 21 Kyle Letheren (gk), 29 Alex Fletcher.
Booked: Smith-Brown 61.
AFC Wimbledon (4-4-2): 24 Joe McDonnell; 2 Tennai Watson (9 Kwesi Appiah 82) 4 Adedeji Oshilaja (capt), 26 Rod McDonald, 3 Ben Purrington; 7 Scott Wagstaff, 14 Liam Trotter, 19 Tom Soares, 17 Andy Barcham (40 Anthony Wordsworth 82); 39 Joe Pigott, 10 Jake Jervis. Substitutes (not used): 1 Tom King (gk), 5 Will Nightingale, 8 Anthony Hartigan, 11 Mitchell Pinnock, 12 Tyler Garrat,.
Booked: Wagstaff 80, Purrington 90.
Referee: Alan Young.
Attendance: 8,542 (322 away).