Pell Strikes As New-Look Dons Gel

Torquay 1 v Wimbledon 1

Harry Pell’s late goal wasn’t enough to give Wimbledon an opening-day win as they drew 1-1 at Torquay on Saturday (3 August).

The midfielder struck with just three minutes remaining on the clock, his effort deflecting home off a Torquay man, but there was still enough time for Torquay to come up with an equaliser to deny the Dons three points.

The Dons handed debuts to six new players, including towering young striker Michael Smith who signed on loan from Charlton during midweek. He started in place of last season’s top scorer, Jack Midson, as the Dons set out with a 4-5-1 formation.

Smith soon proved to be a thorn in the side to the Torquay defence, getting a second-minute chance when sent through by George Porter only to be thwarted by Torquay keeper Martin Rice.

And Smith showed his ability to use his physical presence to create chances for others by fashioning an opening for George Francomb, but the former Norwich man fired wide from an admittedly narrow angle.

It wasn’t all one-way traffic and the home side had the ball in the back of the net through Callum Bell after the Dons failed to clear a cross, but the Gulls were denied by an offside flag.

The best scoring opportunity came just before the break when Smith played in Francomb. His low cross reached Luke Moore at the far post but Torquay keeper Rice was again in good form to deny the Dons the lead.

The Dons weathered some early second-half pressure from the hosts, during which Bell struck a post, before again pressing forwards themselves, with Smith coming closest with a powerfully struck drive from the corner of the area that Rice did well to palm away.

Boss Neal Ardley signalled his intention to press for the win by making a triple substitution with just over 20 minutes remaining, bringing on Chris Arthur, Midson and Charlie Sheringham, and was nearly rewarded with an immediate goal when Midson saw his effort from an Arthur cross foiled by Rice.

But it wasn’t until the dying minutes that the Dons finally made the breakthrough. Sheringham laid the ball off to Barry Fuller in the right-hand channel but, with everyone expecting a cross, the former Barnet man rolled it to Pell who curled it first time from outside the area and, via a deflection off Aaron Downes, into the back of the net.

The home side responded by putting the Dons under sustained pressure as they sought an equaliser, and it came in the last minute. The Dons partially cleared a long throw but it was played back into the box by Niall Thompson being met by Downes who atoned for his role in the Dons opener by thumping a header past Ross Worner.

Despite the disappointment of conceding a late equaliser, this was an encouraging performance from Ardley’s new-look Wimbledon side. They will be keen to follow it up with another good performance when they travel to Millwall in the Capital One Cup on Tuesday (6 August) before hosting Wycombe Wanderers at Kingsmeadow on Saturday.

Torquay: Rice, Tonge (N. Thompson 90), Nicholson, Mansell, Downes, Pearce, Cameron (Chapell 78), Harding, Benyon (Hawley 69), Ball, Bodin. Subs not used: Lathrope, Cruise, Sullivan, C. Thompson.

Goalscorer: Downes 90.

Booked: Pearce 45, Downes 73.

Wimbledon: Worner, Fuller, Kennedy, Sweeney, Frampton, Bennett, Francomb (Arthur 68), Pell, L. Moore, Smith (Midson 68), Porter (Sheringham 68). Subs not used: S. Moore, Fenlon, Strutton, Brown.

Goalscorer: Pell 87.

By Rob Crane

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August 5, 2013