AFC Wimbledon 1 v Charlton Athletic 0
AFC Wimbledon finally showed what they are capable of as they beat play-off-chasing London rivals Charlton Athletic 1-0 at Kingsmeadow on Tuesday (10 April) to give the Dons’ hopes of avoiding relegation a real boost.
Wimbledon fans have been all season futilely calling for the shackles to be taken off their team as manager Neal Ardley’s defensive mindset saw a succession of mind-numbing performances and few goals. And now, with the team hovering precariously above the League One trap door, those prayers have finally been answered as they produced a tenacious, high-tempo performance that left the previously in-form visitors bewildered.
True, the Dons still refused to throw many players forward to support their attacks; true, too, that Charlton enjoyed the majority of possession. But this gutsy performance and its attack-minded application will have given renewed hope to Wimbledon fans. And, to make it even better, relegation rivals Oxford United, Northampton and Rochdale all lost. The Dons are now four points clear of the drop, albeit having played a game more than Rochdale, who occupy the final relegation berth.
Playing two up front – a decision described by Ardley as ‘brave’ – in a 4-4-2 formation, the Dons’ back to basics approach lifted the home crowd from the off. Harry Forrester forced the first save by visiting keeper Ben Amos after just three minutes, shooting from a narrow angle after being put through by the returning Joe Pigott, with Ezri Konsa producing a fine tackle to deny Lyle Taylor the follow-up. Minutes later Will Nightingale headed over when well placed.
Pigott had a volley from a Tom Soares cross gathered by Amos, before forcing another save from the keeper. And Pigott was also involved when he headed down Soares’ deep ball to Liam Trotter, who volleyed narrowly over the bar with a ferocious effort.
At the other end, George Long was untested as Sullay Kaikai fired a free kick over the bar and then shot over from a cross by Stephy Mavididi. Jake Forster-Caskey also fired off target for the visitors, who enjoyed a spell of sustained pressure just before the break when Patrick Bauer’s header fell at the feet of Mavididi but he failed to convert before the ball was scrambled clear.
Wimbledon’s goal came in first-half added time. Good pressing by the Dons players resulted in Charlton retreating to just inside their own half. But Bauer slipped as he turned to play a back pass to Amos and the mistake was pounced on by Taylor. He charged clear before slotting home through the legs of Amos to send Kingsmeadow into raptures.
The second half was scrappy in comparison and had fewer goalscoring opportunities but was notable for Wimbledon continuing their dogged display, with Deji Oshilaja in particular outstanding at the heart of the defence.
Pigott did well to get between two defenders to get his head to a Barry Fuller cross but his effort looped high over the bar. And Wimbledon were relieved when Michal Zyro got the faintest of touches to a Bauer header but saw it rebound off the post to keep the Dons’ lead intact.
With Pigott visibly tiring, Ardley chose to remain positive when making his substitution, bringing on Andy Barcham to play out of position off the shoulder of Taylor and successfully keep the Charlton defence occupied. Ardley even kept the same shape when bringing on George Francomb to replace Harry Forrester, despite having to play him out of position on the left to do so. With the visitors growing increasingly frustrated, it was a tense climax to the match as Dons fans urged their team to successfully hang on.
The Dons’ survival ambitions now face a serious test as their next to matches are against the teams either side of them in the League One table. First they travel to 18th-placed Walsall on Saturday 14 April; then on Saturday 21 April they entertain 20th-placed Oldham Athletic at Kingsmeadow.
‘We decided to be brave, press them [Charlton] high, and make it a game that they did not really want to play in,’ Ardley told the club’s iFollow Dons channel afterwards. ‘Technically, they have some outstanding players, and it took so much energy from our players, they had to be so switched on.
‘It is a great three points. It was an incredible performance and we need to try and give another high performance on Saturday.’
Wimbledon: Long, Fuller, Oshilaja, Nightingale (Charles 34), Meades, Parrett, Soares, Trotter, Taylor, Forrester (Francomb 81), Pigott (Barcham 70). Subs not used: Abdou, Kaja, Kennedy, McDonnell.
Goalscorer: Taylor 45.
Booked: Taylor 95.
Charlton: Amos, Konsa, Pearce, Bauer, Page, Forster-Caskey, Reeves (Marshall 70), Kaikai (Ajose 80), Aribo, Zyro, Mavididi (Magennis 55). Subs not used: Phillips, Dasilva, Lennon, Dijksteel.
Booked: Pearce 95.
By Rob Crane
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April 12, 2018