Wimbledon 4 v Exeter 1
Wimbledon ended the year on a high as they beat in-form Exeter City 4-1 at Kingsmeadow on Sunday (28 December) to entrench themselves in the top half of the table.
It was the Dons’ ability to convert their chances that proved the difference between two comparatively equal sides in what was an open, end-to-end encounter.
The Dons started with a rejigged midfield, Harry Pell restored to the starting line-up with Dannie Bulman sitting deep and Sean Rigg given a role between the two central midfielders.
And it certainly worked as the Dons came out of the starting blocks at a sprint, Adebayo Azeez spurning an opening fashioned by Matt Tubbs after just a few minutes.
But it didn’t take long for the hosts to make the breakthrough as that midfield exerted its influence. Pell and Bulman exchanged passes before the latter lofted a pass with the outside of his boot to Callum Kennedy. The left-back was given acres of space to canter to the goal-line before crossing low for Tubbs to convert at the near post.
Azeez spurned chances to extend Wimbledon’s lead, most notably when he failed to get enough power in his header from a Tubbs cross, and on another occasion Tubbs delayed his pass too long as Azeez threatened to break clear from the halfway line.
But Wimbledon weren’t having it all their own way and Exeter went close to equalising with an uncharacteristically direct approach to goal, Graham Cummins latching onto a knock-down from a long ball but seeing his effort rebound off the post before being scrambled clear by the Wimbledon defence.
And it took a goal-line clearance by Barry Fuller to deny Liam Sercombe after the Exeter man had been set up by Christian Ribeiro’s pull back.
Wimbledon’s narrow lead at the break was finally extended in comical style minutes after half-time. Tubbs had already forced a save from James Hamon when Rigg rampaged down the right before delivering a looping cross. The ball fell to Azeez and his toe-poked effort was going well wide before Ribeiro intervened, deflecting the ball towards his own goal and then watching seemingly transfixed before finally attempting to scramble it clear to no avail.
James Shea had to be alert to somehow keep out Ryan Harley’s fiercely struck effort as the visitors pushed forward, allowing Wimbledon to enjoy more space on the break.
And it was 3-0 when Azeez made his last contribution to the game before being substituted, picking the ball up midway in the Exeter half and ghosting towards the edge of the box before firing through Hamon’s legs.
Wimbledon’s tails were well and truly up now, and moments later Tubbs could have made it 4-0 but his header drifted wide.
But there was a sense of inevitability and the fourth goal came when Azeez’s replacement, Adebayo Akinfenwa, capitalised on a mistake by Exeter defender Danny Butterfield. Butterfield managed to get a foot to Pell’s low cross from the right but succeeded only in lifting the ball up to where a grateful Akinfenwa span before cheekily flicking the ball behind him and into the back of the net.
Exeter did get one back in injury time, David Wheeler charging down the right and evading Jake Goodman’s challenge before setting up Sercombe, but ultimately this was a win that Wimbledon deserved.
Neal Ardley told BBC London 94.9 afterwards: ‘Once we got that second goal the shackles could come off a little bit more, and the more they tried to push to get back in it the more spaces we had.
‘If you’d asked me at the start of December what would have been on the wish list it would have been to be in the third round of the FA Cup with a big tie and to be in the top half of the table.’
That ambition has been achieved with the Dons ending the year in 11th place in the table, 11 points above the final relegation spot but just four away from a play-off berth.
But thoughts turn to the FA Cup tie as they host Liverpool on Monday 5 January, before returning to league action the following Saturday when they travel to Stevenage.
Wimbledon: Shea, Fuller (Sutherland 82), Goodman, Barrett, Kennedy, Francomb, Bulman, Pell, Rigg (Fitzpatrick 76), Azeez (Akinfenwa 72), Tubbs. Subs not used: A. Bennett, G. Oakley, McDonnell, Harrison.
Goalscorers: Tubbs 9, Ribeiro (o.g.) 48, Azeez 71, Akinfenwa 86.
Booked: Fuller 18.
Exeter: Hamon, Ribeiro, Oakley, Butterfield, Woodman, S. Bennett (Moore-Taylor 60), Harley, Sercombe, Wheeler, Cummins (Nichols 45), Nicholls (Morrison 75). Subs not used: Keohane, Davies, Tillson, Pym.
Goalscorer: Sercombe 90.
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December 30, 2014