Madden 70 Evans 72 pen
Barcham 16 Hartigan 55 Appiah 90
By Dave Hunt-Jackson at Highbury Stadium
Kwesi Appiah capped a man of the match performance with a 90th-minute winner as AFC Wimbledon saw off a spirited fightback from their hosts at the Highbury Stadium on Saturday.
Wally Downes is the first AFC Wimbledon manager to lead his team to the fourth round of the FA Cup.
Aaron Ramsdale – his second signing of the January transfer window – was the only change to the side. The on-loan Bournemouth goalkeeper replaced Tom King – recalled by Millwall – and gave an assured performance on his debut.
With Appiah the only fit striker available he was again asked to play alone upfront which he did with much aplomb having a hand in the first goal, making the second and scoring the third with a precise finish.
Despite a number of injuries this depleted side looks a world apart since the change of manager, playing now with real freedom, confidence and a smile on their faces. They are noticeably fitter – as exemplified by Mitch Pinnock. He did not stop running for 90 minutes and his defensive qualities took a lot of pressure off full-back Tennai Watson.
Andy Barcham opened the scoring with a superb turn and finish borne of a belief instilled in him by the new management team.
Young Anthony Hartigan has never appeared to lack confidence. His goal saw some brilliant set-up play by Appiah – an aggressive forward run to the edge of the box and then a quality finish low into the corner of the net.
To score three away from home without either James Hanson or Joe Pigott is an achievement in itself, but to win having been pegged back from being 2-0 in front shows resilience and character.
After Fleetwood scored twice in three minutes, the second a penalty given after Ched Evans blatantly dived, the Dons could easily have folded. Instead they picked themselves up and carried on fighting – when Anthony Wordsworth picked out Appiah the now fully fit and fully confident striker buried the opportunity and with it the Cod Army’s FA Cup dreams.
After the game Joey Barton, while magnanimous towards the Dons’ performance, bemoaned the fact that the loss deprives Fleetwood of transfer fund in this January window. Wimbledon will hope that the opposite is true.
There is a clear need for additional personnel up front given that Jake Jervis is really a winger and two of the three centre forwards are currently injured. Both Hanson and Appiah have spent too much of their careers on the treatment table.
Wimbledon look better resourced in other areas.
Will Nightingale swept up in front of the back four and Paul Kalabayi impressed again in the backline. Given the form of Kalambayi, Nightingale and Tyrell Thomas, there is no obvious route back into the side for Deji Oshilaja, the captain under Neal Ardley earlier in the campaign.
With a fourth round tie to look forward to Wimbledon will also be optimistic that they have the tools they need to climb the League One table and avoid the relegation that looked inevitable before the arrival of Downes and Glyn Hodges.
AFC Wimbledon (4-1-4-1): Ramsdale 7, Thomas 7 (Trotter 37, 6) Purrington 8, Nightingale 8, Watson 7, Kalambayi 8, Barcham 7 (Jervis 81), Wordsworth 7, Hartigan 7 Appiah 8 Pinnock 8. Not used: McDonnell, Garratt, Sibbick, Wood, Egan.
Photos by Sean Gosling