Safety in sight

AFC WIMBLEDON 2
Pigott 38, 53
WYCOMBE 1
Samuel 49

BY MARK LEWIS
AT THE CHERRY RED RECORDS

AFC Wimbledon gave their League 1 survival chances a massive shot of adrenaline with a deserved if nervy win over Wycombe Wanderers at a blustery Cherry Red Records Stadium.

This vital win moved the Dons out of the relegation zone at exactly the right time, with top scorer Joe Pigott’s goals once again the decisive factor.

Injuries sustained in the midweek draw at Luton forced Dons’ boss Wally Downes into two changes, with Terell Thomas and Shane McLoughlin replacing Rod McDonald and Scott Wagstaff.

The Dons had first use of a strong wind, with James Hanson going close from Anthony Wordsworth’s corner before an early moment of controversy.

When Pigott’s flick sent Hanson clear, he looked destined to score on eight minutes, only for Wycombe keeper Ryan Allsop to clatter him.

Having correctly given a penalty, referee Davies had to wait for Allsop to get treatment before dishing out only a yellow card. During this time, the Chairboys’ full-back Jason McCarthy blatantly scuffed up the penalty spot within full view of the referee’s assistant, who just seemed to ignore this unsportsmanlike behaviour. A

fter a long delay, Allsop was of course in perfectly good shape to swoop low to palm away Pigott’s spot kick and scramble away the rebound.

Joe Pigott heads the Dons’ first goal and, inset, boss Wally Downes celebrates with fans Pictures: Paul Edwards. AFC Wimbledon v Wycombe

Despite wasting such a glorious chance for an early lead, the Dons continued to look likely to breach a nervous Wycombe back line, while the visitors, themselves in need of points to guarantee safety, continued their usual blatant time wasting at every opportunity.

Having held out for almost half an hour, Wycombe then almost went ahead, when Wordsworth had to scramble Adam El-Abd’s 25th minute header off the line. McCarthy made a more positive contribution on 28 minutes, when his deft free kick forced Dons’ keeper Aaron Ramsdale into action for the first time.

Wycombe seemed happy for the game to remain scrappy, posing little threat to Ramsdale’s goal while muscling Pigott and Hanson out of the picture in their usual robust fashion.

The Dons’ top scorer almost had his side ahead on 39 minutes though, only for Allsop to tip his header over from Anthony Hartigan’s set piece. The resulting corner however did bring the Dons’ opener, as Pigott rose highest at the back post to send a thumping header past Allsop.

Before half-time, Hanson should really have extended the lead, when put through on goal by El-Abd’s error, only for Allsop to smother his tame effort. All too often this season the Dons have squandered such slender advantages and this game was no exception.

The second half was barely four minutes old when McCarthy wriggled free on the right wing and Alex Samuel bundled in his cross from close range. Although their home record has been poor all season, many Dons fans will tell you that luck and referees’ decisions have been against them – however their luck changed for the better on this occasion.

Firstly, Samuel was again able to find space in a crowded area to head past Ramsdale, only for the ball to rebound off the bar to safety. And barely 60 seconds later, Wordsworth found space to cross from the left, Seddon flicked the ball on and Pigott’s redemption was complete as he guided a close range header past Allsop.

With more than 35 minutes to play into the driving wind, it was clear that the Dons would have to scrap their way to victory. Referee Davies seemed to overlook Wycombe’s Dominic Gape leading with his elbow in an aerial challenge with McLoughlin, as the home side’s anxiety grew on and off the pitch.

Despite skipper Will Nightingale doing a sterling job to keep ex-Dons hero Bayo Akinfenwa away from the home goal, none of his fellow defenders’ clearances into the wind reached the halfway line, thus inviting Wycombe to press forward. As the Dons took their turn to defend nervously, Ramsdale was duly called into action to make a number of routine saves from Curtis Thompson, Nathan Tyson and Samuel.

Boss Wally Downes is a wily old fox though, and his choice to introduce both Dylan Connolly and Tom Soares in the last 10 minutes provided pace in attack and ballast in midfield to see the Dons through five minutes of injury time to a vital three points.

After 189 days in the bottom four, AFC Wimbledon will now travel to Bradford next Saturday with their fate in their own hands and their own “Great Escape” looking more likely than ever.

Ramsdale 8, Nightingale 8, Thomas 8, Kalambayi 7 (sub 79 – Watson 7), Sibbick 7, McLoughlin 6, Hartigan 6 (sub 86 – Soares), Wordsworth 7, Seddon 6, Hanson 7, Pigott 8 (sub 80 – Connolly 7) Not used McDonnell, Appiah, Pinnock, Folivi

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