Newport 2 v Wimbledon 2
Two second-half Lyle Taylor goals eased the pressure on Wimbledon manager Neal Ardley as the Dons came from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 against strugglers Newport County on Saturday (19 December).
The Dons boss has faced criticism in recent weeks for his unadventurous style of play and some odd tactical decisions, and that only looked like increasing as the Dons went in to the break two goals adrift.
Ardley made no fewer than five changes from the team that limped to defeat against Stevenage the previous week, but the poor form only looked like continuing as the home side were dominant in the early stages.
And the Dons were punished in the 14th minute after Paul Robinson picked up an injury that kept him off the pitch for 10 minutes, with Ardley choosing to play with 10 men rather than making a substitution. Newport took advantage of the extra space, with Alex Rodman picking up the ball some distance from goal and firing home a long-range effort to put the hosts 1-0 up.
The Dons could have been 2-0 down during Robinson’s absence as Oliver McBurnie capitalised on more space in midfield but saw his effort deflected just wide.
But Robinson’s eventual return did little to halt the one-way flow as a long Newport goal-kick was flicked on and as McBurnie bore down on goal Robinson slid in but could only slide the ball beyond the returning James Shea and into the back of the net.
That prompted Ardley to throw his plans out of the window as he brought on Bayo Akinfenwa, sacrificing youngster Christian Toonga. But it was nearly 3-0 to the Welsh side when Lennell John-Lewis rounded Shea but shot narrowly off target.
It wasn’t until just before the break that the Dons had a worthwhile effort, with George Francomb’s effort blocked.
But just seconds after the interval Wimbledon were back in it. Francomb drilled a low corner to the corner of the goal area and Taylor surged forward to blast the ball into the roof of the net, making it 2-1 and giving the Dons a vital boost.
It was now one-way traffic in the other direction as the Dons surged forward, Akinfenwa (twice) and Adebayo Azeez both spurning opportunities, although at the other end John-Lewis did have the ball in the back of the net only for it to be ruled out for offside.
The Dons went even more positive when they replaced centre-back Karleigh Osborne with highly-rated young forward David Fitzpatrick, and a minute later the Dons were level. Dannie Bulman did the classic League Two tactic of turning the opposition defence, playing a long pass from deep that Taylor scuttled onto down the left, surging forward before firing home from midway into the penalty area.
And the turnaround could have been even more complete with Akinfenwa heading off target and Joe Day saving from both substitute Tom Elliott and Taylor.
Predictably, boss Ardley chose to focus on the recovery in his post-game comments. ‘I hope it has shown a real genuine spirit amongst the group,’ he told the club’s official website. ‘That was criticised a bit last week and if you are ever going to show that, it is when you are 2-0 down.
‘We should not have been in that situation in the first place, but it takes a lot of character to turn it around when you are all over the shop.’
Dons fans will be hoping for a more rounded display when they entertain Bristol Rovers on Boxing Day, before travelling to Exeter City on Bank Holiday Monday and Cambridge United on 2 January.
Newport County: Day, Barnum-Bobb, Partridge, Bennett, Hughes, Elito, Byrne, Rodman, O’Sullivan (Donacien 71), John-Lewis, McBurnie (Boden 71). Subs not used: Holmes, Barrow, M. Taylor, Green, Collins.
Goalscorers: Rodman 14, Robinson 30 (own-goal).
Wimbledon: Shea, Fuller, Robinson, Osborne (Fitzpatrick 78), Francomb, Bulman, Meades, Barcham, Toonga (Akinfenwa 35), Azeez (Elliott 70), Taylor. Subs not used: Kennedy, Rigg, Sweeney, McDonnell.
Goalscorer: Taylor 46, 79.
Booked: Bulman 79.