Last-Gasp Penalty Caps Dramatic AFC Wimbledon Comeback Win At Walsall

Walsall 2 v AFC Wimbledon 3

AFC Wimbledon showed their Jekyll and Hyde character as they came from 0-2 down at half-time to win 3-2 at Walsall on Saturday (14 April) courtesy of Dean Parrett’s injury-time winner. The result gives the Dons a huge boost as they seek to avoid relegation to League Two, leapfrogging ahead of the hosts.

The first half was all Hyde as Walsall exploited the lack of pace in Wimbledon’s midfield. The home side could have been ahead numerous times in the opening exchanges, with Luke Leahy forcing an early save from George Long and Darius Charles forced to clear a goal-bound effort. But the reprieve lasted only until the sixth minute when Erhun Oztumer’s free-kick got the slightest of deflections off Jack Fitzwater’s head to sneak into the back of the Dons net.

Wimbledon’s afternoon was dealt a further blow when Harry Forrester was forced off with an injury, replaced by Andy Barcham, but it was still a lethargic performance from the Dons as Walsall exploited the gaps in midfield left by the Dons’ 4-1-3-2 formation.

And it got worse for the Dons on the stroke of half time when Julian Ngoy flicked the ball inside Deji Oshilaja’s attempted challenge and showed Charles a clean set of heels before slotting home past Long’s despairing dive.

But the second half was a complete transformation as Wimbledon came out with a 3-5-2 formation, with Jimmy Abdou coming on to replace Tom Soares, and upped the tempo to take the initiative.

The Dons pulled back their first in the 48th minute when Barcham was sent tumbling in the box. Walsall keeper Liam Roberts saved Lyle Taylor’s penalty and blocked Taylor’s follow-up lunge on the line, but the rebound fell favourably for Joe Pigott who made no mistake to give the Dons’ ambitions a boost. Moments later parity could have been restored as Barry Fuller’s long throw was flicked on by Liam Trotter and Taylor’s crisp snapshot cannoned against the post.

Still the reinvigorated Dons pushed, with Barcham curling an effort just wide. And shortly after the hour they got their reward. Taylor allowed Long’s clearance straight down the middle to bounce over his shoulder as he bore down on goal and then unleashed a half-volley that fizzed into the back of the net.

Perhaps inevitably the Dons struggled to keep the momentum going completely, although they were still in the ascendancy with Walsall posing little threat. But with the minutes ticking by, it looked as though Wimbledon would be denied a potentially crucial three-point haul.

But then, deep into injury time, another Long kick was shielded in the box by Taylor who fell under Kory Roberts’ grappling hands. Penalty. This time it was Parrett who stepped forward and the former Spurs man made no mistake, crashing his spot kick home to give the Dons a last-gasp win.

Afterwards manager Neal Ardley told the club’s iFollow Dons channel: ‘At half-time we had to look at a few things. I had to do certain things with certain players. One or two I had to really challenge to raise their game.

‘We changed our shape, we went super-brave, and I just said to the boys, “We haven't done it [come from behind to win] all season, so now is the best time to do it, see it as a challenge.” In the second-half we were incredible.’

The win lifts the Dons into 18th place, four points clear of the final relegation place. On Saturday (21 April) they entertain 20th-placed Oldham Athletic, themselves just a point above relegation, in another crucial clash. They then face a tricky visit to table toppers Wigan Athletic on Saturday 28 April.

Walsall: L. Roberts, Devlin, Fitzwater (K. Roberts 60), Guthrie, Leahy, Dobson, Chambers, Cuvelier (Morris 79), Oztumer (Shaibu 85), Ngoy, Bakayoko. Subs not used: Gillespie, Kinsella, Flanagan, Kouhyar.

Goalscorers: Fitzwater 6, Ngoy 45.

Booked: Fitzwater 26, Leahy 80.

Wimbledon: Long, Fuller (Francomb 81), Oshilaja, Charles, Meades, Parrett, Soares (Abdou 45), Trotter, Forrester (Barcham 33), Taylor, Pigott. Subs not used: Robinson, Sam, Kennedy, McDonnell.

Goalscorers: Pigott 48, Taylor 65, Parrett 96 (pen).

Booked: Pigott 83.

Att: 4,663.

By Rob Crane

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April 18, 2018