Direct Dons beat one-dimensional Pilgrims

wimbledon celebrate

AFC Wimbledon 2-0 Plymouth – www.theguardian.com

AFC Wimbledon have reached the third tier of English football for the first time in their history, after goals from Lyle Taylor and Adebayo Akinfenwa saw them to a 2-0 win over Plymouth. It was a day on which their experienced professionals stood tall, as the team put in a battling performance and restricted their opponents to few chances.

It was a tight first 20 minutes with both teams sticking to their structure, not giving much away. There were a lot of challenges in midfield, meaning neither side was able to dictate play. AFC Wimbledon grew in confidence however and their direct football started to cause problems. Tom Elliott had the aerial beating of Curtis Nelson and Peter Hartley, who needed to be more disciplined when defending against the target man.

Opposing centre-backs Darius Charles and Paul Robinson looked a firmer presence. In midfield, Dannie Bulman showed the kind of energy one would not expect from a 37-year-old in a dynamic, tenacious display. He marked key playmaker Graham Carey out of the game and Plymouth lacked the variation to find an alternative route to goal. Gregg Wylde put some good crosses into the box but was let down by a shortage of brave near-post runners. Jamille Matt naturally peeled off to the back post, rather than attack the danger area, while midfielders did not get forward enough.

Though Wimbledon had looked the more threatening side in the opening period, they did not test goalkeeper Luke McCormack often enough. After the break, they used the wide areas more. Rampaging right-back Barry Fuller got forward more often while left winger Andy Barcham caused problems for Kelvin Mellor with his pace and trickery.

Wimbledon looked an athletic and aggressive side, while Plymouth’s play appeared slow and laboured, Matt starved of service. The Dons brought on a target man of their own in Adebayo Akinfenwa. ‘Da Beast’ made a huge impact in the semi-final legs against Accrington Stanley and made a similar contribution at Wembley.

The charismatic striker occupied opposing defenders as the Dons increased the pressure, which told on 79 minutes. A lovely ball in from Callum Kennedy found Taylor unmarked and the ex-Scunthorpe striker finished expertly. With Plymouth now pressing desperately, Ade Azeez was brought on to capitalize on space in behind and he did that to good effect. The speedy sub won a penalty in injury-time and though Kennedy is the team’s regular spot kick taker, Akinfenwa was determined to have his final moment of glory in a Wimbledon shirt. He stuck the ball into the left-hand corner to secure the team’s promotion, apologizing for his forthright behaviour after the match.

Knowing his side had not turned up, Argyle manager Derek Adams watched and applauded the celebrations, perhaps motivating himself to be the manager celebrating in May next season. With many players out of contract and key men in demand, it promises to be a challenging summer for Adams, one that may define his tenure at Home Park. AFC Wimbledon, welcome to League One.