AFC Wimbledon fans revel in thrilling comeback as they witness a first Plough Lane triumph
AFC Wimbledon (0) 3 Rudoni 55, 81 Nightingale 79
Oxford United (1) 1 Sykes 45
AFC Wimbledon staged a stirring second-half comeback to secure a first home win of the season – and a first for returning fans to savour Plough Lane.
A fairly even first-half ended disastrously for the Dons as the normally on-the-ball Tony Hartigan allowed himself to be dispossessed on the edge of the area by Mark Sykes and the Oxford striker had the straightforward task of rolling the ball past Nik Tzanev.
But within 10 minutes of the restart, it was all square when a free-kick floated into the box was nodded goalwards by Will Nightingale and Jack Rudoni chased it home by nodding the ball over the line.
Hartigan then made amends for his first-half error with the outswinging corner which was met perfectly by the head of Nightingale to make it 2-1 and Plough Lane erupted.
Rudoni then capped a thrilling fightback by rolling in the third after fine work down the left from sub Ayoub Assal, whose pace and directness always promise goals. Man of the match Rudoni almost had a hat-trick too, firing just over at the death.
This had been a good start to the season for the Dons, whose only defeat so far came at promotion favourites Sunderland. And they have the small matter of a mouth-watering League Cup trip to Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium to look forward to.
But more than anything, they craved the feeling of being winners on home soil again. This felt special as Dons fans finally enjoyed the experience of watching their heroes win at Plough Lane after all those years in the comparative wilderness of Selhurst Park and Kingston.
This was only the third game here with fans filling the seats and they showed us what we have all been missing: ‘We’ve got more stands than you,’ the Wombles fans chorused towards the away end – a reference to Oxford’s three-sided Kassam Stadium.
Oxford boss, former boss of the hated MK Dons was given a suitably choice reception.
It feels great to see everyone back where they belong. Where they should be. Now they just need a few more home wins like today to make it feel properly like home again.
The game itself was packed with incident, even when the goals weren’t flying in.
There was a big let-off for the Dons 15 minutes in, when a Henry James cross found an unmarked Matty Taylor at the far post, only for the Oxford striker’s header from close in skewed wide.
Henry himself went close not long after with a low left-footer pinged from outside the box which was inches off target.
But the Wombles played mostly on the front-foot, pressing well and getting forward quickly in numbers – the full-backs adding weight to the attacks.
Henry Lawrence’s pace unsettled the home side, while Nesta Guinness-Walker had a chance from the edge of the box, which he did not quite hit with enough venom or direction to get the better of keeper Jack Stevens. The lively Adedapo Mebude powered a volley into Stevens’ midriff.
Oxford came under plenty of pressure after the equaliser and the arrival of Assal injected even more urgency into the Dons attack.
That said, Cameron Brannagan almost converted a cross in from the right on the half-volley midway through the half and had he done so, a different tale might have unfolded. And it needed a superb Ben Heneghan tackle to deny Nathan Holland an open goal.
The goals at the other end ensured a happy ending.
Both the match programme and game itself featured heartfelt tributes to fan Jack Lonergan, a former mascot and youth team player who died at the age of 28 after the game against Bolton.
There was a minute’s silence before kick-off and rich applause all around the ground 28 minutes into the contest. A reminder that the Wombles are, and always be, a family club, first and foremost.
Dons: (4-4-2) Tzanev – Lawrence, Heneghan, Nightingale, Guinness-Walker – McCormick (Chislett 69), Woodyard, Hartigan, Rudoni – Palmer (Pressley 80), Mebude (Assal 69). Subs not used: Oualah, Marsh, Alexander, Kalambayi
U’s: (4-3-3) Stevens – Forde, Moore, Thornley, Seddon – Henry, Rodriguez (Kane 72), Brannagan – Sykes (Winnall 72), Taylor, Williams (Holland 66). Subs not used: Eastwood, Mousinho, McNally, Agyei