Assal makes the difference as Dons get the better of Leyton Orient in Capital derby
AFC Wimbledon (2) 2 Assal 19 Pell 35
Leyton Orient (0) 0
A confident 2-0 win against League Two leaders Leyton Orient continued AFC Wimbledon’s recent resurgence at Plough Lane on Tuesday night.
Since losing their last London derby to Sutton United midway through October, the Dons are now unbeaten in six across league and cup thanks to first-half goals from Ayoub Assal and Harry Pell.
Although they came into this meeting with capital rivals Orient on the back of an unconvincing FA Cup draw at National League South Weymouth on Saturday, they were rarely troubled by a side that started the night undefeated in five in the league.
A frenetic opening to this all-London affair belied the current chasm between the sides in the league table, and for all of the intricate passing moves the visitors put together, the combination play of Josh Davison and Assal was equally enthralling.
The 20-year-old Assal was the Dons most dangerous threat from the first whistle, and when not being shackled through means fair or foul he again proved the fourth division is unlikely to be an appropriate stage for his talent for much longer.
After receiving the ball wide on the left after impressive hold up play by Davison, Assal drove inside and bent a deflected shot beyond the dive of Lawrence Vigouroux to register his fifth goal in six games.
Although the presence of Paul Smyth on Orient’s left flank continued to cause the Dons problems, a similar move saw Johnnie Jackson’s side double their lead before the interval.
Assal’s attempt was this time deflected away from goal after he had broken clear of two tackles, yet midfielder Pell found himself in the perfect position to curl a delightful effort into the far corner of Vigouroux’s goal.
Given the increased animation of Orient boss Richie Wellens as the first half drew to a close, it was little surprise that the visitors were improved after the break.
Within three minutes of the restart Chris Gunter had to head clear a Theo Archibald effort from his own goal line.
The Dons Welsh international had been having a torrid evening getting to grips with Smyth throughout the opening stages, although a booking for the diminutive wide man following a late challenge on the full back was evidence of the tide turning in that battle.
From that point onwards, Gunter, combined with the support of winger Ethan Chislett, managed to nullify Smyth more effectively than the majority of League Two contemporaries have managed so far this season.
The former QPR and Charlton man even switched flanks with 25 minutes remaining – a mark of respect for 109-cap Gunter ahead of his imminent trip to Qatar.
With the clock ticking down, Chislett was inches from earning a reward for his sterling defensive work as his long-range free kick cannoned back off the post.
The away side thought they had grabbed themselves a lifeline in the final 10 minutes as a strike from substitute Jordan Brown rolled through a number of bodies to find the net, only for the linesman to determine an Orient man in the penalty area was offside and impacting play.
A crumb of comfort for Wellens and his men on a disappointing evening will be that they remain three points clear at the top of League Two despite the defeat.
The reinvigorated Dons remain 15th in the standings but are now just six points shy of the play-off places.
AFC Wimbledon: (4-2-3-1) Tzanev – Gunter, Kalambayi, Towler, Currie – Woodyard, Maghoma (Marsh 60) – Chislett, Pell, Assal (Ogundere 90) – Davison. Subs not used: Broome, Fisher, Hudlin, Bendle, Senior
Leyton Orient: (4-2-3-1) Vigouroux – James (Brown 65), Beckles, Happe, Hunt – Pratley, El Mizouni – Archibald (Moncur 65), Sotiriou (Kelman 73), Smyth – Drinan (Wareham 87). Subs not used: Sargent, Ogie, Duke-McKenna