Bad day at the office for AFC Wimbledon as Bristol Rovers cruise to victory at Plough Lane
AFC Wimbledon 2 Bristol Rovers 4
Wimbledon were punished for a shambolic defensive display as Bristol Rovers became the first team to claim a league win at the new Plough Lane stadium.
Hopes were high for the Dons that they would build on the excellent midweek win over high-riding Peterborough – their first victory back at the green, green grass of home.
They also had good reason to anticipate rich pickings against a team struggling badly and still out of form despite the arrival of the experienced Paul Tisdale to steady the Pirates’ sinking ship.
Rovers had not won in seven League One fixtures and started the day in the relegation zone.
But it did not look that way, as they bossed possession and made Wimbledon toil in search of the ball for lengthy spells. They fired 23 shots at the Dons, who had only about half that number, while the home side were chasing shadows for two-thirds of the contest.
For all that, the Dons got off to an ideal start, with Joe Pigott calmly rolling a penalty past Finnish keeper Anssi Jaakkola with the match only five minutes old. He already has nine goals for the season.
It came after a rather tame looking challenge from Zain Westbrooke on Pigott, who was challenging for a ball played in from the right by strike partner Ryan Longman.
And the same combination almost doubled the lead when the busy Longman again picked out the Dons’ top scorer, only for a shot to be deflected for a corner.
But the visitors were back on level terms after 14 minutes when the Dons allowed Sam NIcholson to move unimpeded into space just outside the box, before the winger dispatched a smart low shot inside Connal Trueman’s left hand post.
And on 25 minutes, the Dons were undone again when striker Brandon Hanlan glanced home a cross from the left by Luke Leahy – the ball arcing past a well-beaten Trueman.
The goals kept flying in, and a free-kick from 45 yards swung in from Anthony Hartigan on the half hour was met at the far post by a criminally unmarked Ben Heneghan – who steered a neat header into the bottom corner.
But the undeniable pattern of the match was the increasing dominance of the away side, and the frequency of the home side’s defensive mishaps.
The Dons had two more lucky escapes before the half was out – when an inswinging corner from Leahy almost caught out Trueman and when Hanlan was put through by Erhun Oztumer, only to curl straight into the keeper’s arms.
Yet the luck would run out and the lively Rovers striker gave his side the lead at the break when he made no mistake after holding off Will Nightingale in a charge into the inside right channel from an Ed Upson pass and his powerful strike found the roof of the net.
With the visitors looking worryingly comfortable, Glyn Hodges made a triple substitution on the hour to try and get back into it, but moments later, the game was virtually up as a back header from the diminutive Oztumer have Nicholson a simple nod-in from no distance.
Nicholson was within a whisker of claiming a hat-trick when he curled inches wide from the edge of the area and Pigott almost pulled a goal back, but was thwarted by Jaakkola twice, once from a low shot and once from a header.
In truth, though, not even a late Dons goal would have papered over the considerable cracks.
AFC Wimbledon: Trueman – Nightingale, Heneghan, Csoka (Chislett 62) – Alexander (McLoughlin 62), Woodyard, Hartigan (Reilly 81), Rudoni (Palmer 81), Guiness-Walker (Seddon 62) – Longman, Pigott. Subs not used: Thomas, Tzanev.