Try as we might to avoid cliché in our match reports, this has to be described as a game of two halves. The Dons went in at the break hugely grateful not to be at the very least two goals behind, but left at full time to a standing ovation from the mightily impressive 423 impassioned away fans and fully deserving their second 2–0 away win in the space of the three days.
Wimbledon had run out relatively comfortable winners at the weekend, but Terry Brown elected to shuffle his midfield pack again, Sammy Moore coming in for Max Porter for his first start since February. Plymouth, hoping to bounce back from their surprise 4–1 home defeat against Rotherham, were without influential skipper Carl Fletcher and started with home-grown youngster Tom Hitchcock up front.
The opening exchanges were largely even as both sides struggled to keep the ball, and stay on their feet, on the freshly watered lush pitch, and chances were at a premium. The scoring opportunities that did arise all fell to the home side and were largely handed to them by Wimbledon players. Jamie Stuart’s tame clearance led to Hitchcock’s first attempt on goal being beaten away by Seb Brown. Sam Hatton then surrendered possession in a dangerous area, and Brett Johnson had to be alert to beat Warren Feeney to Will Atkinson’s whipped cross.
Conor Hourihane’s 20-yarder, again made possible by some sloppy play in the Dons’ half, saw Brown make a flying save to his left as Argyle quickly picked up on the visitors’ apparent insecurities. With just over half an hour gone, Brown almost undid his good work when his casual pass out wide to Hatton fell short of its intended target by 15 yards and allowed Hitchcock a free run on goal. But thankfully the young striker overran the ball, and his second, heavy touch allowed the Dons’ keeper to rectify his error.
Whatever was going on at the back, further upfield Wimbledon were faring slightly better. Luke Moore and Jack Midson were giving Stephane Zubar and Ladjie Soukouna something to think about but without creating, or being presented with, a clear-cut opportunity. Charles Ademeno forced left-back Gibson into conceding two corners in quick succession with some forceful running, one of which was only narrowly headed over by Brett Johnson.
Argyle’s Daley dinked the ball over Gareth Gwillim, evaded Sammy Moore’s challenge and unleashed a rocket from the edge of the box that Brown palmed away superbly. Warren Feeney then shot wide after the Dons backed off from challenging him, and as the half drew to a close Peter Reid’s men could be forgiven for thinking that they really should have been heading down the tunnel with the result more or less a foregone conclusion.
The introduction of Ricky Wellard and Christian Jolley for Ademeno and the largely ineffective Lee Minshull suggested that Terry Brown concurred with his counterpart. Although both substitutes were of slighter build than the players they replaced, Wimbledon now looked stronger and far less likely to concede. A fine move that resulted in Luke Moore’s 20-yarder being bravely blocked by the booked Zubar signalled the Dons’ new-found intent, and nine minutes after the restart the sturdier-looking visitors took the lead.
Wellard’s hopeful ball forward was missed by Soukouna, allowing Midson to waltz through on goal with just former Don Jake Cole to beat. Midson’s shot lacked accuracy and flew a yard or so wide of the far post, but as Luke Moore tried to keep the ball in play, Zubar pushed him in the back right on the edge of the penalty area. Sams Hatton and Moore seemed to have made a mess of the free-kick, but Hatton won the ball back and found Wellard in space 20 yards behind him. From Wellard’s chip into the box, Jolley’s cushioned header to Midson was despatched with venom by the former Oxford striker for his second Wimbledon goal.
Six minutes later, and with the visitors scenting blood, Midson struck again. Hatton and Moore found space down the Plymouth left, and from Moore’s cross Jolley’s diving header was blocked by Zubar, but the rebound fell kindly for the waiting Midson, who slotted the loose ball home past the despairing Cole.
Before Plymouth had a chance to react, Wimbledon had two chances to finish the Pilgrims off. First Midson held off Zubar’s ungainly challenge but couldn’t keep his shot down, and then a five-man move centring around the bustling Jolley saw Midson step over the ball and allow Rashid Yussuff to unleash a 15-yard drive that seemed to be arrowing into the bottom corner but ended up missing the far post by a matter of centimetres. Jolley and Midson then combined again to give the latter a chance to seal a hugely impressive second-half showing with his hat-trick goal, but Jolley’s pass to the unmarked striker forced him wide and Cole saved well at his feet.
It was an extraordinary turnaround in the game’s fortunes, and the stronger and more dominant the Dons became, the more tired and frustrated Reid’s young side looked. Both Moores, Wellard and Yussuff were winning every tackle and reacting first to every loose ball, and when Sammy Moore was replaced by Porter with 13 minutes remaining his first involvement was to throw himself into a block tackle that won the ball from Simon Walton but left him writhing on the ground in agony. It was a tough first 30 seconds for Porter, but it typified the Dons’ second-half showing.
Argyle were done for, and although Wimbledon couldn’t find a way through to add further goals to their tally, they ran out surprisingly comfortable winners at one of the sides relegated from League One for the second time in three days. At least Plymouth’s off-field problems seem to be showing signs of improving, but that would be of small comfort to Peter Reid and the 5,500 Green Army faithful. The Dons had run out worthy winners.