All the talk in the local press since Tuesday’s disappointing defeat against Northampton Town has been about the Dons “bouncing back.” A comprehensive 4-1 win against a side that were in the play-off places coupled with a hugely impressive all-round team performance would certainly qualify as bouncing back in anyone’s book.
Luke Moore and Max Porter made way for Ricky Wellard and Christian Jolley as Terry Brown juggled his midfield again and for all Moore and Porter’s undoubted qualities, the Dons looked stronger and more creative in the opening exchanges. Good work down the right between Jolley and Sam Hatton twice put Jolley in behind Robins’ left back Danny Andrew but former Derby defender Steve Elliott repelled the danger on both occasions. Kieran Djilali then tested the reflexes of Cheltenham’s on-loan Leicester keeper Jack Butland with long-range efforts as the Dons looked to put Tuesday’s 0-3 home defeat behind them.
Defensively, Wimbledon were looking assured with Jamie Stuart and Callum McNaughton rock solid in the face of some enterprising stuff from Cheltenham’s front three of James Spencer, Jeff Goulding and the “orange-booted Welshman” Kaid Mohamed. However it was experienced midfielder Josh Low who was proving to be the visitors’ most dangerous player with pretty much everything that was good about their first half performance coming through the former Cardiff and Peterborough man. It was a Low foray that presented Town with the best chance of the game just before the half hour mark but as the ball broke to Spencer, the young striker blazed his effort over from 15 yards.
Another Jolley cross that skidded across the six yard box and somehow evaded all eleven players inside it was a portent of what was to come for Cheltenham as the Dons looked to make the visitors pay for Spencer’s miss. Jolley and Hatton then worked themselves into another great position and from Hatton’s whipped cross Ricky Wellard headed his first Football League goal from eight yards. Within a minute Wellard was heading to the dugout in search of his asthma inhaler as the rain began to lash down and just before half time the Dons deservedly doubled their lead. Town right back Keith Lowe misjudged a Gareth Gwillim long ball and Lee Minshull, arguably having his best game in an AFC Wimbledon shirt, latched onto it, broke into the box and from his drilled low cross, Town’s Elliott could only divert the ball into his own net.
A half time plea over the PA for Ricky Wellard’s dad to make his way to the tunnel suggested the player’s afternoon was over but Wellard’s misfortune was Rashid Yussuff’s good fortune. The former Gillingham man, left out of the squad on Tuesday, grabbed the opportunity with both hands, as did Luke Moore who stepped into the breach when the lively Djilali twanged a hamstring chasing a loose ball to the corner flag with the second half barely five minutes old. For the first 30 minutes of the half the Dons played strident, confident, attacking football, mixing probing long balls with some intelligent, neat interpassing that threatened to tie the Town back four up in knots. Not every pass found its target, not every flick was accurately executed, but the creativity was paying dividends, on and off the pitch, with the vast majority of the 3800+ clearly appreciating the Dons’ collective efforts.
A superb move involving the entire Dons midfield saw Jolley burst past Andrew and set up Yussuff on the edge of the area but after shifting the ball onto this left foot he bent his shot agonisingly wide of Butland’s goal.
Sammy Moore was back to his influential best and the combative midfielder played a significant role in the Dons’ third goal. Moore’s cross was, after great work from Yussuff, was headed away by Elliott but from Yussuff’s dink back into the area Jack Midson coolly volleyed home from the edge of the six yard box for his sixth goal of the season, fair reward for yet another tireless performance.
Town were out for the count but, typical of a Mark Yates side, they battled on in search of what could now only be a consolation goal. Jeff Goulding and sub Brian Smikle looked to test Seb Brown but McNaughton and Stuart stood firm and blocked everything that came their way after Mohamed limped out of the action to grateful applause from the home fans.
Midson’s deflected effort was the nearest the Dons came to adding the flourish of a fourth goal but Town sub Darryl Duffy came within inches of pulling a goal back after nipping in front of Stuart to get his toe to fellow sub Sido Jombarti’s low cross. When the fourth goal did come, it was a simple finish from the impressive Yussuff, but only after Butland had made a world-class save from Midson’s volley following great work and a fine cross from Luke Moore. Butland parried Midson’s effort with his outstretched right hand and although Yussuff completely missed the ball with his first swing of his right foot, the calmer second attempt allowed him to stroke home his second goal of the season and put the result beyond any doubt.
Town then claimed a consolation goal when Penn’s chip into the box was deftly diverted by Darryl Duffy to dent the diligent Dons defence. An Andrew free kick that struck the Dons wall and brushed the outside of the wrong-footed Brown’s far post almost gave Cheltenham a second but as Midson cleared the corner with a powerful header the three points, which in fairness hadn’t necessarily been in doubt since Elliott’s own goal just before half time, were safe.