Substitute Kieran Djilali breathed new life into Wimbledon’s push for survival with a dramatic late winner today.
The ex-Crystal Palace winger – returning to first-team action after an extended spell on the sidelines – fired a crucial winner four minutes from time to end Wimbledon's seven match winless streak. In truth, it was a shot that Dagenham goalkeeper Jonathan Bond should have saved at his near post, but no one at Wimbledon will care about that as the Dons earned a crucial three points. It had looked like Terry Brown’s men had squandered their big chance as Jack Midson’s 17th goal of the season was cancelled out by Michael Spillane nine minutes from time.
Terry Brown made three changes from to his starting line-up with the most notable being the return of Gareth Gwillim, who was thrust straight back in at left-back and was also handed the captain’s armband. As expected, Pim Balkestein came in for his debut in place of Callum McNaughton and Billy Knott replaced the injured Jason Euell as the Dons boss reverted back to a conventional 4-4-2.
Wimbledon made a bright start with Knott and Sammy Moore pulling the strings in midfield, though there was a lack of cutting edge against a Dagenham side that were determined to scrap for every ball. The Dons finally put a move of significance together just before the half hour when Sam Hatton and Byron Harrison combined to find Christian Jolley in space, but Moore failed to get a clean header on his cross. Indeed, the first half hour bore all the hallmarks of two sides struggling for form and confidence as neither goalkeeper was forced into action. And the visitors had a half chance in the 33rd minute when a corner fell kindly for Ben Reeves, but his volley was straight into the hands of Seb Brown. Sammy Moore then had a much harder opening to execute at the other end, but his 25-yarder yarder was just over the crossbar.
Wimbledon finally tested Bond in the 44th minute when a superb 30-yard ball from Knott put Harrison through, but his shot from an acute angle was straight at Bond in the Dagenham goal. The first-half had been an improvement on the performance against Plymouth from a Wimbledon perspective, but it was only a marginal one as they failed to make the most of their promising approach play.
The Dons may have brought in one defender in the form of Balkestein, but they lost another for the second-half with Mat Mitchel-King having to withdraw through injury and that meant a first-team return for Brett Johnson at centre-back. Harrison came tantalisingly close to his Wimbledon goal at the start of the second-half, but he just failed to get his head to a teasing cross from the right by Sam Hattton. It was even closer for the hosts in the 51st minute when they twice just missed out on securing that all-important opener. First, Balkestein’s flick found Jack Midson and his header struck the outside of a post, before Rashid Yussuff was denied by Bond from close range with the rebound. Though that offered encouragement for Wimbledon, they could not afford to squander such chances with the survival stakes so high. And they were almost punished at the other end when Billy Bingham was left unmarked in the box, but he headed wide from 10 yards.
Seb Brown was called into action to make his first meaningful save when he denied Jon Nurse after the Dagenham striker had burst past Johnson’s challenge. With Dagenham having enjoyed their best spell of the match at the start of the second-half, Terry Brown handed a chance to Djilali to change things as he entered the fray in place of Harrison with 25 minutes to play. Djilali made an instant impression by forcing the Dons onto the front foot and his dangerous cross from the left was almost delivered right onto the head of Christian Jolley, but Bond got there first to gather the ball.
The Dons were lucky to survive though when Nurse sent in an inviting cross that was just begging to be headed in, but substitute Rob Edmans missed the header when it looked easier to score.
The visitors were made to pay for that miss in the 73rd minute when Midson opened the scoring out of nothing, the ex-Oxford United man turning smartly and producing a superb strike from 25 yards that found the top corner of the goal. Midson immediately ran towards Terry Brown in the Dons dugout and there was relief all around in the celebrations with Wimbledon seemingly heading for victory.
The hosts survived by the skin of their teeth in the 82nd minute though when Midson cleared off the line and then Seb Brown tipped over from Brian Woodall. But there was no reprieve for the Dons from the subsequent corner as Michael Spillane rose highest in the box to beat Seb Brown with a powerful header.
However, the Dons showed great character to bounce back from that setback and they restored their advantage when Rashid Yussuff’s cross was only half cleared and Djilali’s shot from an acute angle beat Bond at his near post. There was still time for a nervy finish for the Dons as Brown made a fingertip save to deny Edmans, but Wimbledon held out for a crucial victory.