Daniel Marsh’s big-game verdict: Dons buck trend as they get just outcome at Gillingham

Charles-Cook 87
Pigott 49 Reilly 90+1

There have been many occasions this season when Wimbledon haven’t quite got what they’ve deserved – but on Saturday they emphatically bucked that trend.

Performances have warranted better than the points total accrued so far. Too often the Dons have been dealt an unfortunate hand or come up just short. But the character shown to come to Gillingham and take the three points, after a late setback, says everything about this current squad.

Wimbledon boast the youngest average squad in the division – it’s a policy which has long been synonymous with the club and has served them well and continued into this season, with excellent contributions from the likes of Paul Osew and Jack Rudoni.

But it was the ‘veterans’ of the Dons squad who stood up to be counted in Kent, with the former Gillingham quartet of Scott Wagstaff, Luke O’Neill, Callum Reilly and Joe Pigott stamping their authority on a game which Glyn Hodges’ side looked in control of throughout.

Anthony Hartigan’s driven free-kick inside the opening 60 seconds was comfortable enough for Jack Bonham, but it was well worth an attempt considering the chaotic elements both sides had to contend with – conditions which make this result even more credible.

It was Wagstaff and Reilly, either side of Hartigan in the midfield, who really ensured the visitors were comfortable. But praise should also be reserved for players who aren’t often acclaimed as prominently as others. O’Neill had a fine game against his former employers, and it was his floated cross which led to the Dons’ opener.

Kwesi Appiah backpedalled to send a looping header back across goal, which was clawed away by Bonham and scrambled home by Pigott, just in front of the ecstatic travelling support.

Appiah has endured a stop-start campaign and fleeting criticism at times – it says everything about his performance that he was given a standing ovation for his sharp contribution when he departed the field late on.

Gillingham hadn’t tasted defeat since their reverse in Kingston back in November but struggled to impose themselves on the game. Brandon Hanlan looked a menace when he did manage to get motoring down their right-hand side, but Joe Day was largely unbothered until the game’s final quarter – a stark contrast to his recent heroics.

He was unfortunate to see his clean sheet tarnished, as Reece Charles-Cook followed up after a save to scramble an equaliser home just three minutes from time. You could be forgiven for perhaps thinking the inevitable had happened again, with how often the Dons have been caught with late sucker punches this season.

But Hodges’ men weren’t to be denied and justice was done when Reilly kept his cool – while others around him were losing theirs – to calmly slot beyond Bonham from close-range, before collapsing in delirium to the turf. Late dramatics going in the Dons favour was no doubt a welcome feeling for all in yellow and blue.

It shouldn’t be overlooked how impressive and important a victory this was.

Late goal or not, this was no smash and grab.

Wimbledon were good value for their triumph against a Gillingham side who had lost just seven times this season prior to kick off – the joint-second fewest in the league behind leaders Coventry, with five.

In terms of importance, it moves the Dons eight points ahead of relegation and Tranmere, with a far superior goal-difference – albeit with Rovers having played two games fewer to date.

But a stimulating away victory has come at the perfect time, ending a torrid month which has seen the Dons contest fixtures against some of the division’s top sides.

Two of their next three games are home fixtures, against Bolton Wanderers and Tranmere – both marooned in the drop-zone. It provides Wimbledon with the perfect opportunity to attempt to replicate the infamous run which saw them escape the drop this time last year.

A repeat of last weekend’s performance and result in those key games would surely ensure a much calmer resolution to the campaign for the Dons this term.

AFC Wimbledon (3-5-2): Day 7, Guinness-Walker 6, Thomas 7, Sorensen 7, O’Neill 8, McLoughlin 7 (McDonald 90), Reilly 7, Wagstaff 8, Hartigan 6, Pigott 7, Appiah 8 (Roscrow 76). Not used: Trott, McDonald, Rudoni, Lamy, Sanders, Pinnock.


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