Daniel Marsh’s big-match verdict on Bristol Rovers 0 AFC Wimbledon 1 – Jack Rudoni fires Dons a step closer to Wembley return


If there’s one AFC Wimbledon player who was due to hit the back of the net, it was Jack Rudoni.

When it comes to supplementing the goals of Joe Pigott and Ryan Longman, Rudoni has always looked the most likely to oblige for Wimbledon since he burst on to the scene just over a year ago.

In a weird twist of fate, that elusive senior goal actually came on the same ground where he made his Dons bow just over a year ago. It’s funny how football works sometimes.

It was a strike worthy of winning Tuesday’s EFL Trophy tie at Bristol Rovers, even if this one wasn’t a classic.

Longman’s direct and darting runs into the channels are fast becoming a trademark, and his neat footwork saw him jink his way into the box. His lay-off to the lurking Rudoni on the edge of the box was touch perfect, and the teenager did the rest. His low drive might have taken a nick off the defender, but it was always heading for the bottom corner and out of former team-mate Joe Day’s grasp.

Rudoni has made the step up to senior football with relative ease since he entered the fray in Bristol on Boxing Day last year. Adding goals to his game feels like a natural progression – what a player Wimbledon have on their hands if he can manage that.

Even if this wasn’t a game of total football, the Dons looked a lot more robust and secure with a back four than they have done with the five in recent weeks.

There will certainly be sterner tests than a much-changed Bristol Rovers ahead, but the tweak allowed Wimbledon to get bodies into more advanced areas.

It’s felt as though the Dons have had to outgun teams to get anything from recent games. In that respect, the switch to a back four and allowing an extra body further up the pitch makes total sense.

If this was an audition for that change in approach, rather than a shortage in personnel, it more than served its purpose.

Glyn Hodges will be hoping the tactical tweak will be aided by the arrival of Sam Walker for the remainder of the season.

The experienced keeper has more than 250 games in the EFL under his belt and has the potential to make all the difference to a defence which has struggled this term. It wouldn’t be a surprise if this proves to be the quietest evening he has in a Dons shirt between now and May. But a clean sheet on his debut is something that he and Wimbledon can build upon.

Tuesday night’s victory was the Dons’ first since their second round dispatch of Arsenal U23s. It will come as a welcome relief. They can use the result as a catalyst to arrest their current slide in the league.

The bread and butter of League One action will remain the focus for Hodges, but progression past the third round means Wimbledon are just two wins from a day out at Wembley. It would be some tale if the Dons were to head to the famous arch in the same year that they returned back to Plough Lane.

Ryan Longman. The loanee’s peeling runs into the channels are fast becoming a key weapon in the Dons’ arsenal. Busy and bright with another key assist.

Jack Rudoni’s first ever senior goal was worth the wait – a well-controlled low effort from the edge of the box.

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