BY DAVE HUNT-JACKSON
The last thing AFC Wimbledon needed with a fixture backlog was 120 minutes of football on a cold night in Cumbria, especially as the reward was an additional fixture in the form of a decidedly unglamorous FA Cup second round tie against Crawley on Sunday.
Dons manager Glyn Hodges’ attempt to spare key members of his first-choice 11 from undue game time was thwarted as the Bluebirds managed to force Thursday’s first round tie into extra time and then penalties.
The plus side was that key squad members got decent run outs with the likes of Cheye Alexander, Ollie Palmer and Ethan Chislett enjoying rare starts.
It was a starting line up that included four graduates from the club’s academy and two of them were head and shoulders above just about everyone on the pitch.
Anthony Hartigan seemed to have lost his way somewhat after bursting on the scene in Neal Ardley’s time but he’s back was a vengeance now. Whatever Hodges and his coaching staff have done in the past few months it has certainly lit a fire under the creative midfielder.
On Thursday only Alex Woodyard came close to covering more ground that Hartigan as he was at the heart of everything the Dons did.
At times it was like having both Dannie Bulman and Jake Reeves back in the midfield. Hartigan has two attributes unrivalled in this Wimbledon side, or indeed most in League One. His passing is unerringly accurate. He clearly made more passes than anyone on the pitch and virtually every one found their target and at just the right pace too.
The other strength is that the young midfielder almost always picks the right pass. He has time on the ball and gone are the constant three-yard sideways passes. Now he will lay the ball off when he has to or can find that clever pass. He reads the game so well he can always find the one ball that most inconveniences the opposition.
The next midfielder off the production line is Rudoni, who already looks as if he has been playing League One football for years. He is dwarfed by Palmer and yet his frame defies his strength.
Barrow could no more knock him off the ball than they could the big number nine. Whether he is playing off Palmer or Joe Pigott or as part of a three-man strike force he has many of Hartigan’s attributes and at an even younger age.
Rudoni got the assist for the late winner at Rochdale and he twice terrified Barrow as he ran straight at them – so nearly winning the match at the end of the second of those runs.
How good is Rudoni? Well, Brighton loanee Ryan Longman was clearly signed to play in the hole off either Palmer or Joe Pigott. Good though Longman is, he will soon need to find another string or two to his bow because Rudoni, six months his junior, is better.
Although this performance was against a side from the lower reaches of League Two, Rudoni has been looking the part whenever called upon and most remarkable of all for a young player starting out he is looking good week in and week out.
Perhaps the most significant thing about this victory was that the best two performers were homegrown talent and they, along with fellow academy graduate Will Nightingale and Nik Tzanev, played every one of the 120 minutes.
Star Man: Jack Rudoni. Already looking like a seasoned pro despite his youth and inexperience.
Best Moment: A stunning run from the halfway line by Jack Rudoni that could so easily have won the tie in normal time.
PHOTOS: SEAN GOSLING
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