Dons finally find adversity is too great in EFL Cup loss to Hammers

AFC WIMBLEDON 1

Pigott 2

WEST HAM 3

Diop 63 Ogbonna 83 Hernandez 90+2

BY SAM SMITH AT THE CHERRY RED RECORDS STADIUM

There lies a notorious history at AFC Wimbledon for cup upsets – but Tuesday night was a tie where adversity stood square in the face of the South London club.

The Dons have faced and overcame far bigger problems over the last two decades than a star-studded West Ham United team arriving at the Cherry Red Records Stadium.

In the end the Premier League outfit recorded a 3-1 victory to book their place in the third round of the EFL Cup.

This task facing Neal Ardley’s Dons eventually proved too big to overcome, although they did not go down without a monumental and admirable fight.

There were moments when it seemed the game might head in one direction.

The moment the line-ups were announced – a plethora of multi-million pound internationals versus 18 players who barely accumulated a transfer fee between them.

The moment Wimbledon were reduced to 10 men after just 18 minutes.

So it seemed almost inconceivable when they took the lead after just 77 seconds.

Mitch Pinnock delivered a corner and Joe Pigott directed a header goalwards, Spanish goalkeeper Adrian did his best to keep the ball out but only succeeded in tipping the ball upwards and into the roof of the net. Cue absolute bedlam.

The former Charlton Athletic man is the Dons’ top scorer this season with four goals but even he seemed shocked – not sure who to run to first.

It scarcely mattered, he was always going to end up at the bottom of a heap of all 10 outfield Wimbledon players.

It was perhaps the adrenaline rush from this moment that kept the South Londoners ahead for so long. They ran, tackled, headed, blocked and saved. How long they lasted against the ensuing West Ham onslaught was utterly remarkable.

It became a tougher challenge after defender Rod McDonald saw red. The summer signing had been booked for over-eagerly flying into Robert Snodgrass on the halfway line before a mere touch of Javier Hernandez sent the Mexican tumbling as he tried to get on the end of a low cross. It was incredibly harsh.

Pigott was withdrawn as Ardley was forced into a reshuffle. It left James Hanson a lone figure up front, having to fight for hoofed clearances but still doing an incredible job of attempting to hold up the ball against the imposing Angelo Ogbonna and Issa Diop.

It was not just Hanson who worked hard. Anthony Hartigan, 18, was the youngest player on the pitch but refused to use that as an excuse. The academy graduate was superb, covering an almighty amount of the pitch and throwing himself into tackles.

Fellow former youth-teamer Toby Sibbick’s man of the match award was proof of his excellent work against the menacing Lucas Perez. The full-back’s mature awareness ensured he was in the right position to head off the goal-line when Andriy Yarmolenko’s header had beaten Tom King on the stroke of half-time.

And the more West Ham missed, the more frustrated they became. It seemed it might be Wimbledon’s day when Hernandez somehow missed from six yards on the hour mark, under pressure from Scott Wagstaff as Yarmolenko fizzed a cross into the box.

But it was two rare, uncharacteristic lapses in concentration which turned the game around. First Diop was allowed too much time to stride forward and unleash a powerful swerving drive that found the corner of King’s net. It provided West Ham with momentum.

With the match heading into its final 10 minutes, Ogbonna drifted away from his marker to tap home a corner – even then the ball taking a cruel deflection off Deji Oshilaja.

The Dons, clearly shattered from their monumental effort, had to force a penalty shoot-out. As they swarmed the West Ham penalty area, the visitors broke. An incisive, Premier League-quality counter-attack sent Hernandez through. The Mexican rounded King and, despite the best efforts of Will Nightingale, squeezed the ball over the line from a tight angle. Game over.

This was a valiant effort by the Dons against all the adversity, the red card and the superior quality of the opposition. A mammoth attempt at stopping a team worth well over £100million.

AFC Wimbledon (4-4-2): King 7, Sibbick 8, Oshilaja 7, McDonald 4, Garratt 7, Wagstaff 7, Hartigan 8, Trotter 7, Pinnock 7 (Wordsworth 68, 6), Hanson 7 (Appiah 79), Pigott 6 (Nightingale 26, 7). Not used: McDonnell, Purrington, Thomas, Barcham.

Pics by Paul Edwards


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