BY PAUL JEATER
On Saturday supporters of Wimbledon returned to Plough Lane. It had taken 30 years. For many the walk from the town centre meant passing the site of the old ground before feasting their eyes upon the new home. Renewing acquaintances with those not seen since the first lockdown, thinking about those no longer with us who helped to make this journey home possible – to say it was emotional is something of an understatement.
A little before 3pm the two teams took to the field before a packed stadium. The Dons started brightly and pinned their opponents into their half for much of the opening minutes. It was no surprise when the home team took the lead. The Bolton defence struggled to clear a series of crosses before an Anthony Hartigan cross allowed Will Nightingale to head home from close range. How appropriate that these two players who have helped the club reach League One should combine to score the first league goal at the new stadium with supporters in attendance. This fact was not lost on the Dons faithful, who rose as one to celebrate the goal.
The lead was short lived. A matter of minutes later Bolton striker Oladapo Afollayan was somewhat rashly brought down in the penalty area by Dons keeper Nick Tzanev. An easy decision for the referee, who pointed to the spot. Although Tzanev guessed correctly, Eoin Doyle’s spot kick had enough power and the visitors had equalised.
After 27 minutes Bolton went ahead after the Dons defence were caught out by the visitors’ swift counter attack. This time Doyle was the provider and his cross was met by Josh Sherran, whose late run into the box allowed him to get in front of the home defence at the near post.
At this stage it appeared that the Dons were in danger of ‘playing the occasion and not the match’. It was no real surprise when the visitors went further ahead shortly after the restart. Again a quick break found the Dons defence floundering and a cross from the right was perfectly weighted to allow Afolayan to slide the ball home at the far post for a 3-1 lead.
Shortly afterwards Tzanev produced the save of the match when one-on-one, and that may have been the turning point for Wimbledon to get back into the match – aided by substitutes.
Wimbledon head coach Mark Robinson decided to introduce two of his substitutes and many fans saw two loanees Aaron Pressley (Brentford) and Dapo Mebude (Watford) for the first time. What followed was an amazing comeback.
Firstly Ayoub Assal, who was a constant threat to the visitors defence, appeared to be brought down but the referee waved Dons appeals for a penalty away. However when Assal was tripped once again, the referee this time did not hesitate to award a penalty. Up stepped Pressley, who calmly and powerfully fired the spot-kick past the Bolton keeper.
At 2-3 the momentum shifted and just a minute later the Dons scored arguably the goal of the game. Operating on the Dons left, Mebude collected the ball wide on the left, drifted past defenders before cutting infield and curled his shot low into the right side of the net.
The Dons had equalised, but to the credit of both teams, they both sought the winning goal in a pulsating game. The two defences managed to withstand the pressure of the final minutes and the points were shared.
After the final whistle the Dons players and staff walked around the ground to acknowledge the fans, for all concerned this was an historic afternoon for Wimbledon has most certainly come home.
Ayoub Assal. Possibly the most exciting player to wear yellow and blue for many a year. He has the potential to give defenders uncomfortable afternoons for many years to come.
Without a doubt Will Nightingale rising to head past the Bolton keeper to score the first home league goal of the season. A wonderful reward for a player who has been Wimbledon boy and man.
PICTURES: KEITH GILLARD
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