BY DANIEL MARSH
AFC Wimbledon snatched a late winner to end Gillingham’s 15-match unbeaten run at the MEMS Priestfield Stadium.
Joe Pigott had fired the Dons ahead early in the second half, with late dramatics seeing Reece Charles-Cook level the scores just minutes before Callum Reilly slotted home a late, late winner.
Wimbledon had the game’s first opportunity within the opening 60 seconds – a low driven free-kick from Anthony Hartigan ensuring Jack Bonham in the hosts goal was alert to proceedings.
Although the effort was tame, it set the tone for the opening period, with the visitors looking the better side.
They were unfortunate to be denied the lead with a quarter of an hour gone, as Luke O’Neill’s superb lofted pass to Pigott tempted Bonham from his line. Pigott lifted the ball over him but was denied by an acrobatic Max Ehmer intervention just under the crossbar.
Although the hosts weren’t at their fluent best, Brandon Hanlan looked a danger with some tricky runs down the right. Unfortunately for the Gills, he couldn’t provide the necessary touch from a low Stuart O’Keefe cross from point-blank range in what proved to be the hosts’ only significant chance.
The main talking point of the opening period was a flashpoint between Mads Sorenson and John Akinde, with the Gills frontman accused of leaning with his arm when jumping. Sorenson went down twice in a short spell, leaving Gillingham manager Steve Evans and his assistant David Rayner incensed. Both benches made their point to the officials, with the Dons physio also being confronted by some Gills players after speaking with the referee following Sorenson’s treatment.
Just before half-time, two former Gills almost combined to hand the Dons the lead. O’Neill’s threaded ball found skipper Scott Wagstaff who turned and was in on goal, only to be thwarted by Bonham who kept the score level at the break.
Unfortunately for Bonham and the hosts, the scores were only level for four minutes after the break. Another superb ball from O’Neill was floated to the back post, where Kwesi Appiah’s header was palmed straight into the path of Pigott, who tapped home.
Pigott’s goal sparked the game into life, as Gillingham responded by forcing a couple of corners in quick succession, before the Dons burst forward to win a free-kick to relieve the pressure, leading to Appiah forcing a straightforward save from Bonham.
Moments later, it was Joe Day who was called into action – the Dons keeper at full stretch to push away Akinde’s powerful header.
There was a lot of endeavour from the Gills in their pursuit of an equaliser, but the Dons stood firm and looked a constant threat on the counter. A wonderful ball from Shane McLoughlin found the run of the tireless Appiah. His touch took him beyond the keeper but to a tight angle – his centre for the waiting Pigott was volleyed over to spurn a glorious chance.
It seemed as though the Dons would rue that miss, as minutes later Charles-Cook bundled home a late leveller from close range after Day had initially kept out an Akinde header five minutes from time to restore parity.
Late drama ensued as Reilly slotted home in a frantic penalty area after a superb double save from Bonham to seal a brilliant win for the Dons and end Gillingham’s long unbeaten run.
PICTURES BY PAUL EDWARDS
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