BY LAURENCE LOWNE AT CHERRY RED RECORDS STADIUM
The visit of Gillingham is always a feisty affair – often caused by so many players having played for both clubs.
Luke O’Neill and Callum Reilly joined Wimbledon during the summer from the Kent club and both featured in a positive way against former colleagues.
In addition there was the added spice of Steve Evans being the Gills manager. It brought an extra frisson to the occasion.
Supporters with good memories will remember Evans’ time at Crawley Town and the clashes between the clubs at the top of the Conference table. There were some super goals, and also one or two horrendous challenges -think Hope Akpan on Jason Prior in April 2012, which effectively ended his career with the Dons.
The Dons went into Saturday without a win in six matches. Injuries have taken their toll on the side in recent weeks with Will Nightingale now ruled out following surgery, and six others missing as well.
An almost full house saw both sides lock horns and it took just three minutes for Gillingham’s number six Connor Ogilvie to enter referee Kevin Johnson’s naughty book. Mitch Pinnock followed just four minutes later for Wimbledon.
Was this going to be how it would continue for the rest of the match?
Thankfully not, and all credit to the referee for keeping the match under a semblance of control.
Supporters want to see entertainment and this game entered such territory.
Both sides had chances but failed to force saves from the two keepers – there were last-ditch clearances, blocks by defenders and some wayward shooting.
An early breakthrough came for Wimbledon.
Pinnock’s simple pass was made to measure for overlapping skipper Scott Wagstaff, another former Gill, and he shot past the keeper in the 19th minute.
Maybe against the run of play, but it was the first truly clear-cut chance for either side.
Visiting strikers Brandon Hanlan and Mikael Mandron were wasteful with their opportunities. You could understand why Evans felt his side could have scored four. They have only found the net six times away from home this season, and this game explains all.
There were loud claims for penalties from Gillingham and a sense of injustice perhaps explains why some of them lost their heads in the final minutes.
In the 87th minute the much-respected Barry Fuller left the field and was given applause by both sets of supporters in his 500th competitive game. The former Dons defender was replaced by Ben Pringle.
The hot-headed midfielder lasted just six minutes. Deep into added time he disputed the referee’s decision not to award a penalty too vehemently and a red card was brandished, which he then proceeded to argue about. The referee could have easily shown half a dozen more yellow cards as Gillingham players surrounded him.
There were outstanding performances from many Wimbledon players – Reilly and O’Neill had points to prove and the latter made two last-ditch tackles. Pinnock never stopped running while Brighton loanee Max Sanders had a full-blooded 25-yard piledriver tipped away by the visiting keeper.
Ryan Delaney was immense in defence and Joe Pigott never stopped battling. Marcus Forss picked up a knock and was subbed early in the second half.
Scott Wagstaff got the nod for man of the match from sponsors The Wombelles – he was one of many who deserved the award.
AFC Wimbledon (4-3-3): Trott 7, Wagstaff 8, O’Neill 8, Kalambayi 7, Delaney 8, Osew 7, Pinnock 8, Sanders 8, Reilly 8, Pigott 7 (Guinness-Walker 87), Forss 6 (Appiah 58, 6). Not used: McDonnell, Thomas, Hartigan, Rudoni, McLoughlin.
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