AFC WimbledonSport

No mis-step by AFC Wimbledon this time as they take chance to move into League Two play-off zone

AFC Wimbledon had been here before.
With a strong run of results behind them, Tuesday night’s game against fellow League Two play-off contenders Gillingham presented the chance for the Dons to end their eight-game wait to re-enter the top seven.
After the 1-0 defeat at home to Crawley on February 20 – which sparked boos at full-time after Wimbledon dropped to 12th in the table – the play-offs looked a tough ask.
Wimbledon boss Johnnie Jackson came out of the January transfer window having lost the spine of his team, with Ali Al-Hamadi sold to Ipswich and Joe Lewis and Ryan Johnson suffering long-term injuries, with a number of new players to bed into the system.
But a change in formation seems to have unlocked the perfect balance in this AFC Wimbledon side.
The switch to a back five has maintained the structure that has made the Dons have the best defensive record in the division while also finding a way of producing goals.
A back three of John-Joe O’Toole, Lee Brown and Crystal Palace loanee Kofi Balmer helped keep out Milton Keynes, Grimsby and Notts County in quick succession – and the experienced Brown was on hand to ensure Gillingham were unable to take an early lead at Plough Lane.
Ex-Millwall winger Conor Mahoney took aim from just inside the area 20 minutes into a tight contest, only for Brown to produce his first goal-saving block of the night to prevent Alex Bass’ net from being breached.
Omar Bugiel has been a revelation since joining from Sutton on a free transfer in June 2023 – with the Dons keen on extending the 30-year-old’s deal – and he bagged his ninth of the season in the 33rd minute when he glanced Jake Reeves’ pinpoint cross past Glenn Morris.
With Wimbledon having the advantage and boasting the most clean sheets – 14 – in the league before the game, Gillingham’s task became even more daunting when Conor Masterson was issued with his second yellow card for pulling down John-Kymani Gordon just two minutes after his first booking.
The Dons had faltered in the past when they were on the cusp of the play-offs, suffering 1-0 defeats at home to Sutton and Crawley as well as a 2-0 reverse at Accrington Stanley when they were around the top seven.
But the second half in midweek saw Jackson’s side produce a comfortable display and wrap up all three points when Bugiel nipped in after Morris spilled a shot from distance from Reeves to slam home his 10th of the season.
Jackson has spoken before about the side who can pick up consistency at the right stage of the season making a charge to secure a spot in a shootout for a place in League One – and Wimbledon are fourth in the form table from their past five outings.
The final part of the jigsaw which needs to be moulded into place is managing to get a goalscoring tune out of January deadline day addition Josh Kelly.
Kelly, 25, was dropped for the first time. Gordon came into the starting line-up and received a standing ovation for his performance.
Former Northern Ireland youth international Kelly was clean through on goal in the final minutes with the chance to open his account – one-on-one with Morris – but his chip over the Gills keeper did not have enough power and was cleared off the line.
With Johnson and Lewis – who played crucial roles in Wimbledon’s early-season exploits – returning to full training, Jackson has managed to weather the tricky past few months and come out the other end right in the mix to make the play-off spots.

Omar Bugiel. Two well-taken goals. The former Bromley man is a real talisman for the club.

Bugiel’s header for the first goal. Good movement and placement to open the scoring.


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