BY DAVE HUNT-JACKSON
AFC Wimbledon returned to League One action after an enforced 18-day lay-off due to an outbreak of Covid-19 amongst their ranks, with a fine win at Rochdale on Saturday.
Ethan Chislett, the Dons’ fourth substitute, spun and fired low past keeper Jay Lynch in the second minute of injury time to grab all three points in a closely-fought battle.
This has been a happy hunting ground for the Dons and despite a spirited performance from their hosts they claimed another win in Lancashire.
Will Nightingale retained the captain’s armband as his understudy Joe Pigott was joined up front by Ryan Longman. Midweek signing Ben Heneghan was handed a place on the bench and later a debut as he replaced the injured Terell Thomas late on.
Pigott has clearly benefited from a well-earned rest and led the line superbly. The absence of crowd noise meant that all in the press box were “treated” to uninterrupted commentary from Rochdale’s in-house radio team who seemed almost affronted that the Dons have been able to hold on to a striker they described as the most effective in the whole of the EFL.
With the width provided by the tireless running of Shane McLoughlin and Steve Seddon, Anthony Hartigan produced the sort of performance that has at times been missing. His long-range distribution was unerringly accurate and his workrate at both ends of the field equally impressive.
Dons manager Glyn Hodges revealed that he had voted in favour of the EFL’s decision to increase the number of substitutes allowed from three to five and it certainly made the difference at Rochdale.
Given the enforced change at centre-back it is likely that Chislett would have stayed on the bench but for the rule change – and it was another substitute Jack Rudoni credited with the assist.
The Dons will likely profit further from the greater flexibility as they face a hectic fixture schedule due to the Covid-enforced hiatus and they finally have the depth of squad to benefit too.
In previous seasons the likes of Chislett, Nesta Guinness-Walker and Ollie Palmer would have been automatic starters – and the likes of Paul Kalambayi and Adam Roscrow could not even make the bench.
Such is the quality and depth of the squad that Hodges has at his disposal that Wimbledon are arguably far better placed than most sides in League One to take full advantage of the five substitutes rule change.
With the fixtures coming thick and fast there will be opportunities for Chislett and the other summer signings like Ollie Palmer and Cheye Alexander to stake a claim in the starting line-up whilst providing Hodges with the ability to change personnel without weakening what is arguably the strongest AFC Wimbledon team yet assembled.
Star Man: Shane McLoughlin. Tireless running in an almost faultless wing-back display that caused Rochdale problems for the whole 90-plus minutes.
Best Moment: Two of Wimbledon’s academy products combining to feed Ethan Chislett for the winner.
PHOTOS: SEAN GOSLING
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