Exeter City reached the 50-point mark for the season with a thrilling 3-2 win over AFC Wimbledon.
In a game that had it all, Bayo Akinfenwa handed the visitors a very early lead with a fine finish just four minutes in, and despite plenty of efforts on target for City, the biggest incident of the remainder of the half was the dismissal of Wimbledon’s Dannie Bulman for a two-footed challenge on Connor Riley-Lowe
levelled after the interval with a composed finish into the corner, and the striker got a second of the afternoon from the penalty spot after Dave Winfield had fouled Clinton Morrison
He turned provider to set up substitute David Wheeler
for the third – an unfortunate own-goal by City goalkeeper James Hamon
set up a nervy ending in the last few minutes, but the Grecians would emerge with the three points.
Paul Tisdale made two amendments to the Exeter City side that returned from the long trip to Carlisle with three points to show for it last weekend, with Matt Oakley
captaining in place of the absent Danny Butterfield
, while Connor Riley-Lowe
took his place at left-back with Jamie McAllister sidelined; a first City start in Exeter colours for the man wearing the number 25 shirt for five months.
AFC Wimbledon also came into this one on the back of a win, as they saw off York City 2-1 at Kingsmeadow a week ago. With Andy Frampton and David Connolly recently retiring and neither Tom Beere nor Jake Goodman risked, boss Neal Ardley brought on-loan Minstermen defender Dave Winfield into his back four, while young striker Craig Tanner was given the nod ahead of Adebayo Azeez to partner Akinfenwa up top.
Akinfenwa, who on Friday claimed that he would like to see out the remainder of his career with the Dons, demonstrated some neat touches in the early minutes not usually fitting of such an imposing figure, but it was his conceding of possession which allowed the Grecians their first chance, a flowing move involving Liam Sercombe
, Tom Nichols
and Clinton Morrison
ended with Dons keeper Joe McDonnell almost fumbling Arron Davies
But Akinfenwa needed little time to atone for his error. Within a matter of seconds, he had rocketed the visitors in front. The former Swansea, Torquay, Northampton and Gillingham forward’s 13th goal of the season came after he chested the ball down and unleashed a sumptuous finish right into the corner of Hamon’s goal.
A free-kick conceded by Cardiff City loanee Deji Oshilaja for a foul on Nichols was headed clear by Akinfenwa with the City frontman ready to pounce. A brilliant deft header from Clinton Morrison
put the ball between Alex Nicholls
and keeper McDonnell, and it was the Wimbledon player who came out worst. Fortunately for the Dons, McDonnell, who himself is deputising for first-choice James Shea, was up on his feet again after briefly being seen to by his side’s medical staff.
A Wimbledon defensive error allowed Liam Sercombe
to craft City’s next chance for an equaliser, City’s number seven dribbling across the penalty area before laying off for Ryan Harley
to shoot. With McDonnell stretching and failing to push Harley’s effort around the corner, Nichols side-footed it against the post and out it went to safety.
Alfie Potter’s pass over the top for George Francomb was fired across goal dangerously by the Wimbledon winger, before Liam Sercombe
’s half-volley was claimed by McDonnell at the other end. Sercombe was denied by a fantastic, strong tackle from Oshilaja as he looked to dance his way into the penalty area again, the Grecians looking for a way back into it at the halfway point of the first period.
Nichols’ chip from right to left had a little too much on it for quasi-namesake Nicholls to reach, before a moment of madness from Wimbledon’s Dannie Bulman as he went in two-footed on Riley-Lowe, this following a series of committed challenges from both sides. Despite the fact referee Darren Deadman couldn’t have been any quicker in dismissing the Dons’ number four with a straight red card, the Wimbles were somehow awarded the free-kick, with Riley-Lowe shown a yellow card. Tanner was just under heading a cross under the attention of Jordan Moore-Taylor
a moment later.
Sercombe worked himself an extra yard before turning and shooting well left-footed on the end of the Wimbledon penalty area, McDonnell making the save. Dons captain Barry Fuller twice headed good Grecians crosses away before Ryan Harley
shot into the arms of McDonnell. Nichols’ effort was deflected onto the bar on the half-hour.
City’s best chance yet came when both Clinton Morrison
and Alex Nicholls
both got important first touches to the ball to free of the Wimbledon defence. Nichols, one-on-one with the goalkeeper, was denied by McDonnell, with the last line of defence fortunate to see the ball deflected back towards him to collect off Jack Smith.
Wimbledon’s Francomb was desperately unlucky not to double his side’s lead when his deflected shot smacked the post but then twisted its way out for a corner to the other side of the goal. Harley fluttered one over the bar shortly after that.
pulled off a tackle when it was needed most to stop the pacey Alfie Potter from pulling the trigger on the left side of the Grecians’ box. Nichols, Sercombe, Nicholls and Harley all had efforts blocked within seconds of one another as Wimbledon’s goal evaded penetration once again. Two minutes of added time yielded no further chances as the Wombles went in one ahead at the break.
Half-time: Exeter City 0 AFC Wimbledon 1
Hamon took Tanner’s cross away from the head of Akinfenwa before Nichols headed over as both sides began the second period as offensively as they ended the first. Nichols needed one more chance to grab the equaliser, as with Nicholls winning possession around 25 yards out, Ryan Harley
picked up the loose ball and as the visitors tried to dispossess him , and Harley passed to Nichols on the right side of the area. The City striker took a touch and composed himself before sliding the ball into the bottom-left corner.
The sides now level, Exeter continued their offensive. Arron Davies
came within inches of a screamer when he rifled just off-target from the edge of the box, before Wheeler replaced Nicholls in the game’s first change. Neal Ardley responded with a triple-switch, with Callum Kennedy, Sammy Moore and Azeez all entering the play for Akinfenwa, Tanner, and Alfie Potter respectively.
65 minutes in, City were awarded a penalty; Dave Winfield felling Clinton Morrison
as Oakley played a neat ball into feet. Taking it right-footed, Nichols sent McDonnell the wrong way, finding the bottom right corner for his second of the game, his 13th of the season and his 20th in an Exeter City shirt.
Just three minutes later, two became three. Riley-Lowe set through Harley on the left wing, and Harley produced a peach of a cross to find Nichols in space on the opposite side of the box. Rather than go for his hat-trick, Nichols opted to knock the ball down for Wheeler, who made no mistake in slotting home for his fifth goal of the season. It might have been four, but Morrison’s shot was deflected off one of his own teammates when in a very promising position.
Oakley took aim before firing into the Big Bank with the game entering its final 15 minutes, and Deji Oshilaja saw yellow for a near-rugby tackle on Nichols just inside the Wimbledon half. With the visiting supporters demanding a penalty after a collision involving Dave Winfield and Moore-Taylor, Kennedy smacked an attempted cross into touch on the left side of the six-yard box. Tom McCready also got a chance for the final 10 minutes, replacing Morrison from the bench for an Exeter debut.
City kept on the attack. Sercombe had a shot blocked, before Oakley and Nichols brought saves out of McDonnell. The Dons pulled one back in unusual circumstances when City goalkeeper Hamon put into his own net – Oshilaja had headed against the post, but Hamon, who had dived for the effort, inadvertently hooked the ball into his goal with his trailing leg.
Some intense, edge-of-your-seat pressure from the visitors followed in the three minutes of injury time, but Winfield’s desperate shot wide was the closest they came. The Grecians held on for a 3-2 victory.
Full-time: Exeter City 3 AFC Wimbledon 2Exeter City:
Hamon; Davies, Ribeiro, Moore-Taylor, Riley-Lowe; Oakley, Sercombe, Harley; Nicholls (Wheeler 60), Nichols, Morrison (McCready 80).
Unused subs: Pym, Bennett, Jay, Keohane, Cummins.
Goals: Nichols (52, 66 pen), Wheeler (69).
McDonnell; Fuller, Oshilaja, Winfield, Smith; Francomb, Reeves, Bulman, Potter (Moore 62); Akinfenwa (Kennedy 62), Tanner (Azeez 62).
Unused subs: Worner, Rigg, Fitzpatrick, Phillips.
Goals: Akinfenwa (4), Hamon o.g. (89).
Attendance: 3,713 (354 away).
Referee: Darren Deadman