AFC Wimbledon 2
(Antwi’ 74, Hylton’ 76)
Hartlepool Town 1
AFC Wimbledon recorded their first back to back wins since August, beating Hartlepool United 2-1 on a wet Tuesday night at Kingsmeadow.
Manager Neal Ardley involved all of his four January signings in the game, with Danny Hylton, who signed on loan from Rotherham on Monday, coming off the bench to net the winner for the Dons.
Neal Ardley, speaking after the game, said: “I got the tactics wrong in the first half, and I apologised to the players for that. We changed our structure for the second half and the lads responded well.”
Hartlepool also included their three recent arrivals in the proceedings, with former West Ham striker Marlon Harwood providing a strong forward presence early on.
The Dons went into this game off the back of their first home win since November and looked to avenge their 3-1 away defeat to the Pools back in October.
New Wimbledon signing Darren Jones got his first start and substitute Charlie Wyke said before the game that he was “relishing” the opportunity of facing former school-friend, Hartlepool midfielder Luke Williams.
Wimbledon were shaded for large parts of the first half as Hartlepool’s diamond midfield formation dominated proceedings with Middlesbrough loanee Luke Williams central to most of the Pools good work.
As the first half wore on, Wimbledon were forced into playing a lot of high balls, with the crowd looking disgruntled as the ball spent more time in the air than on the field of play.
Left-sided Wimbledon forward Kevin Sainte-Lucse missed the one golden opportunity for the home side mid-way through the half, failing to connect with the ball six yards from goal after a well-struck corner from Sammy Moore.
On the stroke of half-time Hartlepool took a deserved lead as Luke James seized upon a loose ball following an Andy Monkhouse header to coast home the ball.
The overrun Wimbledon midfield had looked boxed in and lacked any dynamism on the ground, leading to two crucial half-time substitutions that turned the tide back in the favour of the home side.
Reverting from a 3-4-1-2 to a wider 4-4-2, with Wyke and Fenlon on the flanks, Wimbledon increasingly pressed up on the Hartlepool back-four. This pressure increased with the arrival of wide man Chris Arthur on 68’, who immediately got stuck in as well as making some darting runs up the left flank.
Luckily for the home side, on the end of all this pressure was new-boy Danny Hylton, who provided the forward presence that the Dons were so clearly lacking in the first half. Both goals hit the back of the net all in the space of 120 seconds.
The first came from a well-struck freekick by Sammy Moore, 30 yards from goal, with Will Antwi’s head connecting with the ball near the left post to make it 1-1.
The second came from a bit of sublime skill by Hylton, picking up the ball just outside the left-side of the area, he truned a shot a wonderful curling effort that had Pools keeper Scott Flinders well beaten.
239 Hartlepool fans travelled the 270 miles to support their rejuvenated side, who had ended a poor run of three defeats with a 2-0 win in the previous match at home against York City.
The away side, unchanged from their recent home win, started strong and dominated large spells of the first half, causing Wombles keeper Ross Worner into some do or die saves.
Luke Williams and Andy Monkhouse were providing some real pressure for the Northern side from midfield. Number 18 Williams looked increasingly lively and had two well drilled shots blocked by Worner in the first half.
Early in the second half, Hartlepool had two great counter-attacking chances, the first saw Harwood’s strike sail over the keeper before thumping the crossbar. They looked good value for their lead.
With Hartlepool having the superior number of shots on target, double the number of shots as well as five corners to Wimbledon’s three. It’s fair to say that the loss was hard on the impressive away side.
Hartlepool boss, Colin Cooper said: “It’s the best we have played away from home since I took over. After losing like that, it’s my job to make sure the lads stay confident.
“It’s great to see Luke scoring. Bringing Harewood in alongside helps take some of the pressure away.”
Hartlepool are currently sitting mid-table, while the win takes Wimbledon up to ninth in the table.
The Dons still sit eight points below the play-off places.
Dons Manager Neal Ardley said: “It’s tough trying to break into the play-off places, your Rochdale’s and Southend’s are strong squads.
“Seven of the ten well-financed teams in the league occupy those spaces. I would love to continue to strengthen our squad but we simply don’t have the resources.”
AFC Wimbledon’s next fixture is away to Oxford United, Saturday February 1.
Image courtesy of Rex features.