IF A WEEK is a long time in football, six months must be equivalent to a lifetime.
It certainly felt that way for Lyle Taylor, who went into this game without a goal in 21 appearances since scoring against Rochdale at the end of March.
But if you are going to break a scoring drought, do it in style – and Taylor’s stunning hat-trick here will live long in the memory.
“I’ve waited six and a half months since I last scored – and that’s a long time,” he said afterward.
“When you go so long without a goal, you tend to over-think, but tonight it was instinctive and after the first one, I thought there was no way we were going to lose this game.”
The striker’s treble was not only historic, being the first scored by an AFC Wimbledon player in the Football League, but it was of utmost importance, taking the Dons out of League One’s relegation zone.
Having only netted six times in 13 league games, this victory was as welcome as it was unexpected, especially against a Rotherham side that sat fourth in the table and had kept three consecutive clean sheets.
And after a high-tempo start from the hosts, during which Taylor opened the scoring with a fine chip over visiting keeper Richard O’Donnell after being played in by Andy Barcham’s through ball, the Millers did seem to take control of proceedings.
Their equaliser after 70 minutes – a fine volley from substitute Joe Newell – had been coming.
But five minutes from time, another moment of quality from Taylor, cutting inside and lashing home from 20 yards, seemed fair reward for the attitude, application, and character shown by the Kingsmeadow side.
Rotherham will lament their own defensive shortcomings: all three of the Dons goals, including Taylor’s third which came following an awful slip from centre-half Richard Wood, catching the visitors on the counter-attack.
But visiting manager Paul Warne admitted afterward that his team simply, “weren’t good enough to stop” their hosts.
“The third goal was disappointing. I have just had a hissy fit about the second, and the first goal wasn’t great either,” he said. “I thought we looked good for periods of the game but not for long enough.”
And whilst Taylor rightly takes the plaudits and the headlines for his man-of-the-match display, there were plenty of his team-mates that entered outstanding performances.
Harry Forrester, given some licence to roam just behind Taylor, was key – if somewhat fortunate to get away with a push – in the build-up to the second goal, and was a constant threat all night – unlucky to see a chipped effort from 25 yards rebound off the bar on the hour mark.
Goalkeeper George Long was also called into action on a number of occasions to thwart the visitors, whilst Darius Charles was imperious at the back, and dealt superbly with the threat of the league’s top goal-scorer, Kieffer Moore.
And manager Neal Ardley was sure to note the importance of an all-round team effort.
“We had players tonight who were unsung heroes. They will not get talked about as much, but Darius Charles, Will Nightingale, and Tom Soares had to do jobs for the team so that we could limit what they could create. That gave a platform to the other players to go forward.
“We are in that mode of not worrying about style so much, but we are trying to put a bit if substance into the group to pick-up results.
“It is great when your striker catches fire like he did tonight. For Lyle to take his goals the way he did, considering he has been low on confidence, was great.”
AFC Wimbledon (4-2-3-1): Long 8; Fuller 7, Nightingale 7, Charles 8, Francomb 8; Soares 6, Trotter 6; Kaja 6 (Abdou 78), Forrester 8 (Robinson 89), Barcham 7; Taylor 9. Subs NU: Oshilaja, McDonald, Kennedy, McDonnell, Hartigan. Goals: Taylor (15, 85, 90).
Rotherham United (4-4-1-1): O’Donnell 6; Cummings 6 (Yates 88), Ihiekwe 6, Wood 6, Mattock 7 (Ajayi 88); Williams 6 (Newell 58, 7), Vaulks 7, Towell 6, Forde 6; Ball 6; Moore 7. Subs NU: Rodak, Emmanuel, Clarke-Harris, Wiles. Goal: Newell (70).
Referee: Dean Whitestone (Bedfordshire)