AFC Wimbledon 1-0 Lincoln City FA Cup First Round
Neal Ardley is considered to be a little risk-averse, but he took a gamble against Lincoln – and it paid off.
Wimbledon’s manager started Lyle Taylor despite the striker having not fully healed from a calf injury that has niggled him for some time.
And with Taylor going on to score the only goal of the game, earning the Dons a place in the second round of the FA Cup, Ardley could allow himself a satisfied smile for having made the right call – although he didn’t want to show it.
In fact the 45-year-old, who recently celebrated five years in charge at Kingsmeadow, did not stop to acknowledge the home fans, nor did he speak to any press after the final whistle.
Rumours persist of discontent behind the scenes for the Dons management team, but whatever the truth of the matter, it does not seem to be upsetting the squad, who put in another fully committed display to secure this hard-earned victory.
Taylor’s goal in the seventh minute, capitalising on a poor backpass from Lincoln centre-half Rob Dickie, was reward for a high-tempo start from the hosts.
But after the striker was withdrawn just before the half-hour – a couple of heavy falls exacerbating his injury – Wimbledon lost their impetus, and spent the majority of the last hour looking to preserve, rather than extend, their lead.
That they did was due to their hard-running, organisation, and resilience, as their League Two opponent’s direct approach really put the pressure on.
They should have equalised early in the second-half, but former Dons loanee Billy Knott failed to capitalise on goalkeeper George Long’s heavy touch.
However aside from that, Long remained largely untroubled as Wimbledon held out to claim Ardley’s first ever knockout home win over lower-league opposition, reward for such a committed team performance.
“The players worked their socks off for the team and that’s all you can ask for,” said assistant manager Neil Cox. “They stuck together and put their bodies on the line.
“All we had talked about all week was sticking together as a team and working hard for each other and today was exactly that.
“Lincoln scrapped and put bodies up there at the end, but I thought we were calm and defended really well.”
The players and management joined together for a huddle on the pitch at the final whistle in a sign of their togetherness.
And they will need to maximise that spirit over the coming weeks as injuries seem set to interfere with their battle to climb away from the League One relegation zone.
Midfielder Liam Trotter is going to miss some time with an ankle knock, and striker Kwesi Appiah’s return from a knee injury has been delayed.
However Taylor’s calf problem should have eased by the time Peterborough visit Kingsmeadow on Sunday.
“I tried to run it off and it wasn’t the case,” he said afterward. “It’s only right that I don’t hamper my teammates after I’ve realised that it’s not going to work.
“But the boys defended unbelievably well and we’re happy with being in the hat for the next round.”
Wimbledon (4-4-2): Long 6; Fuller 7, Oshilaja 8, Charles 8, Kennedy 6; Forrester 7, Soares 6, Abdou 6 (Robinson 85), Barcham 6; McDonald 7, Taylor 7 (Meades 29, 6). Subs NU: McDonnell, Sibbick, Hartigan, Egan, Kaja.
Lincoln City (4-4-1-1): Vickers 6; Long 8, Waterfall 6, Dickie 6, Eardley 7; Woodyard 6, Bostwick 7, Knott 6 (Ginnelly 85), Arnold 7 (Whitehouse 84); Palmer 7 (Rhead 68, 7), Arnold 7. Subs NU: Farman, Chapman, Stewart, Horton.