AFC Wimbledon book Wembley place after extra-time win at Accrington
AFC Wimbledon are one Wembley win away from reaching the third tier of English football following an extra-time victory over Accrington in the Sky Bet League Two play-offs.
Having been two goals down on the night and 22 minutes from defeat, substitute Adebayo Akinfenwa’s header forced extra time before Lyle Taylor’s 104th-minute finish sealed a 3-2 aggregate triumph and booked a Wembley play-off final date with Plymouth.
Success over the Pilgrims would ensure Wimbledon, who formed as a phoenix club 14 years ago in response to MK Dons’ controversial relocation, will spend next season alongside Karl Robinson’s side for the first time in their history.
Confirmation of their Wembley trip came slightly later than planned, due to a floodlight failure at The Crown Ground, but the final whistle was greeted by a pitch invasion when it eventually arrived at 10.30pm.
A 90th-minute goal from Tom Beere had given the Dons a slender first-leg advantage, though they arrived at a venue where the hosts had scored in every home fixture this term apart from their final one against Stevenage.
It was that 0-0 draw that dropped them down into the play-offs after 46 fixtures and having heaped on the misery three days earlier, the visitors started brighter with Taylor’s effort deflected narrowly past the post.
However, Stanley soon found their rhythm, Tom Davies poking an effort straight at Kelle Roos and top scorer Billy Kee heading just wide before Accrington were awarded a 39th-minute penalty when skipper Scott Brown was tripped in the box by Sean Rigg.
Rangers-bound Josh Windass stepped up to take the spot-kick in his final Wham Stadium appearance and rolled the ball into one corner while Roos dived toward the other.
Ardley hauled off Tom Elliott at half-time for Akinfenwa in a bid to claim a goal, and while that would eventually come, it arrived after the Dons had fallen behind on aggregate.
Just before the hour mark Piero Mingoia picked up the ball inside the visitors’ half and held off Andy Barcham before unleashing a swerving strike from 30 yards that Roos was unable to cut off as it soared into his net.
Accrington were closing on a maiden Wembley trip, yet their aggregate lead lasted only nine minutes as the unmistakable Akinfenwa scored for the seventh time this term.
Barry Fuller’s back-post cross was directed in the vicinity of the 34-year-old and he guided his header past Ross Etheridge to haul Ardley’s men level.
A goal for either team in the closing minutes would have sent them through and it was Wimbledon who came closest to grabbing it, with substitute Ade Azeez heading wide and Etheridge stopping Barcham’s nod from a long throw, but neither side could find a breakthrough to prevent the first extra-time of this year’s play-offs.
Accrington were served a warning when Azeez’s overhead kick was hacked off the line by Davies and Ardley’s side would go ahead before the interval in the extended period at the end of a swift counter-attacking break.
Jake Reeves had runners in support when he opted to go alone and Etheridge parried his shot straight into Taylor’s path, with the 26-year-old making no mistake as he tucked away the rebound.
Any hopes of drama-free closing stages were dashed by floodlight failure, as bulbs in two of the three floodlights went off and referee Eddie Ilderton brought about a 10-minute stoppage while the bulbs cooled off.
Yet Stanley were unable to muster a third goal when the lights came back as Ardley’s Dons advanced.