JPT AFC Wimbledon: Phil Smith saves the day to send Swindon closer to Wembley

Swindon squeezed through to the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Area Semi-Final last night thanks to a welcome return to action, and form, by goalkeeper Phil Smith. Matt Davies reports.

Paolo Di Canio made six changes to the team that beat Port Vale. Phil Smith, Joe Devera, Oliver Risser, Rafaelle De Vita, Alan Connell and Mehdi Kerrouche all returned to the starting XI.

Swindon started the game slowly and were trying to feel their way into the game, struggling to keep hold of possession meant they often gave the ball away and really lacked composure. Luckily AFC Wimbledon were also experiencing a similar problem, meaning that the opening 20 minutes had passed by without any shots on goal for either team.

This all changed when Town finally managed to get a hold on the game and push the Dons defence. After winning a free kick roughly 30 yards away from goal Caddis smashed the ball goal bound to see his strike head narrowly over the crossbar.

Despite the majority of possession, Swindon weren’t really doing anything productive with it and seem to lack creativity going forward. All of a sudden the game picked up after the Town fans begin to show their frustration, as Swindon responded by securing good amounts of possession, but still failed to really test the opposition ‘keeper. Wimbledon then began their own fight back, getting back into contention when pacey winger Christian Jolley’s surging run saw him wriggle past three town player before the ball being bundled out of play for a goal kick.

Swindon were starting to lose their grip on the game and Wimbledon were beginning to build momentum as we edged to half time.

A couple of minutes later Swindon won a free kick on the right hand side of the pitch after De Vita was fouled. The delivery was towards the near post and was hit with pace, but was then headed back out towards the right-hand side where Kerrouche then crossed another dangerous ball into the box, this time Connell managed to get his head on it and turn it goal bound forcing a good save.

Moments later a smart through ball from Simon Ferry put Kerrouche through on goal only for him to have a tame shot saved. Both teams then phased out as they wait for the half time whistle. Swindon have the edge as they go in for half time, had possession for large periods of time but failed to anything with it.

The second half started how the first had ended. Good play from De Vita saw him find a cross that picked out an unmarked Kerrouche in the penalty area only for him to shoot wide, really should’ve done better. The game has opened up as Swindon begin to build pressure as they win a corner following great persistence from Kerrouche. The resultant corner was taken quickly and the whipped into the box with pace but with no one on the end, it was easily cleared.

Eager to make the difference, Town made a substitution with Matt Ritchie coming off for Etienne Esajas. It nearly paid off immediately as Esajas made beat his defender before striking a well hit shot only for the ‘keeper to smother. Soon afterwards Swindon made another substitution as Kerrouche made way for Lukas Magera.

Town then had a penalty shout turned down as a bounce catched out the Wimbledon defender who is being hassled by Alan Connell. The defender went down after blatantly handling the ball and the Dons were very lucky to get away with it.

After a quiet spell when it looked like no goal would come from either side, the ball fell to Oliver Risser who unleashed a vicious half volley that flew into the top corner, not giving the ‘keeper a chance. With echos of the Namibian’s goal on the opening day against Crewe, the game needed a superb individual effort like this to spark the match into life.

Swindon then pushed for a second goal and for a while Wimbledon were all over the place.

Connell’s persistence in chasing down lead to a mix up between the goalkeeper and defender, resulting in the former Grimsby man gaining possession only to shoot from an extremely tight angle and wide.

After only ten minutes on the pitch, Czech striker Lukas Magera was then replaced by Lander Gabilondo after suffering a reoccurrence of a recent injury. A big disappointment seeing Lukas had been just getting into the game, so hopefully he’ll be fit for Saturday. The chance meant Di Canio had to quickly switch things around with Gabilondo sent out to the left and De Vita moved to play up front alongside Connell.

Being in the lead, Swindon were now on top of their opponents as Esajas rattles the crossbar with a thunderous effort that would have topped Risser’s goal.

It wasn’t long until Town became complacent in possession and allow Wimbledon to get one on one with Phil Smith. Smith tries his best to save but ends up getting a leg to it that pushed it towards and unguarded Swindon goal and Yussuff gets the final touch that puts the ball into the back of the net in the 81st minute.

With the late equaliser all of the momentum is with Wimbledon as they look to score another. With the match picking up and going end to end, neither side manages to sneak the late winner to send the match straight to penalties.

Wimbledon chose to go first in the shoot out. Phil Smith saved the first penalty as he dived to his right hand side and got a strong hand to it. Then it was Swindon’s turn and Connell is the taker, runs up and its it hard into the top left corner of the goal to put Swindon in the lead the Dons goalkeeper couldn’t get near it.

Wimbledon’s next penalty was also saved by Smith who pulled off a great save to deny them a goal as he dived to his left hand side and made good contact with the ball. Swindon’s second penalty was taken by Oliver Risser, who also hit his hard into the top left corner of the net leaving the ‘keeper nowhere near the ball.

The pressure was then on Swindon after the Dons scored their 3rd attempt at goal. Smith was sent the wrong way as the ball was slotted into the left hand side of his goal to make it 2-1 to the home side. Esajas calmly dispatched his and Swindon’s third into the top right corner of the net.

With it now 3-1, AFC Wimbledon needed to score their next penalty. Phil Smith pulled of his third great save, to his left hand side, to put Swindon through to the Area Semi-Finals. A welcome return to the starting XI and form for the long serving Swindon goalkeeper.

In the end, Swindon were poor in the first half of the game and really didn’t look like scoring. The second saw a massive improvement, but relied on a moment of genius from Risser to give them any chance of progressing. Thereafter, failure to push hard enough for a second goal that would’ve killed off Wimbledon allowed the south London side an unlikely route back into the game.

With Town through to the Area Semi-Final they could face either Southend, Barnet or Brentford when the draw is made on Saturday. If we draw Brentford we’ll be reunited with ex Captain Jonathan Douglas and want-away loanee Mike Grella.

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