Argyle have got over their slide in time for play-off final but face a Wimbledon team on the up
29 May ~ Monday will be a day of anniversaries for both teams at Wembley. On May 30, 2003, after a three-man panel appointed by the FA had allowed Wimbledon’s owners to move the club to Milton Keynes, the Wimbledon Independent Supporters' Association decided to create their own community-based "phoenix club” – and exactly 13 years later, AFC Wimbledon will be playing off for the right to compete in the same league as MK Dons next season. Meanwhile, it’s 20 years since Plymouth Argyle beat Darlington 1-0 to win the Division Three play-off final.
Looming large over the proceedings, in every possible way, is Wimbledon’s 16-stone striker Adebayo Akinfenwa. Having scored the winning goal at Home Park in April, “the Beast” will be back in the media spotlight for the final, but at 34 years old he may make more of an impact as a second-half sub. Either way, he’ll do an excellent job of diverting attention away from Wimbledon’s leading scorer Lyle Taylor, who is both quick and powerful and has scored twice against Argyle this season himself.
Wimbledon won six of their last eight matches (including a 2-1 win at Home Park) to finish seventh, and went on to beat fourth-placed Accrington Stanley in extra time to get to Wembley. Which is generally accepted as the best way of doing it.
Derek Adams’ side, on the other hand, stumbled into the play-offs from the other direction. Impressive in the first half of the season, they failed too often when it came to the crunch. Important matches, high expectations and big crowds generally brought the worst out of them. Shipping three goals in the first half at home to a Dagenham & Redbridge side that had just been relegated was just about the last straw for any hope of automatic promotion.
So Monday’s excursion to Wembley has come as a bit of a surprise for most Argyle fans. Having started the year top of League Two, 12 points clear of fourth place, and then proceeded to bottle it, we weren’t really expecting to get anywhere in the play-offs. But a 5-0 win at home to Hartlepool on the last day of the season, and two goals each from youngsters Tyler Harvey and Louis Rooney did a lot to lift everyone’s spirits.
Against Portsmouth, in front of sell-out crowds at Fratton Park and Home Park, the Greens looked like their old selves again. With Graham Carey pulling the strings in midfield, Carl McHugh protecting the defence and two goals from the talismanic Jamille Matt, they appear to have finally nailed those big-match nerves. Which is just as well. Argyle have sold over 33,500 tickets for Monday, and Wimbledon around 20,000. All bets are off. Drew Savage
Photo by Colin McPherson/WSC Photography: Plymouth Argyle fans celebrate a goal against Morecambe earlier this season