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Four takeaways from AFC Wimbledon’s 4-3 FA Cup win over Cheltenham Town – Palmer and Assal brilliance nearly undone by nervy defending


A double from both Ollie Palmer and Ayoub Assal booked AFC Wimbledon’s place in the next round of the FA Cup, but their scoring exploits were nearly tarnished by a nervy final 17 minutes at Plough Lane.

Mark Robinson named a full-strength starting line up for the second round tie against league rivals Cheltenham – unchanged from their 2-2 draw with Fleetwood Town last weekend. Egli Kaja made his first matchday squad since rejoining the club on a free transfer.

Here are Edmund Brack’s four takeaways from Plough Lane:

Four takeaways from AFC Wimbledon’s 4-3 FA Cup win over Cheltenham Town – Palmer and Assal brilliance nearly undone by nervy defending
Alfie May puts Cheltenham into the lead Picture: Keith Gillard

EARLY NEEDLESS GOAL TO GIVE AWAY 

It only took the visitors 71 seconds to open the scoring at Plough Lane.

Dan Csoka, who has been handed a run of games in the first team due to injuries to Will Nightingale and Paul Kalambayi, was at fault for the early opener and gave away an unnecessary goal.

Csoka had options ahead of him but chose to keep the ball to himself after driving forward from his own area.

The Hungary U21 international was eventually caught out of possession on the halfway line and left Ben Heneghan to defend a counter-attack on his own.

Alfie May squared up to Heneghan and curled a shot from just inside the area around the defender and past Nik Tzanev.

It killed any early momentum for Robinson’s side and gave them an uphill battle to fight.

Four takeaways from AFC Wimbledon’s 4-3 FA Cup win over Cheltenham Town – Palmer and Assal brilliance nearly undone by nervy defending
Luke McCormick – denied here by Cheltenham’s keeper – collected a hat-trick of assists       Picture: Keith Gillard

ATTACKING QUARTET SING IN TUNE

During the 65 minutes after Cheltenham took the lead, the Dons’ attacking alliance of Ollie Palmer, Jack Rudoni, Ayoub Assal and Luke McCormick put the visitors to the sword.

With Palmer occupying the centre-back partnership of Mattie Pollock and Sean Long, the trio behind him could unlock their fluid and creative brilliance.

Their first came from McCormick, who registered a hat-trick of assists on Saturday, after he played a perfectly-weighted through ball to Assal – the 19-year-old burying his shot underneath Scott Flinders.

Palmer then found himself in the right place to tap home McCormick’s thunderous effort from the edge of the box that crashed against the post.

The relentless and persistent attacking force amplified their pressure following half time – Assal, Rudoni and McCormick continued to form neat triangles and carry out intricate patterns of play.

Assal started the move off for his second by tracking back and executing a perfectly-timed tackle before playing through Ollie Palmer, who drilled a cross along the face of goal for Assal to show his ever-growing maturity by tapping home Wimbledon’s third.

Palmer finished off the rampage by curling a stunning shot from just inside the area past Flinders and into the top-right hand corner.

It was Wimbledon’s attacking unit at their very best, and it gives the fans plenty to anticipate as they look to carry that clinical conviction into League One.

Four takeaways from AFC Wimbledon’s 4-3 FA Cup win over Cheltenham Town – Palmer and Assal brilliance nearly undone by nervy defending
Ben Heneghan scores an own goal          Picture: Keith Gillard

DONS DO IT THE HARD WAY, AGAIN 

When Robinson made a triple substitution in the 68th minute by introducing Egli Kaja, Aaron Pressley and George Marsh, Wimbledon were 4-1 up and eagerly anticipating the third round draw.

By the 81st, Wimbledon found themselves only a goal ahead and set to brace a final onslaught at Plough Lane.

Andy Williams pulled one back for the visitors after he was played through on goal by Liam Sercombe, and Ben Heneghan had a moment to forget when he scored an own goal past Nik Tzanev after failing to see that the goalkeeper had moved from his line.

It was a similar ending to their win against Crewe, where the Dons invited unnecessary pressure towards their own goal.

However, once the third for Cheltenham went in, Robinson’s side rediscovered a resilience to see out the win.

Four takeaways from AFC Wimbledon’s 4-3 FA Cup win over Cheltenham Town – Palmer and Assal brilliance nearly undone by nervy defending
Nik Tzanev made some crucial saves to deny Cheltenham Picture: Keith Gillard

TZANEV PULLS OUT THE STOPS 

AFC Wimbledon were indebted to their goalkeeper for securing their name in the third round draw.

If it wasn’t for the New Zealand international’s heroics in the final minutes of the game, Cheltenham undoubtedly could have forced a replay or even left Plough Lane with the win.

Tzanev stood tall to somehow deny Matty Blair from point-blank range and then moments later clawed Mattie Pollock’s header off the line.

The 24-year-old has become an indispensable member of the starting line up.

PICTURES: KEITH GILLARD

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