Town: Jayson Leutwiler, Ryan Woods, Jordan Clark (Andy Mangan, 74), Nathaniel Knight-Percival, Mark Ellis, Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro (Ashley Vincent, 46), Liam Lawrence (c) (James Wesolowski, 55) Cameron Gayle, James Collins, Connor Goldson, Scott Vernon
Subs not used: Mark Halstead, Jermaine Grandison, James Caton, Aaron Wildig
AFC Wimbledon: James Shea, Barry Fuller, Jack Smith, Sammy Moore, Adam Barrett, Alan Bennett (c) (Mark Phillips, 88), Sean Rigg, Dannie Bulman, Adebayo Akinfenwa, Matt Tubbs, George Francomb (Kevin Sainte-Luce, 90)
Subs: Ross Worner, Callum Kennedy, Harry Pell, Chris Arthur, Adebayo Azeez
Referee: K. Hill
Attendance: 4,162 (557 from Shrewsbury)
Martin Wild reports from the Cherry Red Records Stadium
James Collins’ two goal salvo earned Shrewsbury an opening day point in the sunshine at AFC Wimbledon this afternoon. Collins struck either side of goals in each half for the home side from Matt Tubbs and Sean Rigg in what was a terrific advert for League Two football.
Micky Mellon named nine new summer recruits for the game against Wimbledon, with only Ryan Woods and Connor Goldson remaining from the side which represented Town on the last day at Gillingham. There was a healthy crowd inside Kingsmeadow with a sizeable number having made the long journey South, with many sporting short sleeved shirts on the far side.
Town got us underway attacking the home end looking resplendent in their new yellow and black striped jerseys with Wimbledon in their familiar all blue colours.
The first real chance fell to the hosts and Tubbs ought to have done better than to head wide on seven minutes, with the summer acquisition afforded a little too much room around the penalty spot.
The miss proved costly as the opening goal came three minutes later and fell to the visitors. Liam Lawrence’s free kick was met by the head of Collins and though keeper James Shea got a good hand on the ball, he couldn’t prevent it from piercing the net to break the deadlock and give Shrews the dream start. Minutes later Jordan Clark came within a whisker of doubling the lead with a fabulous angled drive that had Shea beaten all ends up, but the ball flew just wide.
Midway through the half George Francomb delivered a superb cross and Rigg’s far post header was perfect and looked destined for a leveller. But somehow, Jayson Leutwiler stuck out a leg and diverted the ball upwards before Cameron Gayle and Nathaniel-Knight Percival weighed in to collectively clear the danger. It was a quite brilliant reactionary stop from the Swiss keeper and preserved the slender lead in an even contest.
It wasn’t to last and Tubbs wasn’t in the mood to look a gift horse in the mouth for a second time. He bulleted his header from Jack Smith’s cross past a helpless Leutwiler to restore parity on 25 minutes.
The game was rich in entertainment and some slick passing involving a number of players almost put Town back in front. Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro was a stud’s length away from converting Scott Vernon’s probing low ball across the six yard line.
Shrewsbury were back in the ascendancy with the first half drawing to a close but Rigg brought another brilliant save out of Leutwiler with a fierce shot inside the box that was beaten away. Rigg’s next involvement was to receive the game’s first yellow card for a late challenge on Mark Ellis and the two sides couldn’t be separated going into the break.
Half Time: AFC Wimbledon 1 Town 1
Akpa Akpro didn’t come out for the second period with another new signing Ashley Vincent introduced in a like-for-like swap.
Ade Akinfenwa used all his strength to hold off his marker a minute after the restart to get into a shooting position, but although central to goal, the burly striker hoofed the ball way over Leutwiler’s crossbar.
James Wesolowski replaced skipper Lawrence ten minutes into the second period and was booked before he’d even touched the ball, to take an unwanted stat from the proceedings.
The intensity of the game had markedly altered since the break with neither side yet imposing itself as we entered the final half hour. And Collins and Vernon were seeing precious little of the football after featuring prominently in the first throes of the afternoon.
Shea made a routine stop from Vincent’s downward header and Knight-Percival became the next name etched into the referee’s notebook, after the assistant on the nearside flagged for handball just outside the ‘D’. Rigg’s free-kick was blocked by a well constructed Shrewsbury wall and the second ball was also repelled by the Town rearguard.
Wimbledon were ahead in terms of possession but they weren’t doing a great deal with it and deadlock remained. In a rare Town foray, Vincent cut inside and lashed a low shot goalwards but although it carried plenty of weight behind it, it lacked the direction required to force Shea into a save.
Town fell behind with seventeen minutes to play when a cross to the back stick wasn’t dealt with and as the ball went back into the area, there was Rigg to sweep home from close range for the simplest of finishes. Having surrendered the lead, Mellon made an immediate – and final – change with Clark replaced by Andy Mangan. Having provided superb vocal backing throughout, the 557 Town fans had fallen quiet with the goal a decidedly poor one to concede. In stark contrast, the home fans were buoyant but not for long.
Salop rallied well and some patient build-up play saw the ball fall to Knight-Percival on the near side. He showed terrific composure to put the ball into the mix and Collins was on hand to bundle the ball home on 84 minutes for his second. The Irishman had been on the peripheries since his early strike but he wheeled away in delight as those away fans erupted with joy on the shallow terrace opposite the press box.
Town nearly edged in front when Ellis demonstrated smart acrobatics but Akinfenwa was there to prevent the net from rippling again. And it was Shrewsbury who held the upper hand with the Wombles unable to build on that lead given to them by Rigg.
Collins and Wesolowski were both thwarted by last ditch tackles as Town pressed for a winner and they should have got it too - only for Vernon to shoot over having been set up by more smart enterprise from Knight-Percival.
Full Time: AFC Wimbledon 2 Town 2