Sam Nicholson and Brandon Hanlan both scored a brace to give Paul Tisdale his first league win as Bristol Rovers manager - whilst the three points also moved The Gas one point clear of the drop zone.
AFC Wimbledon, who took the lead after five minutes courtesy of a Joe Pigott penalty, were unable to build on their good start and allowed Rovers to dominate the game - with Hanlan a thorne in in The Dons’ defence throughout the match.
Following their impressive 2-1 victory over Peterborough United in midweek, Glyn Hodges’ team were hungry to capatilse on the recent turn of form by starting quickly out of the blocks, and punish a Bristol Rovers side who were situated towards the foot of the League One table.
The Dons attacked from the first second and their eager start was rewarded on the fifth minute, when Joe Pigott was pulled down inside the area by Zain Westbrooke.
Pigott took the spot-kick, sending goalkeeper Anssi Jaakkola the wrong way and scoring his ninth of the season in the process.
However, Paul Tisdale in his short two weeks as manager, has tried to instill a ‘never say die’ attitude into his side and he would have been pleased with their instant reply.
Less than ten minutes after conceding, Sam Nicholson picked up the ball on the halfway line, turning and setting his sights on goal. He drifted past one, then two, before unleashing a venomous shot past Connal Trueman to bring The Gas back into the game.
The visitors smelt blood and they knew that a win would take them out of the bottom three.
Brandon Hanlan, who has been one of the main goal sources for The Gas this season, grabbed his sixth of the campaign halfway through the first half - finishing off a well worked set-piece by glancing his headed shot into the bottom corner.
Although Rovers have a fierce attacking potency to their game, when defending they look bereft of ideas. Centre-back, Ben Heneghan, brought the game level only five minutes later, heading home a Anthony Hartigan cross to score his second of the season.
A frantic first half saw Bristol Rovers ahead at half time. Ed Upson, who was celebrating his 100th appearance for The Gas, played a tantalising ball behind The Dons defence for Brandon Hanlan to latch onto.
Hanlan, who had just squandered a glorious opportunity, refused to make the same mistake twice. After breaking past Will Nightingale, the striker was left one-on-one with Trueman. He sent the goalkeeper the wrong way, doubling his tally and giving Rovers the lead.
The start of the second half was a feisty affair with neither side wanting to relinquish their control of the game. Dons' boss, Glyn Hodges made three changes to try and spark a comeback for the south Londoners.
However, it would be Rovers who extended their lead. The smallest player on the pitch, Erhun Oztumer, was left unmarked inside the area and allowed to head on a cross to Sam Nicholson. The winger doubled his tally, comfortably nodding home and sealing all three points for Paul Tisdale’s side to take back to Bristol.
Where was The Dons’ defensive solidity?
After keeping high-flyers Peterborough United at bay in midweek, Glyn Hodges must have wondered where that defensive unit was in the first half.
For Sam Nicholson’s first goal, the defence backed off, allowing the winger to take aim from 25-yards. In addition, for both goals from Brandon Hanlan, the defence was caught napping.
Firstly, the three-man centre-back partnership switched off for a set-piece, allowing Hanlan to drift in between and score his first of the afternoon.
Hanlan then scored his second, when he was given the freedom of The Dons’ defence and duly slotted home his seventh of the season.
There were even questions over the defending for Rovers fourth of the afternoon, as Sam Nicholson was left unmarked to head home the final goal of the game.
Hope for The Gas
It’s been a tough start to the season for Bristol Rovers, who struggled under Ben Garner and were slipping down the table week-by-week.
But Paul Tisdale has revitalised this side, adding a quality style of play and relentless work ethic which was evident throughout. There was an arrogance and swagger to their game this afternoon, carving out over 20 shots at The Dons’ goal.