Neal Ardley, like his AFC Wimbledon team, did not pull his punches. The Sky TV cameras were present and the upset was on after Joe Pigott headed the League One minnows into a 77-second lead. West Ham United were reeling.
Yet this Carabao Cup tie turned sharply when Javier Hernández felt a little contact on his arm from the Wimbledon centre-half, Rod McDonald, in the 18th minute as he chased a low cross into the penalty area and, for the referee, Tim Robinson, it added up to a second yellow card. Moments earlier McDonald had been booked for jumping into a reckless barge on Robert Snodgrass.
West Ham came to dominate and their superior class told. Issa Diop’s equaliser was the precursor to Angelo Ogbonna’s late second – the visitors’ central defenders both came up trumps – and, to add salt to Wimbledon’s wounds, Hernández forced home a stoppage-time third.
On the balance of play the result was just and, after three Premier League defeats, Manuel Pellegrini, the new West Ham manager, could enjoy a first victory at the club. For his counterpart there was a bitter taste.
“For the contact that there was between the two players, absolutely,” Ardley said, when asked whether he thought Hernández had dived for McDonald’s second caution. “It’s not like a yank of the arm. It’s not like a pull of the shirt where you can honestly feel you’ve been tugged back. It’s an arm on an arm and he was never getting to the ball anyway.
“We talk about diving all the time. We make comments about stopping diving in the game but you get nothing in the game if you don’t dive. Nowadays if you don’t go down, the ref won’t give you anything. So they encourage diving. It’s a big bugbear of mine. From that moment onwards the game was ruined.”
The tale of modern football is frequently told through the prism of finance and there was no getting away from it here. From one corner of the capital stood West Ham, who had lavished almost £100m on new signings over the summer, while from another were Wimbledon. They have spent £100,000 on transfers this year and that has represented a spree.
Ardley’s battlers were within seven minutes of clinging on for a penalty shootout and it said everything that, with Pigott’s goal separating the teams at half-time, Pellegrini found himself summoning the £33.5m club record signing, Felipe Anderson, from the bench.
Anderson, who played off the left, helped to make the difference. He showed some lovely touches and dictated the tempo and yet the goals would come from unlikely sources. Diop strode on to a pass from outside the area and hammered it low and true into the bottom corner before Ogbonna stole on to Snodgrass’s 83rd-minute corner to turn the ball home.
It was a night of old school cup charm at a tight and atmospheric stadium and Pigott stunned West Ham when he powered in from Mitch Pinnock’s corner. Nobody in claret and blue could match his physicality or desire.
Wimbledon carried the fight and West Ham endured a few nervous moments when the ball was loaded into their box. But they stabilised after the red card, which carried a below-the-belt blow for Pigott. Ardley had to sacrifice him in order to introduce Will Nightingale, a replacement centre-half. Nightingale enjoyed a heroic moment just before the interval when he nodded a looping Andriy Yarmolenko header off the line but, despite plenty of West Ham pressure, that was the only first-half moment of real alarm for Wimbledon.
After the break Hernández spurned a fistful of chances and Diop headed against the bar at 1-1. Ogbonna’s finish would eventually break Ardley and his players.
Daily Mail: MATCH FACTS
WIMBLEDON: (4-4-2) King; Sibbick, Oshilaja, Rod McDonald, Garratt; Wagstaff, Trotter, Hartigan, Pinnock (Wordsworth 68); Hanson (Appiah 79), Pigott (Nightingale 26)
SUBS NOT USED: Purrington, Thomas, Barcham, McDonnell
GOALS: Pigott (2)
BOOKINGS: McDonald (13, 18)
SENT OFF: Rod McDonald (18)
COACH: Neal Ardley
WEST HAM: (4-4-2) Adrian; Zabaleta, Diop, Ogbonna, Cresswell; Yarmolenko (Masuaku 90), Rice, Obiang (Felipe Anderson 46), Snodgrass; Hernandez, Lucas Perez (Antonio 81)
SUBS NOT USED: Fabianski, Balbuena, Cullen, Holland
GOALS: Diop (63); Ogbonna (83); Hernandez (90+2)
BOOKINGS: Obiang (11)
COACH: Manuel Pellegrini
REFEREE: Tim Robinson