On a day when Sophie Hosking paraded her gold medal at the Cherry Red Records Stadium, Wimbledon failed to find the winning formula they so desperately needed.
Though it was an improved performance from Terry Brown’s men, the hosts had to settle for a 2-2 draw after goals from Jack Midson and Byron Harrison had put them on track to secure all three points.
The Dons handed home debuts to George Francomb and Dale Bennett with the two loan signings replacing Curtis Haynes-Brown and Mat Mitchel-King respectively in a much-changed Wimbledon defence. However, the new men were able to settle in without too many nerves early on as the visitors offered little attacking threat. It was all Wimbledon early on, in-form Byron Harrison having the first glimmer of a chance when he got behind the Dagenham defence, but he was unable to get a proper contact on his strike. Harrison then scuffed an even more presentable opportunity after good work by Christian Jolley. However, the Dons were so nearly celebrating the opener from an unlikely source when Jim Fenlon turned inside from the left and unleashed a fierce drive that produced a flying fingertip save from Chris Lewington.
Following such a promising start though, the Dons needed Seb Brown to rescue them from going behind in the 15th minute after stand-in captain Sammy Moore brought down Dwight Gayle in the box. Though Gayle fired the subsequent spot-kick hard and low to Seb Brown’s right, the Wimbledon goalkeeper got down well to save and then he reacted superbly to deny the rebound. That produced a spirited response from the hosts and excellent combination play between Jack Midson and Harrison set-up Louis Harris, but his effort was too close to Lewington. However, the Dons paid the price for more kamikaze defending in the 28th minute when Michael Spillane broke free of his marker from a Billy Bingham corner to score with a diving header. The lead lasted less than two minutes though as the Dons were level before the half hour mark. Yet again, that man Midson was the Wimbledon saviour as he reacted first to steer home from an acute angle after Lewington had saved Christian Jolley’s initial effort. That produced the momentum that Wimbledon needed as they poured forward with renewed confidence. They were rewarded for that pressure with the lead in the 35th minute with a goal that once again highlighted Harrison’s return to form. Not so prolific after his January move last season, the former Stevenage striker made it three goals in as many games in emphatic fashion. A Louis Harris corner was only half cleared and after the ball was flicked into his path by Sammy Moore, Harrison produced a powerful volley from an acute angle that beat Lewington at his near post.
The visitors made a stirring start to the second-half though and Gayle came close to making amends for his penalty miss when he struck an emphatic volley that Seb Brown had to watch all the way to keep out. Wimbledon continued to threaten as an attacking force though and good link-up play between Harris and Midson gave Harrison another chance, but he headed just over. The hosts had a real let-off six minutes into the second-half though when Gayle broke through and unleashed a shot from an acute angle that was just inches wide of the far post with Seb Brown beaten.
John Still’s men did not have to wait too much longer to draw level though as they made it 2-2 in the 57th minute with another goal that was a poor one to concede from a Wimbledon perspective. Oluwafeni Ilesanmi got down the left and delivered a cross that was only half cleared by Bennett and Luke Howell found the top corner with a powerful drive from just inside the area. At this stage, both sides were threatening to win it and the Dons responded with an excellent run from Harrison that ended with a shot just wide of the target.
Brian Woodall almost stole all three points for the visitors when he headed just wide of the near post with a great chance, but Wimbledon almost won it late on when Balkestein headed just over. There was still time for substitute Huw Johnson to fire just wide as the Dons had to settle for a point in the end.
AFC Wimbledon: Seb Brown, George Francomb, Jim Fenlon, Sammy Moore, Pim Balkestein, Dale Bennett, Stacy Long (Frankie Merrifield), Christian Jolley, Jack Midson, Louis Harris (Huw Johnson), Byron Harrison (Brendan Kiernan).