The Dons failed to get the win they so desperately needed today in a match that turned on Jack Midson’s first-half dismissal.
Our star striker was given his marching orders after an off the ball incident with Bobby Grant and playing with 10 men for 68 minutes proved beyond Wimbledon as we slipped to a 2-1 defeat.
Wimbledon were already 1-0 down when Midson was sent off, but the Dons were enjoying a good spell at the time and the decision left the hosts with a mountain to climb. It had all started so positively for the hosts with our fans packing into the new North Stand and a feeling of optimism with Steven Gregory returning as one of six changes on the day. New signings Will Antwi and Gregory both started in place of Dale Bennett and Frankie Merrifield respectively. Goalkeeper Seb Brown was restored between the sticks in place of Mikhael Jaimez-Ruiz, while Curtis Haynes-Brown replaced Warren Cummings at left-back and there were also starts for Luke Moore and Christian Jolley.
The Dons made a bright start with Gregory at the heart of the action in midfield, but the early work was undone by another defensive lapse as Rochdale snatched the lead in the 10th minute. Kevin McIntyre sent over a teasing cross from the left and 37-year-old Dele Adebola found space in the box to head home emphatically from close range. With the hosts having been stunned by another early setback, they were almost 2-0 down shortly afterwards when Bobby Grant curled a free-kick against a post. Wimbledon did recover their composure and one dashing run down the left from Haynes-Brown almost brought reward when Luke Moore came close to diverting towards the goal. However, all Terry Brown’s best laid plans were in tatters in the 22nd minute when Jack Midson was shown a red card. While Wimbledon were appealing to the referee’s assistant that a foul on Luke Moore was inside the area, Midson was involved in an off the ball incident with Grant and referee Brendan Malone adjudged that the Wimbledon striker’s apparent push was worthy of a straight red. The Wimbledon crowd in our new North Stand thought they were celebrating an instant lifeline when Rochdale goalkeeper Josh Lillis needed a second attempt to grasp Pim Balkestein’s powerful free-kick. However, there was worse to come for the hosts in the 39th minute when Grant dispossessed Sammy Moore and fired a superb drive that left Seb Brown with no chance.
Terry Brown decided to throw fit-again Rashid Yussuff back into the action in place of Stacy Long and the Dons boss unsurprisingly decided to go for broke with three at the back and George Francomb pushed further forward on the right flank.
Any hopes the Dons retained of getting back into it during the second-half were almost over immediately from the restart though when Ray Putterill got on the end of a long throw and fired just wide of the target. Putterill came even closer a few minutes later when he got behind the Dons defence and it needed Seb Brown to pull off an excellent low save. Byron Harrison was thrown into the mix 10 minutes into the second-half and his introduction almost helped to reduce the arrears on the hour. Harrison flicked on a Haynes-Brown cross and Pim Balkestein’s header beat Josh Lillis, but Will Antwi was adjudged to be offside when he tapped the ball home.
Just when any Dons fightback looked unlikely, the hosts were back in it nine minutes from time when Rochdale goalkeeper Josh Lillis was caught off his line and after a Haynes-Brown lob struck the crossbar, Luke Moore was in the right place to steer home. The hosts struggled to build any momentum after that though and they needed Seb Brown to twice come to their rescue as he made two superb saves to deny Grant.
AFC Wimbledon: Seb Brown, George Francomb, Curtis Haynes-Brown (Louis Harris), Sammy Moore, Pim Balkestein, Will Antwi, Stacy Long (Rashid Yussuff), Steven Gregory, Jack Midson, Christian Jolley (Byron Harrison), Luke Moore.