An impressive first-half from the Dons including a stunning first goal in senior football from Jim Fenlon eventually came to nothing tonight in a pulsating encounter at the Kassam Stadium.
After storming into a 2-1 half-time lead through an excellent 25-yard strike from 18-year-old Fenlon, goals from Deane Smalley and Alfie Potter earned a 3-2 win for the hosts.
Simon Bassey made two changes from the side that started against Accrington on Saturday with the most notable being the return of Jack Midson after suspension as he replaced Rashid Yussuff. The other change was enforced with loan signing Yado Mambo making his debut in place of the injured Dale Bennett at centre-back.
The Dons made a flying start and they were almost in front after just 21 seconds after fine approach play between Jim Fenlon and Byron Harrison worked a shooting opportunity for Sammy Moore, but Wimbledon’s stand-in captain was denied a third goal in three games by Oxford goalkeeper Wayne Brown. Then from the subsequent corner they came even closer when Steven Gregory got on the end of a George Francomb cross, but his shot struck the outside of a post. Oxford did produce a response to that early flurry though and it needed a last-ditch block from Gregory to prevent a clear chance for Deane Smalley.
Oxford certainly never looked like a side low on confidence after six successive defeats and they were rewarded in the ninth minute with the opener. Francomb conceded a free-kick 20 yards out, but the angle appeared to be against Oxford’s Jake Forster-Caskey. However, he curled a sublime effort around the wall and the ball had enough power to beat Seb Brown at his near post. The hosts were now revitalised after taking the lead so early on and Simon Bassey could be heard roaring instructions from the technical area as Wimbledon struggled to regain their defensive shape. The visitors had gained encouragement though from their earlier near misses and they continued to threaten an equaliser against a shaky Oxford defence. It was therefore no surprise when the Dons drew level in the 20th minute and it came through a familiar source as that man Byron Harrison continued his impressive form this season. It was a finish to savour from Harrison as he struck from close range with an overhead kick from close range after Mambo’s header from a Francomb corner had struck the crossbar. Harrison missed a great chance to double his account for the night though when he rounded Oxford goalkeeper Wayne Brown, but with two men back on the goal-line, he failed to pick his spot and dragged the shot wide.
The travelling Dons faithful never had to wait too much longer for a second though and it came in superb style in the 36th minute. There appeared to be little danger when Jim Fenlon picked up the ball 25 yards out, but he turned inside and unleashed an unstoppable shot that left Oxford goalkeeper Wayne Brown with no chance. In a pulsating first-half that was full of attacking intent – and little defensive solidity – the Dons needed Seb Brown to be alert to turn away long-range drives from Forster-Caskey and Tom Craddock.
Oxford came out of the blocks with a determination to get back into it at the start of the second-half and a Damian Batt strike from 20 yards was just too high with Seb Brown beaten. The hosts were level though 10 minutes after the break as Wimbledon’s inability to defend crosses into the box came back to haunt them. Alfie Potter was left unmarked in the box and though Seb Brown saved his header from point-blank range, Smalley tapped home for perhaps the easiest goal he will ever score. The pendulum so nearly swung Wimbledon’s way again though when Christian Jolley was so unlucky not to open his account. In what would have been an even better goal than Fenlon’s superb effort, Jolley saw Oxford goalkeeper Wayne Brown off his line and beat him with a fine curler that struck the inside of a post.
Simon Bassey made a change in the 63rd minute with Rashid Yussuff thrown into the fray in place of Luke Moore. However, the hosts continued to look more dangerous, though without creating any more chances, and the Dons caretaker manager decided to make a double change with 14 minutes to play as Huw Johnson replaced Jolley and Charlie Strutton came on for Harrison. The Dons needed Seb Brown to be very alert though as he came off his line to deny Alfie Potter from putting the hosts back in the lead. There was no reprieve for the visitors in the 81st minute though when Tom Craddock sent over a cross that left Potter with a simple task and he made no mistake from close range. The Dons came so close to levelling it up again though when Will Antwi headed against the crossbar and had his follow-up just saved by Brown.
Midson agonisingly struck over the crossbar from close-range after a cross from Sammy Moore and the Dons can count themselves unlucky not to have secured at least a point tonight.
AFC Wimbledon: Seb Brown, George Francomb, Jim Fenlon, Sammy Moore, Yado Mambo, Will Antwi, Christian Jolley (Huw Johnson), Steven Gregory, Byron Harrison (Charlie Strutton), Jack Midson, Luke Moore (Rashid Yussuff).