Our biggest home gate of the season and a Wimbledon return for Neal Ardley failed to lift the Dons to a first home victory since the opening day of 2012/13.
In front of a 4,409 crowd at the Cherry Red Records Stadium, a late rally from the Dons only just came to nothing with Byron Harrison almost snatching an unlikely point.
Though it ended 2-1, Neal Ardley could take plenty of positives from his first match as manager with the Dons producing a spirited response after falling 2-0 down. Harrison headed an injury-time goal and then saw another header bounce off the crossbar at the death. Wimbledon favourite Neal Ardley’s homecoming party had turned rather flat before that late salvo as our former striker Kaid Mohamed had earlier put Cheltenham 2-0 up.
Despite the appointments of our new management team, Wimbledon made just one enforced change from the side that started at Plymouth with Sammy Moore missing out due to an ankle injury and Louis Harris replacing him in the midfield.
That meant Seb Brown was handed the AFC Wimbledon captaincy for the first time since joining the Dons three years ago. The visitors made a strong start and enjoyed the lion’s share of possession, though our number one was untested in the first 20 minutes. Indeed, it was Seb’s opposite number Scott Brown who almost gifted the hosts an early lead when he spilled a Luke Moore cross, but Byron Harrison fired over the crossbar from close range.
However, it was starting to look like a familiar story once again for the Dons in the 25th minute when Cheltenham scored with their first shot of the match. After a cross was only half cleared by Will Antwi, Marlon Pack’s 25-yard strike bounced awkwardly and beat Seb Brown low into the bottom corner. The Dons responded by producing their best spell of the match with Luke Moore, in particular, catching the eye as he provided a fluid link between defence and attack. Moore almost notched the equaliser when he headed a George Francomb just wide of the target. The hosts came even closer in the 35th minute when Moore flicked a cross into Jack Midson’s path and the striker’s looping header beat Brown, but bounced off the crossbar.
With Midson and Harrison looking sharp in attack, the Dons never wanted half-time to come as they took the game to the Robins. However, Cheltenham never reached the play-off final last season without being solid at the back and they were proving to be a tough nut to crack this afternoon.
There had certainly been little wrong with and Wimbledon’s first-half performance and Wimbledon’s new management team could take plenty of positives from a bold showing so far from the hosts.
However, Cheltenham should have been out of sight less than a minute after the restart when Antwi made a hash of a backpass to leave Chris Zebroski in the clear, but he fired wide of the target from close range. It did get worse for the Dons though 10 minutes into the second-half when Darren Carter was left completely unmarked from a corner and his header on left Kaid Mohamed with a simple task to make it 2-0. There was a double substitution straight after that setback with Christian Jolley replacing Rashid Yussuff and Stacy Long on for Louis Harris. The Dons did produce a spirited response though with Jack Midson leading the way for a potential fightback. Midson created a chance for himself by dispossessing Keith Lowe, but he took too long to get a shot off and the chance was gone. Our top scorer last season had an even better chance just minutes later, but he was denied from six yards out by a brilliant save from Cheltenham goalkeeper Brown.
The Dons continued to battle for a point with an attitude that will have pleased Ardley and Neil Cox and Harrison headed home a Jim Fenlon cross to notch his sixth goal of the season. In a frantic finale, Harrison headed against the crossbar, but it was not to be for Wimbledon as they failed to earn a first home win since Chesterfield on the opening day of the season.
AFC Wimbledon: Seb Brown, George Francomb, Jim Fenlon, Louis Harris (Stacy Long), Yado Mambo, Will Antwi, Rashid Yussuff (Christian Jolley), Steven Gregory, Byron Harrison, Jack Midson, Luke Moore