Wimbledon were handed a reality check by League 2 leaders Gillingham this afternoon in front of the biggest gate of the season at the Cherry Red Records Stadium.
The manner of Tuesday night’s victory against Bristol Rovers rightly resulted in plenty of plaudits for Neal Ardley’s brand of exciting football, but the Dons could not quite pass the acid test in front of 4,546 as the Gills edged it 1-0.
Neal Ardley made one change from the starting 11 that impressed so much against Bristol Rovers on Tuesday night with Curtis Haynes-Brown preferred to Jim Fenlon at left-back.
Top-of-the-table Gillingham, determined to get back on track after Tuesday’s defeat at Torquay, showed just why they had won 10 out of 14 games this season by taking the game to the Dons early on. It was Wimbledon’s play-off hero Danny Kedwell who created the first meaningful chance in the 12th minute when he produced a teasing cross that former Brentford forward Myles Weston met with a flying header that Seb Brown saved well at his near post. The Dons goalkeeper was then grateful that a powerful Chris Whelpdale drive was straight at him as the Gills continued to dominate. The visitors were rewarded with the opener in the 23rd minute when on-loan Brighton midfielder Romain Vincelot, only signed yesterday, marked his debut with a goal. It was a fine effort too as Vincelot struck a fierce drive into the bottom corner that left Seb Brown with no chance after the Dons had only half cleared a long throw-in.
The Dons finally created a sniff of a chance on the half hour when George Francomb (pictured) got down the right flank and produced a fine cross that Tom Flanagan just managed to clear before the waiting Jack Midson could apply the finishing touch. Gillingham goalkeeper Stuart Nelson was a virtual spectator in the first-half as the Dons failed to find any cutting edge against a Gillingham defence that was proving to be a tough nut to crack. At the other end Brown had to be alert to turn away a fierce drive from Matt Fish at his near post. The first-half was perhaps a reality check for the Dons after Tuesday’s swashbuckling performance against Bristol Rovers as they came up against a Gillingham side that combined a steely resolve with a dangerous attacking edge.
Wimbledon started the second-half better, but the Gills continued to offer more threat and Curtis Osano had to make a last-ditch block to stop a fiercely struck volley from Weston after he linked up well once again with his strike partner Kedwell. The Dons looked sharper on the attack, though they still failed to really get behind a resolute Gillingham defence, and they were restricted to efforts from long-range. However, Francomb’s powerful drive finally forced Gillingham goalkeeper Stuart Nelson into action as he made his first save to deny the on-loan Norwich youngster a first Wimbledon goal. Francomb was determined to take matters into his own hands with Wimbledon struggling to make an impact and he produced another fine effort from distance that fizzed just wide of a post.
Neal Ardley made a tactical change with 25 minutes left as Luke Moore entered the fray in place of Stacy Long. Francomb continued to be Wimbledon’s best hope of unlocking the door though and he turned creator 13 minutes from time when his defence-splitting pass gave Harrison a rare sight of goal, but he fired into the side netting from an acute angle. The Dons had a real scare at the other end when Seb Brown smashed a clearance straight at Will Antwi, but the ball never quite had the power to rebound into the empty net.
The Dons rallied near the end, without really troubling the visitors, and the best they could muster was a Harrison drive that sailed comfortably wide.
AFC Wimbledon: Seb Brown, Curtis Osano, Curtis Haynes-Brown (Christian Jolley), Rashid Yussuff, Yado Mambo, Will Antwi, Stacy Long (Luke Moore), Steven Gregory, Byron Harrison, Jack Midson, George Francomb.