The Dons produced arguably their worst performance since Neal Ardley was appointed as manager tonight as they were comfortably beaten at St James’ Park.
Gone was the swagger and attacking verve that was such a feature of Wimbledon’s performances against Bristol Rovers and Fleetwood Town as the Dons slipped to a 2-0 defeat. Indeed, the triumphant memories of Wimbledon’s last visit to Devon and an impressive victory at Plymouth Argyle seemed a long time ago as there was not much to enthuse about for the 199 travelling supporters.
Neal Ardley again shuffled the pack at Exeter tonight as he made five changes from the side which started at York City, including handing debuts to loan signings Jake Reeves and Jonathan Meades. Louis Harris was the man to make way for central midfielder Reeves with Meades replacing Warren Cummings at left-back and Curtis Osano restored to defence in place of Jim Fenlon. There were also returns for top goalscorer Byron Harrison and George Francomb with Christian Jolley and Luke Moore having to settle for places on the bench.
In a low-key start to this match, it was the hosts that made the better start and veteran Exeter striker Jamie Cureton twice had presentable chances to break the deadlock. First the former Reading man drilled a low shot that Seb Brown just about managed to hold and then he had an even better opportunity after the Dons were caught out down their left side. Steve Tully was the instigator as he burst down the right and sent over a teasing cross that Alan Gow headed back from the far post, but Cureton’s acrobatic kick was just over the crossbar.
The Dons had barely been out of their own half in the first half hour with the only effort on goal being a Rashid Yussuff shot from distance that Exeter goalkeeper Artur Krysiak gathered at the second attempt. Though the Dons had to withstand a fair bit of pressure, they never looked in too much danger with the central defensive pair of Will Antwi and Yado Mambo offering a solid base at the back.
However, out of nothing came the opening goal for the hosts when Alan Gow sent through a defence-splitting pass that Cureton latched onto and then produced a clinical finish that left Seb Brown with no chance.
Wimbledon finally fashioned a worthwhile chance on the stroke of half-time when good work from Jake Reeves down the right set-up Jack Midson, but his goal-bound shot was blocked by Danny Coles and then Curtis Osano’s follow-up was deflected just over.
Despite that late flurry, the Dons had been ineffective as an attacking force in the second-half and an improved performance was required after the break if they were to get anything from the long trip to Devon.
The visitors wasted no time in making an impression as an attacking force at the start of the second-half and Rashid Yussuff provided Harrison with a sight of goal, but Wimbledon’s top goalscorer took too long to get his shot off and the chance was gone. There was better to come from Wimbledon in the 57th minute though as they fashioned their best move of the match. Harrison found his strike partner Midson in space down the left and his cross created a shooting chance for Reeves, but his shot was deflected just over the crossbar.
Neal Ardley made his first substitution just before the hour with Stacy Long entering the fray in place of Rashid Yussuff. That change coincided with Wimbledon’s best spell of the match as they began to pin the hosts back in their final third. The only criticism of Wimbledon’s improved second-half display was that there was a distinct lack of cutting edge even though Exeter were restricted to very little as an attacking force.
The Dons cut their own throats 19 minutes from time though when Curtis Osano failed to clear a through ball and Gow knocked the ball back from the touchline for John O’Flynn to stab home from close range.
Wimbledon made a double substitution straight after that setback with Christian Jolley and Luke Moore introduced for Jake Reeves and George Francomb. However, the Dons made little impression as an attacking force in the final stages and only a Stacy Long curler just wide threatened to reduce the advantage.
AFC Wimbledon: Seb Brown, Curtis Osano, Byron Harrison, Jack Midson, Rashid Yussuff (Stacy Long), George Francomb (Christian Jolley), Steven Gregory, Will Antwi, Yado Mambo, Jonathan Meades, Jake Reeves (Luke Moore).