Wimbledon earned reward for a battling second-half performance today with their late rally snatching a point at Underhill.
It was certainly not pretty, but the Dons showed the fighting spirit that will be needed in the coming months as they scrapped away to deny Barnet a chance to move off the bottom of League 2 . On the balance of play, Wimbledon merited the 1-1 draw and none of the 1,092 travelling Dons support cared that there was more than a touch of fortune about the 84th minute equaliser. After more fine wing play from the promising Toby Ajala, Barnet only half cleared their lines and Stacy Long tried his luck with a shot that deflected in off Jack Midson, who is claiming the goal.
Neal Ardley made a key change up front with Charlie Strutton making his first start since the FA Cup replay win against York City and top goalscorer Byron Harrison had to settle for a place on the bench. The only other change saw Jonathan Meades restored to the midfield with Steven Gregory missing out due to illness.
The Dons made a shaky start and they could have been behind after just 30 seconds when Elliot Johnson found Ricky Holmes in space just inside the box and Neil Sullivan had to pull off a flying save. Hosts Barnet wasted no time making the most of playing down the Underhill slope and Yado Mambo was fortunate when he made a hash of his clearance from a cross, but the ball rolled into the grateful arms of Sullivan. At the other end, Wimbledon showed promise as an attacking force when Strutton broke free down the right and delivered a cross across the face of goal that just missed everyone.
Wimbledon fashioned their best move of the match so far in the 28th minute when Luke Moore set Meades free down the left and his teasing cross was just cleared before Jack Midson could reach it. Meades was having an increasing influence as the first-half wore on and more impressive play from the on-loan Bournemouth midfielder found Osano in space, but his cross failed to pick anyone out in the box. Despite that good spell for Wimbledon, the visitors had failed to really create any clear-cut chances in a game that bore all the hallmarks of two sides desperate for the points at the foot of the table.
The hosts were so nearly offered a helping hand in the 39th minute when Mambo failed to control a routine long ball and that allowed Mark Byrne a clear sight of goal, but he shot straight at Sullivan. Worse was to follow for Wimbledon as Meades, in his commitment to get back and make a challenge, was forced to go off injured and he was replaced by Huw Johnson.
Wimbledon, kicking down the slope in the second-half, created a good chance shortly after the restart when Johnson combined well with Midson to set-up Strutton, but he blazed over the crossbar. Both sides struggled to create anything in the first 15 minutes after the break and Neal Ardley decided to go for a more direct option as he aimed to utilise the pace of Byron Harrison, who entered the fray for Strutton.
However, the Dons fell behind in the 64th minute when Wimbledon were caught napping from a set-piece. It was the most basic of goals in its execution as Mark Byrne floated a corner to the near post and Jake Hyde’s near post header found the top corner to leave Sullivan with no chance. Wimbledon’s vocal support on the far side thought they were celebrating an equaliser 14 minutes from time when a superb piece of play from Ajala set-up Luke Moore, but he fired into the side netting when clean through. Though the Dons had the better of the possession after conceding the opener, they struggled to make much of an impression as an attacking force.
But just when it appeared Wimbledon were heading for a costly defeat, they conjured up an equaliser six minutes from time. A cross from Ajala was only half cleared and Long produced a smart turn, before striking a shot that took a wicked deflection off Midson and found the bottom corner of the net with Barnet goalkeeper Graham Stack left stranded.
Though both sides pressed for a late winner, that never looked likely and the Dons will certainly be grateful to escape with a point and avoid dropping deeper into the mire.
AFC Wimbledon: Neil Sullivan, Curtis Osano, Stacy Long, Jack Midson, Luke Moore (Kieran Djilali), Jim Fenlon, Charlie Strutton (Byron Harrison), Will Antwi, Yado Mambo, Jonathan Meades (Huw Johnson), Toby Ajala.