A Wimbledon display full of spirit and endeavour failed to yield any return today as Rotherham’s smash and grab raid snatched all three points.
Second best for long spells of this match, Rotherham enhanced their promotion prospects with a fortunate 1-0 win with their 79th minute winner bouncing in off Wimbledon goalkeeper Neil Sullivan. That handed The Millers victory and leaves the Dons struggling to shake off the prospect of a relegation battle as Neal Ardley’s men enter a crucial Christmas period.
Wimbledon made just one change from the side which started at Barnet with Steven Gregory returning after illness to play the final match of his loan spell and Charlie Strutton missing out due to injury.
It was an end-to-end opening to the match as both sides really went on the attack from the outset. The Dons made a lively start with Luke Moore, in particular, threatening to break the deadlock. First, he just failed to reach a Jack Midson flick before Rotherham goalkeeper Andy Warrington and then Moore latched onto a half cleared Stacy Long free-kick and attempted a curler that was deflected wide. Rotherham, flying high in fifth spot before this match, looked rattled early on, though they did threaten on the break when Ben Pringle forced a routine save from Neil Sullivan.
The pressure from the hosts continued though as Moore fired over the crossbar after a Long free-kick was charged down and then Warrington saved Gregory’s powerful drive at the second attempt. The Millers did pick up the tempo as the first-half wore on and they were dominant in possession as half-time approached, but Wimbledon’s unchanged defence coped admirably with the pressure. And the Dons came so close to breaking the deadlock on the stroke of half-time when Long’s inswinging corner found Will Antwi just two yards out, but the Wimbledon centre-back just failed to force the ball across the line. Wimbledon could be well satisfied with their first-half efforts after forcing the visitors to defend for long periods with the only slight criticism being that there was perhaps a lack of cutting edge against a resolute Rotherham defence.
Wimbledon again started the second-half as the better side and Jonathan Meades came close with a teasing free-kick from the right that was deflected just wide of the far post. This time it was not sustained pressure from the Dons though and they were fortunate not to be behind in the 57th minute when Rotherham had the best chance of the match so far. It was almost a self inflicted blow for Wimbledon as Sullivan’s punch from a cross landed at the feet of Daniel Nardiello, just six yards out, but he blazed wide. However, the spirit of Neal Ardley’s men could not be questioned on the day as they took the game to the visitors and they responded by coming so close to the opener. Toby Ajala, who had so far struggled to make the impact he had at Milton Keynes and Barnet, wriggled clear of his marker and chipped the ball over Warrington from an acute angle, but Midson just failed to get on the end of it.
With such a stubborn defence and the ability to break quickly, it was easy to see just why Rotherham are challenging for promotion and they so nearly snatched the lead midway through the second-half. Nardiello was again the man who should have opened the scoring, but he produced a weak effort that Sullivan was able to parry and then Wimbledon just managed to scramble the ball away. All of a sudden, the Dons were struggling to contain Rotherham as the match entered its final 15 minutes. It needed a Curtis Osano block to stop a goalbound Lee Frecklington volley and then three minutes later, Rotherham finally unlocked the door. It was an unlucky goal for Wimbledon to concede as Kieran Agard’s header initially hit the post, but it bounced over the line off Sullivan’s back.
That goal seemed to knock the stuffing out of Wimbledon after such an encouraging performance up until that point. The Dons struggled to conjure up a response and Neal Ardley sent on Pim Balkestein to play in an unfamiliar forward role in a desperate effort to change it and Kieran Djilali also entered the fray. A late Wimbledon rally failed to really trouble Rotherham and it does not get any easier for the Dons with the prospect of a trip to promotion contenders Port Vale up next.
AFC Wimbledon: Neil Sullivan, Curtis Osano, Jim Fenlon, Steven Gregory, Yado Mambo, Will Antwi, Toby Ajala, Stacy Long (Kieran Djilali), Jack Midson, Jonathan Meades, Luke Moore (Pim Balkestein).