Gary Alexander’s debut goal was not enough to earn an elusive Wimbledon win as Neal Ardley’s men endured an afternoon of frustration against Burton.
Though the Dons again produced another bold display against one of the promotion contenders, a third successive League 2 draw felt like a missed opportunity with Burton having been reduced to 10 men with 15 minutes left. The visitors were therefore grateful to hang on for a 1-1 draw that leaves Wimbledon still looking up at the rest in League 2. It had all looked so promising when Alexander (pictured above by Paul Willatts after his debut goal) put the Dons in front before the half hour mark and Wimbledon were producing some eye-catching football at that stage.
Neal Ardley wasted no time blooding his new signings with Gary Alexander and Harry Pell both coming straight in for their debuts. Paul McCallum had to settle for a place on the bench and Jim Fenlon was the other player to step down from the starting 11 against Port Vale with Jonathan Meades switching to right-back.
However, all the Wimbledon manager’s best laid plans so nearly went out of the window inside the first minute. Wimbledon were so lucky to survive when Michael Symes met an Alex MacDonald cross with a looping header that bounced off the underside of the crossbar. The hosts did produce a good response though by dominating the first half hour in terms of possession and they showed moments of real promise going forward. One flowing move ended with Peter Sweeney finding Luke Moore in space with a beautifully weighted pass that found Chris Hussey and his powerful strike from an acute angle was beaten away by Burton goalkeeper Stuart Tomlinson. The hosts also came close from the subsequent corner when Pim Balkestein got on the end of a corner, but his effort was cleared off the line by Lee Bell.
With Sweeney continuing to pull the strings in midfield and Pell looking promising on his debut, Wimbledon continued to impress and they grabbed the lead their play deserved in the 27th minute. Though it was a poor goal to concede from a Burton perspective with their defence failing to clear a routine long ball from Hussey, Alexander showed the poacher’s instinct that has served him so well during his fine career by getting their first to stab home. Alexander could have doubled his Wimbledon account almost instantly when Toby Ajala sent over a teasing cross that the striker headed just wide.
All of Wimbledon’s good work was wasted though when the defensive frailties that have haunted them so many times this season struck again in the 37th minute. Balkestein completely miskicked a Matt Paterson cross and the Wimbledon defence allowed Symes too much time to watch the ball come down and volley it emphatically past Neil Sullivan. It was a cruel setback for Wimbledon after they displayed so much promise in the first-half, but it again showed that Neal Ardley’s men cannot keep giving away such soft goals if they are to survive this season.
Despite a disappointing end to the first-half for Wimbledon, they continued to dominate in the second-half as they played towards the Tempest End. Alexander, who was a real livewire on his debut, was a constant menace to the Burton defence and with a bit more luck he could have netted another. Alexander charged down a clearance from Tomlinson and the ball could have rebounded into the net, but it bounced just wide. With Wimbledon struggling to break down a stubborn Burton defence though, Toby Ajala took matters into his own hands with a superb 50-yard run, but he was unable to find Alexander, who was screaming for a pass in the middle. Forward pair Alexander and Midson then linked up smartly to set-up a shooting chance for Pell, but he curled wide of the far post.
With no sign of Wimbledon getting a winner, Neal Ardley decided to introduce McCallum with 17 minutes left in place of Midson. But Wimbledon’s task was made easier two minutes later when Burton captain Zander Diamond was shown a straight red card after a clash with Balkestein before the visitors took a corner. With Wimbledon having a one-man advantage, Neal Ardley decided to shake things up in an effort to find the winner with Rashid Yussuff entering the fray for Luke Moore. One swift counter-attack from the Dons threatened to snatch an all-important goal when Toby Ajala found Pell in space and the rangy midfielder powered towards goal, but his shot was too close to Tomlinson.
Burton held on quite comfortably in the end, but Wimbledon could at least take consolation from another spirited performance against a side chasing promotion and their new signings Alexander and Pell both enjoying impressive debuts.
AFC Wimbledon: Neil Sullivan, Jonathan Meades, Chris Hussey, Chris Hussey, Peter Sweeney, Pim Balkestein, Mat Mitchel-King, Toby Ajala, Harry Pell, Gary Alexander, Jack Midson (Paul McCallum), Luke Moore (Rashid Yussuff).