Wimbledon suffered a frustrating defeat at the hands of Barnet today with the visitors snatching a late victory that they barely deserved.
In a match the Dons dominated, Barnet defended resolutely and substitute Keanu Marsh-Brown fired an 85th minute winner that came completely against the run of play. The 1-0 defeat was harsh on Wimbledon and it needed a brilliant save from Graham Stack to deny substitute Gary Alexander (pictured) in the last minute.
Defeat drags Wimbledon back into relegation trouble with both York and Aldershot winning to make it even tighter at the bottom of League 2.
In the build-up to Wimbledon’s Easter double header, assistant manager Neil Cox had talked about the games against Rotherham and Barnet requiring completely different approaches and that was certainly reflected in today’s starting line-up. Gary Alexander, who had started every match so far since joining on loan from Crawley, made way for Jesse Darko as one of four changes from the side which started at Rotherham. Stacy Long, Kevin Sainte-Luce and Will Antwi were also offered recalls with Rashid Yussuff, Luke Moore and Pim Balkestein having to settle for places on the bench.
Wimbledon’s faithful responded superbly to the club’s request to get behind the Dons during “We Are Wimbledon Day” as they decked out the Tempest End with banners and flags. The home fans watched their side make a whirlwind start that caught Barnet off guard and the visitors were perhaps fortunate to survive a penalty appeal when Mark Byrne appeared to handle in the area. Then Long wasted no time showing his quality from on the ball when he whipped in a teasing cross from the left that Dave Stephens almost diverted into his own net.
Barnet gradually got to grips with Wimbledon’s attacking threat though and there was little to enthuse about from either side during the first half hour. Jack Midson attempted to change that all on his own when he turned inside smartly from the left, but his subsequent shot lacked power and Barnet goalkeeper Graham Stack saved comfortably. At the other end, Wimbledon had dealt comfortably with Barnet’s threat and it took until the 36th minute for the visitors to offer a goal attempt and the shot from Jon Nurse was well over the bar. Wimbledon finished the first-half strongly and they came close on the stroke of half-time when Sainte-Luce reacted well to reach Long’s corner, but his volley was over the crossbar. Such chances had been rare though in a tight first-half that bore all the hallmarks of two sides still fighting for survival and there had been a lack of creativity from Neal Ardley’s men.
Wimbledon started the second-half with greater urgency and Sainte-Luce was the man to provide a spark. The talented French winger beat his marker and got in a dangerous cross, but no one managed to get on the end of it and Harry Pell blazed over the crossbar after Barnet had only half cleared their lines. Then Sainte-Luce managed to wriggle free of Tom Flanaghan’s challenge and it needed Stack to get down low and save. It had been an impressive start to the second-half from Wimbledon as they piled forward towards the Tempest End, but Barnet continued to provide stubborn resistance. Jack Midson had a rare sight of goal in the 64th minute, but he scuffed his shot wide after more good work from Sainte-Luce.
With Wimbledon struggling to find a cutting edge in attack, Neal Ardley decided to make a change with Gary Alexander replacing Darko up front. Wimbledon did have the ball in the net with 16 minutes to play when Chris Hussey powered home emphatically, but referee Tony Bates had already blown for a foul throw in the build-up. On a bobbly pitch that made good football difficult, Wimbledon had to make use of their set-pieces and a fine ball from Hussey was flicked on by Antwi, but Midson flicked the ball wide.
Barnet snatched a surprise lead against the run of play when Hussey misjudged a clearance and Keanu Marsh-Brown sped clear and produced a shot that deceived John Sullivan at his near post. Wimbledon so nearly drew level in the final minute of normal time when Alexander met a Hussey corner with a flying header, but his effort was superbly saved by Stack. Wimbledon never looked like netting an equaliser during five minutes of injury-time though and the trip to Bristol Rovers on Saturday now has added importance.
AFC Wimbledon: John Sullivan, Mat Mitchel-King, Chris Hussey, Stacy Long (Luke Moore), Alan Bennett, Will Antwi, Jonathan Meades, Harry Pell, Jack Midson, Jesse Darko (Gary Alexander), Kevin Sainte-Luce (Charlie Strutton).