Another gallant away display counted for nothing today with Wimbledon suffering late heartbreak for the third successive match.
It was the same old story for the Dons as they defended resolutely for large spells, but they conceded late again to lose 1-0 at the Memorial Stadium with Tom Hitchcock netting the winner. With three matches to play, Wimbledon desperately still need more points to achieve survival in League 2.
Neal Ardley again decided to rotate his squad with five changes from the side which started against Barnet on Easter Monday. One of them was enforced with Mat Mitchel-King missing out due to injury and Kelly Youga replacing him at right back. The other changes saw returns for Pim Balkestein, Sammy Moore, Gary Alexander and Luke Moore with Will Antwi, Stacy Long, Jesse Darko and Kevin Sainte-Luce all on the bench.
They may have had nothing to play for having effectively sealed survival, but the Rovers faithful provided a passionate support from the outset and manager John Ward was offered a rousing ovation when the two sides appeared for his superb record since taking over the reins. Ward’s side started brightly too and Ryan Brunt tried his luck with a powerful 25-yard effort that was deflected over the crossbar. However, the Dons responded and Alexander headed over from a Chris Hussey cross. As the half hour mark approached, Wimbledon started to enjoy good possession with Jonathan Meades - playing in a right midfield role - offering a useful outlet. Meades also provided good protection to Youga in the right-back position, but he also got forward to set-up a decent shooting opportunity for Sammy Moore, but he fired just wide of the far post.
Despite those moments of promise, the Dons were very fortunate to survive in the 37th minute. Wimbledon only half cleared a corner and Fabian Broghammer’s volley beat Dons goalkeeper John Sullivan, but bounced off a post and away to safety. Rovers danger-man Oumare Tounkara almost got a clear run on goal just a minute later, but Wimbledon were rescued by excellent defensive work from Harry Pell. Wimbledon could be well satisfied with their efforts from a defensive perspective and they also finished the half strongly in an attacking sense when a fine team move ending with a dangerous cross from the right that Luke Moore almost reached on the far post.
Neither side created anything of note in the first 15 minutes of the second-half and Wimbledon only threatened when Jack Midson’s smart flick was latched onto by Alexander, but he fired over from 30 yards. However, with little in the way of attacking purpose from Rovers, Wimbledon began to sense there could be more in it for them than a battling draw. Harry Pell picked out Alexander, but he shot wildly over and then Chris Hussey’s corner just missed every Wimbledon player in the box. All of a sudden, the home faithful were getting restless and Wimbledon started to commit more men forward in search of a winner.
With Wimbledon now making an impression as an attacking force, Neal Ardley decided to make a change 25 minutes from time when he sent Jesse Darko on in place of Alexander.Darko made an instant impression when his clever flick gave Meades a chance, but he just failed to control the ball and his chance was gone. At the other end it needed an excellent interception from Pim Balkestein, who produced a commanding display on his return, to stop Tom Hitchcock from breaking the deadlock.However, there was no denying Hitchcock nine minutes from time when he turned smartly in the box and let fly with an emphatic half volley that left Sullivan with no chance to make it 1-0. There was no way back for Wimbledon after that and now next Saturday’s home match against Exeter City assumes even greater importance.