A brave Wimbledon fightback ultimately came to nothing this afternoon as Neal Ardley's side were eliminated from the FA Cup by an injury-time Jon Otsemobor strike.
Jack Midson had looked like being Wimbledon’s hero as he showed the lethal striker’s instinct that made him such a hot property last season with a superb equaliser in the 59th minute, but the visitors were eventually edged out 2-1.
That was harsh on Wimbledon after they produced a never-say-die performance to battle back and came within minutes of a second round FA Cup replay at the Cherry Red Records Stadium.
Neal Ardley made three changes from the Wimbledon side which started at Morecambe with perhaps the most significant being an instant return for Luke Moore, who only returned to full training this week, replacing the ineligible Jonathan Meades. Jake Reeves was also unable to play under the terms of his loan deal from Brentford and that meant Toby Ajala was thrown straight in for his debut. Yado Mambo replaced Callum McNaughton at the heart of the defence and Wimbledon had Doncaster Rovers to thank for allowing the visitors to retain Neil Sullivan in goal.
Wimbledon were put on the back foot early on, but the first half hour was a lacklustre affair that failed to live up to its billing. For all the media hype in the build-up to this unique match, neither goalkeeper was tested during the first half hour. Indeed, the most exciting action came up in the sky as an aeroplane displaying the banner “We are Wimbledon” flew past for everyone in the stadium to see. That was most certainly welcomed by the 3,000 or so Wimbledon supporters in the away end, who easily made the most noise during a first-half that was disappointing in terms of action on the pitch. The hosts did have the better of it though and created a few half chances with the best of them falling for Jon Otsemobor, but he headed straight at Sullivan. Milton Keynes captain Dean Lewington and Angelo Balanta also both fired wide from outside the area. However, though Wimbledon failed to mount anything meaningful as an attacking force in the first half hour, their defence held firm at the other end as Milton Keynes failed to make any real impression. It was a similar scenario for Wimbledon though as they failed to provide support for strikers Byron Harrison and Jack Midson.
With neither side contributing anything in attack, the opening goal came as a bolt out of the blue. It was certainly worth waiting for from a Milton Keynes perspective as Stephen Gleeson picked up the ball 25 yards out and struck an unstoppable shot that left Sullivan with no chance as it arrowed into the top corner.
Neil Sullivan had to be alert to stop Wimbledon falling further behind when he tipped a speculative free-kick from Lewington over the crossbar. And the visitors were fortunate to survive shortly afterwards when Balanta’s effort was deflected just wide. At this stage, Milton Keynes were finally beginning to show just why they are currently flying high in League 1 and the home supporters thought they were celebrating a second in the 53rd minute. Gleeson’s teasing cross was only parried by Sullivan and Dean Bowditch struck a fierce drive that MK fans thought was in, but the ball had hit the side netting.
All of a sudden though, we had a real cup tie on our hands when Wimbledon equalised in the 59th minute. There had been no sign of it coming as Wimbledon had been largely on the back foot during the second-half, but when the goal came it was one of pure quality. Ajala, who had shown glimpses of what he could do in the first-half, curled in a lovely cross that Midson met with an emphatic bullet header at the near post to send the Wimbledon supporters behind that goal into raptures.
Yet again, the hosts thought they were celebrating a second minutes later when Ryan Lowe had the ball in the back of the net, but the linesman’s flag was up early and the goal was correctly ruled out.
Neal Ardley sent on Charlie Strutton with 15 minutes to play for Byron Harrison and Huw Johnson also entered the fray for the tiring Luke Moore. Wimbledon showed real tenacity to hang in there at the back with Jim Fenlon, in particular, showing a calmness that defied his limited experience. The visitors could have snatched it in the final minute of normal time when Steven Gregory was denied by Milton Keynes goalkeeper David Martin. However, Wimbledon were left stunned in the second minute of injury time when Otsemobor beat Sullivan from close range after a goalmouth scramble.
Everyone connected with Wimbledon could hold their heads high though after a performance of true battling spirit that so nearly defied Milton Keynes.
AFC Wimbledon: Neil Sullivan, Curtis Osano, Stacy Long, Byron Harrison (Charlie Strutton), Jack Midson, Luke Moore, Jim Fenlon (Pim Balkestein), Luke Moore (Huw Johnson), Jim Fenlon, Steven Gregory, Will Antwi, Yado Mambo, Toby Ajala.