Wimbledon missed out on a golden opportunity to move off the bottom of League 2 with a late Adebayo Akinfenwa penalty denying them all three points.
Wimbledon looked set to secure a second successive home win with Alan Bennett having given them a half-time lead, but Neil Sullivan was adjudged to have brought down Roy O’Donovan in the box and Akinfenwa made no mistake to plunder a 1-1 draw for the visitors. In the end it needed Sullivan to pull off a great save in injury-time prevent Northampton substitute Chris Hackett snatching the points for Aidy Boothroyd’s men.
Neal Ardley made three changes to his starting line-up and more significantly he elected to play both Gary Alexander and Jack Midson in a more attacking 4-4-2 formation. That meant Sammy Moore dropped to the bench and there was another change in midfield with Luke Moore thrust straight back in after injury for Rashid Yussuff. The third change saw Pim Balkestein taking the place of Mat Mitchel-King at the heart of Wimbledon’s defence.
It was a match that meant so much to both sides with Wimbledon knowing that victory would move them out of the relegation zone and Northampton having the incentive of marching up into an automatic promotion place with three points.
A power cut may have delayed the kick-off time until 8.05 pm, but that disruption failed to prevent the Dons from finding their stride early on. In a swift start from a Wimbledon side aiming to build on Saturday’s win against Bradford, the Dons pressed Northampton back and Harry Pell tried his luck with a 25-yarder that deflected just wide.
There was a setback for Wimbledon in the 15th minute when Peter Sweeney had to be withdrawn through injury and that meant Sammy Moore was offered an early chance to make an impression. Despite Wimbledon’s early domination of possession, the opening exchanges showed that Northampton were likely to be a tough nut to crack. It was perhaps going to take a moment of class or perhaps a mistake from the visitors to open the scoring. Chris Hussey attempted to make a difference with a teasing cross from the right that Balkestein was close to getting on the end of, but Lewis Hornby got there first.
The home faithful did not have to wait long to celebrate the opener though when Wimbledon took full advantage of a defensive lapse from Northampton. Hussey swept in a corner in the 29th minute and Alan Bennett was left completely unmarked at the far post to head home his first Wimbledon goal. It was the least Wimbledon deserved for an impressive first half hour as they dealt with Northampton’s direct approach effectively and offered threat at the other end. The Cobblers finally provided a scare for Wimbledon in the 36th minute when Hornby flashed a fierce drive just wide from 25 yards. Wimbledon could be well satisfied with their first-half performance as they nullified Northampton’s attack with an admirable work rate, Pell’s commanding presence in the centre of the park really catching the eye.
Northampton wasted no time testing the home defence after the interval and Akinfenwa, who had been quiet so far, found space in the area and powered a fierce shot wide. However, the Dons responded with a promising exchange when Alexander opened up the Northampton defence with a clever flick to find Toby Ajala, but the winger delayed his shot and the chance was gone. Northampton’s direct approach almost paid off just before the hour when Adebayo got on the end of a long throw, but his looping header bounced just wide with Neal Sullivan seemingly beaten. However, the Dons missed a great opportunity to double their advantage in the 62nd minute. Pell sprung the offside trap and after Midson helped his cross on, Ajala was left clean through, but the winger missed his big chance to mark his farewell game with a goal as his shot was too close to Northampton goalkeeper Lee Nicholls.
With Wimbledon having comfortably dealt with Northampton’s threat for the majority of this match, it therefore came as a surprise when the visitors equalised 15 minutes from time. The hosts were caught napping with a simple long ball over the top and referee Fred Graham had no hesitation in pointing to the spot after Sullivan had brought down O’Donovan in the area. Akinfenwa slotted the subsequent penalty in emphatic style by sending Sullivan the wrong way.
With Wimbledon now seeking a winner, Neal Ardley decided to change his attack by introducing Kevin Sainte-Luce for Luke Moore. However, Wimbledon needed Neil Sullivan to pull off a superb save with his feet in injury-time to deny Chris Hackett and Bennett got back to clear Clive Platt’s follow-up on the line.
Though the final result was perhaps a fair reflection of the balance of play, it felt like two points dropped for Wimbledon on the night.
AFC Wimbledon: Neil Sullivan, Jonathan Meades, Chris Hussey, Peter Sweeney (Sammy Moore), Alan Bennett, Pim Balkestein, Toby Ajala, Harry Pell, Gary Alexander, Jack Midson, Luke Moore (Kevin Sainte-Luce).