Wimbledon bowed out of the Capital One Cup at the first hurdle once again tonight, but they could certainly hold their heads up high after a late Luke Moore goal threatened a famous fightback.
The Dons were beaten 2-1, but Luke Moore struck home from close range in the 90th minute, before Sammy Moore and Jack Midson came close to taking the game into extra-time at the death. Martyn Woolford and Andy Keogh had earlier appeared to put the game beyond Wimbledon with second-half strikes.
Neal Ardley had expressed his satisfaction with Wimbledon’s performance at Torquay on Saturday and that was reflected in his starting line-up with just two changes. Charlie Sheringham was handed his full Wimbledon debut against one of his former clubs with Michael Smith stepping down to the bench and Sammy Moore returned at the expense of Luke Moore. Millwall manager Steve Lomas adopted a different approach as he made seven changes to the side surprisingly beaten at home to Yeovil on Saturday.
Wimbledon were backed by a great support of over 1,000 spectators from the North Stand and they had something to get excited about in the 10th minute when Millwall goalkeeper Stephen Bywater, a replacement for Republic of Ireland international David Forde, spilled Callum Kennedy’s corner, but Alan Bennett was unable to direct his header towards the empty net. With Sammy Moore, Peter Sweeney and Harry Pell deployed in midfield, the Dons were able to gain a good share of possession, albeit without really threatening. However, Ross Worner was untroubled at the other end until the 28th minute when he reacted superbly to make a flying save to deny a curler from Jermaine Easter. Wimbledon’s resistance was certainly working in the first-half as they restricted Millwall to long-range efforts, a 30-yarder well over from Nicky Bailey highlighting the home side’s lack of cutting edge.
With the majority of the first-half play all taking place in Wimbledon’s half, it was perhaps a surprise that Millwall failed to create a clear-cut chance until 10 minutes before half-time when Easter fired straight at Worner from 10 yards. It was far from sustained pressure though and the closest Millwall came during the rest of the first-half was when former Reading striker James Henry curled wide. Wimbledon ended the first 45 minutes strongly by causing problems from a succession of set plays. First, Sheringham almost reached a George Francomb free-kick before Bywater and then the Millwall replacement goalkeeper failed to gather another corner from the same player.
It was job done for the Dons as the half-time whistle sounded with the visitors having produced a first-half defensive display that would have pleased Neal Ardley. However, Millwall had a great chance to open the scoring just three minutes into the second-half when Henry was left unmarked at the far post but he blazed over the crossbar. And the Dons cut their own throats in the 51st minute when Worner attempted to stop Sweeney’s header from going out for a corner, but he only succeeded in presenting the ball to Andy Keogh and he was left with a simple task to break the deadlock. Wimbledon had an instant chance to strike back when Andy Frampton nodded Kennedy’s corner back, but Sheringham headed straight into the arms of Bywater from close-range.
With Wimbledon having to find a way back into this match, Neal Ardley made a double substitution with Jack Midson and Chris Arthur replacing Francomb and Sweeney respectively. That meant Wimbledon started to commit more men forward, but they were almost caught on the break when Henry found Martyn Woolford in space, but Worner watched his effort all the way and made a decent stop. Neal Ardley made his final substitution in the 70th minute with Luke Moore, one of only two surviving members from the Wimbledon squad which last visited The Den in 2009, replacing George Porter. It was effectively all over 14 minutes from time when Easter beat Bennett on the right and sent over a cross that was struck home at the far post by Woolford.
However, Wimbledon refused to accept defeat and Luke Moore fired home emphatically from close-range after getting on the end of Sheringham's flick-on from a throw-in. There was still time for Sammy Moore to fire just wide and Midson forced a last-gasp save from Bywater, but Wimbledon just failed to force extra-time and had to settle for a gallant defeat.
AFC Wimbledon: Ross Worner, Barry Fuller, Callum Kennedy, Peter Sweeney (Chris Arthur), Andy Frampton, Alan Bennett, George Francomb (Jack Midson), Sammy Moore, Harry Pell, Charlie Sheringham, George Porter (Luke Moore).