Wimbledon paid the price for a below-par first half display at Exeter as their unbeaten league run came to an end in Devon.
In what was a far cry from the previous 2-2 thriller between these two sides in April, Exeter marched into a 2-0 lead by half-time and Wimbledon never really looked in the mood to change that scoreline. Only Andy Frampton’s header off the line threatened to change matters and Neal Ardley will be demanding much more from his side for the home matches against Scunthorpe United and Fleetwood. It needed Ross Worner (pictured) to keep Wimbledon in it during the second-half as he produced another fine performance.
Neal Ardley decided to select an unchanged starting line-up on the back of Wimbledon’s impressive display against Wycombe Wanderers. However, the Dons were put on the back foot early on as Exeter swept forward in determined mood. Though Michael Smith had a goal-bound effort charged down, Exeter caught Wimbledon out on several occasions during the opening exchanges. Aaron Dawson’s powerful runs down the right continued to threaten and the full-back almost created the opener for John O’Flynn. There was no reprieve for Wimbledon in the 11th minute though when O’Flynn picked up a loose ball on the left and let fly with a vicious shot that beat Ross Worner after a wicked deflection.
With Wimbledon having struggled to mount an attack of note by the midway point of the first-half, Exeter wasted no time in pressing home their advantage. But the visitors almost cut their own throats when a short back pass from Alan Bennett let in O’Flynn, but this time his shot was too weak and Wimbledon were able to clear. Wimbledon’s travelling support finally had something to shout about in the 27th minute when Jack Midson rose highest to meet Callum Kennedy’s cross, but his header was just deflected over. That had been a rare bright moment from Wimbledon during a first half-hour to forget for Neal Ardley’s men.
There was improvement to come though as Wimbledon produced their best move of the match so far in the 32nd minute. Luke Moore and Kennedy linked-up well down the left and when the latter’s cross was only half cleared, Barry Fuller drove a fierce effort towards goal, but it was well blocked. George Porter, who had been Wimbledon’s biggest threat during the first 45 minutes, then broke through and found Smith with a teasing cross, but the striker’s header was too high. With Wimbledon now committing more men forward in pursuit of an equaliser, they were caught with a sucker-punch in the 35th minute. David Wheeler, who joined the Grecians from Staines Town in the summer, showed he was certainly not out of place at this higher level and he helped make it 2-0 with a cross that O’Flynn diverted past Worner with the slightest of touches.
In what had been a very testing first-half for Wimbledon, they suffered a further setback when Alan Bennett, who had shrugged off an Achilles tendon injury to feature, had to give way six minutes before the break and he was replaced by Rhys Weston. There had not been much to enthuse about from a Wimbledon perspective in the first-half and they would have to produce much better if they were to get anything from this match. Indeed, Wimbledon had not found themselves 2-0 down since Cheltenham away in March when they eventually came away with a gallant defeat after Brennan Dickenson’s late strike.
Neal Ardley made one change at the break with George Francomb replacing George Porter on the right side. Francomb was straight into the thick of the action when Smith and Midson linked-up to set-up a shooting chance, but the substitute’s effort was straight at an Exeter defender. The Dons struggled to make an impression in the second-half though and Peter Sweeney’s effort well over the crossbar perhaps summed up the day so far from Wimbledon. At the other end, it was so nearly game over when Parkin’s header was bound for the bottom corner, but Worner sprang to his right and made a superb reflex save. Wimbledon made another change on the hour when Charlie Sheringham replaced Midson up front. That substitution coincided with a rare spell of pressure from Wimbledon, but Exeter held firm and they came so close to making it 3-0 in the 64th minute when Worner was out quickly to deny Aaron Davies with his feet.
Wimbledon knew that one goal in their favour would change everything though and they twice came close to reducing the arrears midway through the second-half. First, Luke Moore’s drive was deflected over and then from the subsequent corner, Andy Frampton’s header was cleared off the line by Craig Woodman. Though Wimbledon struggled to really build on that, Sheringham and Francomb both had efforts cleared off the line, before Harry Pell shot over from close-range.
It was too little, too late though and Wimbledon were denied a consolation in injury-time when Luke Moore’s effort was cleared off the line by Pat Baldwin.
AFC Wimbledon: Ross Worner, Callum Kennedy, Peter Sweeney, Andy Frampton, Barry Fuller, Alan Bennett (Rhys Weston), Michael Smith, Jack Midson (Charlie Sheringham), Luke Moore, Harry Pell, George Porter (George Francomb).