Wimbledon suffered late heartbreak at Cheltenham Town today with an injury-time strike from Jamie Cureton earning all three points for the hosts.
The Dons had looked like surviving second-half Cheltenham pressure with Ross Worner making a fantastic save to deny Jermaine McGlashan and referee Darren Drysdale going back on his initial decision to award a late penalty for an apparent foul on Terry Gornell. However, Wimbledon barely had time to kick-off after Cureton, who had proved himself a constant menace to the Dons in recent years, latched onto a long ball and finished emphatically past Worner to secure a 1-0 win for Cheltenham.
Neal Ardley unsurprisingly selected the same starting 11 that began against Burton last Saturday as Wimbledon aimed to extend their impressive recent run of four wins out of the last five league games. Cheltenham made two changes from the side beaten 4-2 at Torquay United with Troy Brown replacing Steve Elliott and Jason Taylor coming in for Sido Jombati. Up front for the Robins was AFC Wimbledon’s record signing Byron Harrison, who started for the first time against the Dons since his departure on January transfer deadline day.
Wimbledon had got going too late in their last visit to Whaddon Road in March when they just failed to turnaround a 2-0 deficit, but they made a bright start on this occasion. Callum Kennedy was the instigator of early problems for the hosts as his marauding runs down the left caught out Cheltenham. First, the left-back’s cross was headed straight at Cheltenham goalkeeper Scott Brown and then Troy Brown just managed to divert Kennedy’s dangerous cross over the crossbar. Though Cheltenham gradually started to come into the match, Wimbledon continued to look dangerous up front with the forward combination of Jack Midson and Michael Smith starting to gain a greater understanding.
Wimbledon’s early possession and pressure indicated that they were really gunning for all three points at Whaddon Road and they caught Cheltenham off guard with a quick Barry Fuller throw-in finding George Francomb in space, but he fired just over after a smart first touch had set-up the chance. However, the hosts had their first meaningful spell of sustained pressure midway through the first-half. Harrison found space in the box, but he failed to get a proper connection on his header and then Terry Gornell beat Andy Frampton for pace and Ross Worner had to make a decent save at his near post. At this stage, Wimbledon could take plenty of encouragement from their first-half performance as they played towards a healthy Dons travelling support of 519.
It was a completely different start to the second-half though as Wimbledon twice could have fallen behind in the opening exchanges after the break. Jermaine McGlashan caused all the problems, the flying winger first showing his threat by dispossessing Alan Bennett and exchanging passes with Harrison, but his final effort drifted wide. Then it needed Wimbledon goalkeeper Ross Worner to deny him the opener as he made a flying full stretch save to turn away McGlashan’s low strike. This had been Wimbledon’s worst spell of the match so far as they retreated deep into their own half and allowed the likes of Russell Penn and David Noble to dictate matters in midfield.
Wimbledon had been pressed back in the first 15 minutes of the second-half and Neal Ardley unsurprisingly decided to make a double change in the 64th minute. Chris Arthur and George Porter, the wing pair who were so instrumental in last week’s second-half fightback against Burton, were both introduced with Midson and Francomb the men to make way. Arthur had his first chance to make an impression five minutes later when he found space on the left, but his cross was too close to Scott Brown. The changes did inject some life into Wimbledon as an attacking force and they had a decent chance from a Luke Moore corner, but Smith’s header was off target.
Wimbledon squandered a golden opportunity to snatch a late winner in the 81st minute when Scott Brown picked up a Matt Richards back pass to hand the visitors a free-kick just six yards out, but Arthur blazed wide from Luke Moore's lay-off. Wimbledon had a real let-off a minute later when referee Darren Drysdale initially pointed to the spot after spotting an apparent foul on Gornell, but after protests from the visitors and consulting with his assistants, he instead pointed for an away free-kick.
That meant that the officials were in for some rather unsavoury treatment from the home support in the final stages and their anger was almost increased when Pell's shot was deflected just wide. However, there was a late sting in the tail for Wimbledon as Cureton notched with almost the last kick of the game.
AFC Wimbledon: Ross Worner, Barry Fuller, Callum Kennedy (Jim Fenlon), Andy Frampton, Alan Bennett, George Francomb (George Porter), Sammy Moore, Michael Smith, Jack Midson (Chris Arthur), Luke Moore, Harry Pell.