Wimbledon’s 100 per cent home record this season came to an end in frustrating fashion today with Northampton producing a performance that belied their lowly League 2 position.
The 2-0 defeat was indeed Wimbledon’s first loss at the Cherry Red Records Stadium since a 1-0 defeat against Barnet on 1 April. The Dons struggled to create anything of note in a below-par display that was uncharacteristic of their form so far this season. It was always going to be difficult for Wimbledon once they fell behind to a Northampton side that then called upon the stubborn resistance that had almost got them promoted last season.
Neal Ardley made just one change from the side which started at Cheltenham Town with George Porter replacing Jack Midson.
Playing against a side that had experienced a severe hangover since their play-off final appearance in May, the Dons aimed to increase Northampton’s recent misery with a swift start at the Cherry Red Records Stadium. They could have been in front in just the sixth minute when Callum Kennedy sent over a trademark cross from the left and Michael Smith rose highest in the box, but his header was just wide of the far post. Smith, who was a constant menace to the Northampton defence early on, then linked up well with George Francomb, and put in a decent cross that Porter headed straight at Northampton goalkeeper Matt Duke.
Northampton had barely been out of their own half in the first 15 minutes as they looked like a side struggling near the bottom and Paul Reid was the first man to enter referee Andy D’Urso’s notebook for a bad foul on Porter. It therefore came as a surprise when the Cobblers took the lead with their very first attack in the 19th minute. Wimbledon allowed Lee Collins to steal in at the back post from a Darren Carter free-kick and he fired home emphatically from close-range. Wimbledon had come from behind twice so far this season to earn victory and they needed to do it again if they were to maintain their 100 per cent home record. However, they nearly had a mountain to climb just a couple of minutes later when Chris Hackett sent over a cross from the right that Northampton captain Ian Morris headed over from inside the six-yard box.
There was a real let-off for Wimbledon on the half hour when Dons goalkeeper Ross Worner just failed to keep out Gary Deegan’s strike and the ball crossed the line, but it was ruled out for offside. The concern for Wimbledon as half-time approached was that they had created little as an attacking force and appeared laboured going forward. Wimbledon’s home successes so far this season had relied heavily on half-time changes revitalising the team and it appeared that Neal Ardley would once again be switching around his options for the second-half.
That certainly proved to be the case as Chris Arthur was introduced for Francomb and Jim Fenlon also entered the fray in place of Andy Frampton. Despite Wimbledon starting the second-half with a bit more urgency, Northampton continued to pose a threat and Carter struck a 25-yarder that fizzed just wide of the target. Wimbledon put together their best move of the match so far in the 56th minute when Kennedy sent Arthur marauding down the left-wing and his cross picked out Porter at the far post, but Smith failed to connect with the winger’s pull-back.
Neal Ardley made his final move to change matters on the hour when Midson was handed a chance to build on his first goal of the season against Burton Albion with Kennedy the man to make way. Northampton were proving to be stubborn opposition though and home frustration grew as the visitors continued to defend well and caught Wimbledon out on numerous occasions with their rigid offside trap. And it was so nearly two with 20 minutes left when substitute Stuart Dallas picked out Morris at the far post, but he headed wide from close-range. There was no reprieve for Wimbledon 17 minutes from time though when a long ball through the middle exposed the hosts and Dallas got the better of Fenlon before slotting home low past Worner.
On-loan Brentford winger Dallas almost made it worse for the Dons with a shot just wide and it took until injury-time for Wimbledon to threaten again when Pell’s free-kick was turned away by Duke. With another home match coming up against Accrington Stanley next Saturday, Neal Ardley will be aiming to quickly inject the sparkle into his side that had been such a feature of his side at home this season.
AFC Wimbledon: Ross Worner, Barry Fuller, Callum Kennedy (Jack Midson), Sammy Moore, Andy Frampton (Jim Fenlon), Alan Bennett, George Francomb (Chris Arthur), Harry Pell, Michael Smith, George Porter, Luke Moore.