Captain Alan Bennett stepped forward when Wimbledon really needed him today as he rescued a point for the Dons against 10-man Accrington Stanley.
Bennett headed home emphatically from Barry Fuller’s searching cross to earn a 1-1 draw for Wimbledon that at least ended their run of two successive defeats. For long spells, even after Kayode Odejayi had been sent-off, Accrington looked set for their first league win of the season against Wimbledon.
Neal Ardley made two changes to the side which started against Northampton Town with one of those forced upon him as Andy Frampton missed out due to a back injury. That meant Rhys Weston replaced him at the heart of Wimbledon’s defence and there was a key change up front too with Jack Midson joining Michael Smith up front in place of George Francomb.
Wimbledon were bidding to end a sorry sequence of results in previous encounters against Accrington as they had lost all four matches since returning to the Football League. With today’s visitors having amassed just two points so far this season and lying rock-bottom before this match, one felt it was now or never if Wimbledon were finally to break their Accrington hoodoo.
The Dons made a bright start with George Porter producing a powerful run and finding Midson in space, but his shot lacked pace and was easily blocked. The opening exchanges suggested that Wimbledon were in for a tough afternoon though as Accrington retreated back towards their own goal in numbers and asked the hosts to break them down. However, James Beattie’s men stunned Wimbledon by snatching the lead with their very first attack in the 17th minute. Odejayi was left completely unmarked in the box from Lee Naylor’s corner and he needed no second invitation to power home a header from close-range.
Odejayi proved himself to be a constant menace in the first-half and Wimbledon were fortunate not to be further behind midway through the first-half. First, the burly target man tested Ross Worner with a shot from an acute angle and then the Wimbledon goalkeeper was required to make a flying save from Michael Richardson’s powerful drive. Accrington came even closer shortly afterwards when Peter Murphy beat Worner to Odejayi’s flick-on and the ball trickled just wide with Richardson just unable to apply the finish at the far post.
Wimbledon finally came to life as an attacking force four minutes before the break when Porter powered down the right wing and there was nothing wrong with his cross, but Luke Moore took too long to get his shot away and Pell blazed well over after receiving a pass just outside the area. The Dons did threaten an equaliser on the stroke of half-time when Callum Kennedy swung in a dangerous free-kick from the right that missed everyone and bounced just wide of the far post. Though they were unable to equalise in first-half injury time, Wimbledon were handed a lifeline when referee Gary Sutton sent off Odejayi for an off the ball incident.
Breaking down 10 men is often never an easy task in football, but Wimbledon had 45 minutes to turn it around and they were almost level just a few minutes after the break when Weston headed back Kennedy’s corner for Midson, but he was foiled by Accrington goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli. With Wimbledon having failed to make an impression in the first 10 minutes of the second-half, Neal Ardley decided to make his first substitution with Chris Arthur replacing Kennedy on the left side. Arthur injected a much-need spark into Wimbledon’s play as he gave the Accrington defence something different to think about. One fine run and cross from the powerful winger ended with Pell heading just wide with Wimbledon’s best chance so far. However, Accrington continued to provide stubborn resistance and Midson’s header over from Luke Moore’s free-kick meant that Wimbledon had only tested Accrington goalkeeper Bettinelli once in 65 minutes.
With little sign of Wimbledon making an impression, Neal Ardley introduced flying winger Kevin Sainte-Luce in place of Midson. Sainte-Luce had not featured since the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy tie due to a hamstring injury and it was hoped that he could provide another inspiring cameo similar to his performance as a substitute against Scunthorpe United. It was Arthur though who so nearly made all the difference when he powered past Richardson and sent over a cross that was met by Luke Moore, but Bettinelli produced a superb point-blank save. Then Luke Moore’s flick put Smith through, but he shot wide with a miss that summed up Wimbledon’s day so far.
However, Wimbledon’s pressure finally paid off four minutes from time when Fuller sent over a teasing cross from the right and Bennett produced the finish it deserved with a powerful header into the top corner.
Sainte-Luce almost snatched a late winner, but he shot wide from close range in injury-time, and now Wimbledon need to raise their game for away matches at Morecambe and Hartlepool.
AFC Wimbledon: Ross Worner, Barry Fuller, Callum Kennedy (Chris Arthur), Sammy Moore, Rhys Weston, Alan Bennett, Luke Moore, Harry Pell, Michael Smith, Jack Midson (Kevin Sainte-Luce), George Porter.