A second-half Wimbledon fightback this time came to nothing with in-form Hartlepool United eventually proving too strong at Victoria Park tonight.
Harry Pell had deservedly drew the Dons level from the penalty spot 23 minutes from time to give the 235 Wimbledon supporters something to shout about, but goals from Luke James and Matty Dolan earned a 3-1 win for the hosts.
Neal Ardley’s men had previously come from behind on so many occasions this season to earn positive results, but a Hartlepool side full of confidence were clinical in front of goal and that proved the difference between the two sides.
With Wimbledon having put in a fine away performance to earn a draw at Morecambe on Saturday, Neal Ardley unsurprisingly decided to select the same starting 11 and formation. The system of deploying three central midfielders in a 4-5-1 set-up was once again the preferred way of playing with Sammy Moore protecting the back four and Harry Pell and Peter Sweeney expected to pull the strings in the engine room. There was a welcome return to the AFC Wimbledon squad for Charlie Strutton as he was on the bench after his prolific loan spell at Braintree.
Wimbledon started brightly at Victoria Park and Michael Smith actually found the back of the net just a few minutes in, but that came after the linesman’s flag was already up. Sweeney, who produced an accomplished performance in his return at Morecambe, showed his class in the 15th minute with a sweeping pass from the left that so nearly put Michael Smith clean through. The Dons played good possession football in the first half hour, but there was a lack of cutting edge and when they did test Hartlepool goalkeeper Scott Flinders, it was an easy save from Harry Pell.
Hartlepool came to life on the half hour when Matty Dolan forced Wimbledon goalkeeper Ross Worner into a flying save. And they were awarded a penalty less than a minute later when referee Anthony Backhouse pointed to the spot after Dons skipper Alan Bennett was adjudged to have brought down James Poole. Worner was left with no chance from the subsequent spot-kick as Simon Walton beat him with a powerful drive to his right. Yet again this season, Wimbledon therefore needed to come from behind if they were to get anything from this game. They came so close to an instant equaliser when Smith produced a smart turn and shot from outside the area that was beaten away by Flinders, who was man of the match in Hartlepool’s last win against Plymouth.
The visitors had their best chance so far just before the break when Bennett had a great opportunity to atone for his earlier error after being left unmarked from Luke Moore’s corner, but he headed over the crossbar.
The Dons continued to dominate possession in the second-half with the extra man in midfield, but they found chances hard to come by. At least it was more positive from the Dons though as they played towards the Wimbledon supporters. They forced a succession of corners around the hour mark and Wimbledon were perhaps unfortunate when Flinders dropped one of Sweeney’s deliveries and referee Backhouse adjudged that he had been fouled.
However, a steady build-up of pressure from Wimbledon was starting to open up a few gaps and George Porter, who had so far been so quiet after his man of the match performance at Morecambe on Saturday, exploited one of them to create the equaliser. The pacy winger latched onto a superb pass from Sammy Moore and brushed aside Jack Baldwin, before being sent sprawling in the box by the Hartlepool man. Backhouse had no hesitation in pointing to the spot and Pell’s subsequent penalty left Flinders with no chance as he smashed it hard to the goalkeeper’s left.
Neal Ardley made his first substitution with 20 minutes to go with Kevin Sainte-Luce replacing Luke Moore. Less than a minute later, Wimbledon were behind again when they failed to defend a routine long ball from Walton and Luke James rose highest to power a header over Worner. It did not take long after that for Strutton to gain a quick chance to make an impression as he replaced Pell.
However, with Wimbledon pushing for an equaliser and committing men forward, the gaps started to appear at the back and Dolan settled it with a powerful drive that Worner was unable to keep out.
AFC Wimbledon: Ross Worner, Barry Fuller, Jim Fenlon, Sammy Moore, Rhys Weston, Alan Bennett, Luke Moore (Kevin Sainte-Luce), Harry Pell (Charlie Strutton), Michael Smith, Peter Sweeney, George Porter.