Wimbledon’s miserable run against Oxford continued this afternoon with Chris Wilder’s promotion-chasers proving too strong on the day.
Though there was little between the two sides in general play, the visitors were stubborn in defence and showed a ruthless edge in attack that earned a 2-0 win and suggested that they will be right up there at the end of this season.
Kevin Sainte-Luce injected much-needed life into Wimbledon’s performance in the second-half and came so close to equalising after entering as a second-half substitute, but there was not much to enthuse about from a home perspective as Oxford earned a fifth successive win against the Dons in the last three seasons.
Neal Ardley decided to make four changes to his starting line-up after the defeat at Hartlepool in midweek. It was a much-changed back-line with fit-again Andy Frampton replacing Alan Bennett and Callum Kennedy preferred to Jim Fenlon at left-back. There was also a first start of the season for Charlie Strutton as he partnered Michael Smith up front with Luke Moore stepping down to the bench and George Francomb replacing Harry Pell.
The Wimbledon management team’s best laid plans were blown apart in the fifth minute though when Oxford scored from their very first attack. Asa Hall found space on Wimbledon’s left and delivered a cross that the experienced James Constable was never going to miss and he headed home his 99th goal for Oxford.
With Wimbledon having fallen behind for the fifth time in seven home league matches so far this season, they needed to recapture the fighting spirit that earned at least a point in all but one of those matches. In-form George Porter produced another lively start and he almost set-up the equaliser with his fine run and cross ending with Francomb just unable to reach the ball at the far post. Wimbledon gradually started to exert pressure as the first-half wore on, but they survived an Oxford penalty claim 30 minutes in when the visitors broke out and Sean Rigg claimed he was fouled by Barry Fuller.
Wimbledon created their best chance so far in the 35th minute when Porter powered down the right and delivered a teasing cross that Smith met with an emphatic header, but his effort was just over the crossbar. Porter then combined superbly with Fuller, but this time Smith took too long to get his shot away and the chance was gone. It was clear that Oxford were content to sit on their 1-0 lead and a sign that they were trying to break up the game came when Tom Newey was yellow carded for taking too long from a free-kick. The first-half came to a close though with Wimbledon having failed to test Oxford goalkeeper Ryan Clarke so far and the hosts needed to force a higher tempo if they were to get anything out of it.
The Dons started the second-half with a determination to push Oxford back and hesitation in the away defence produced a chance for Francomb, but he was denied by a point-blank save by Clarke. However, with Wimbledon having failed to make an impression as an attacking force by the 62nd minute, Neal Ardley decided to make a double change. Kevin Sainte-Luce was given the chance to repeat the superb cameo appearances from early season as he replaced Francomb and Luke Moore was introduced for Strutton. Wimbledon continued to pile forward as they played towards the EcoHouse End, but Oxford were proving to be a tough nut to crack as they continued to offer stubborn resistance.
As Wimbledon committed more men forward, they left themselves open to the counter-attack and Oxford had a big chance to seal it in the 71st minute when Constable wriggled clear of Frampton’s challenge and crossed for substitute Deane Smalley, but he blazed over from close range. Wimbledon had their best chance of the second-half so far when Fuller’s through ball was headed on by Luke Moore and Sainte-Luce bore down on goal, but Clarke was out quickly to deny him. It was now end-to-end stuff as we entered the final stages and Danny Rose had a good chance to seal victory, but he shot over the crossbar.
It was all over though nine minutes from time though when Weston brought down Smalley in the box, though it appeared he had been fouled in the build-up himself, and the Oxford striker picked himself up to send Worner the wrong from the spot.
Clarke’s double save to deny Porter and Pell prevented a Wimbledon consolation and the 2-0 outcome was perhaps harsh on the hosts.
AFC Wimbledon: Ross Worner, Barry Fuller, Callum Kennedy, Sammy Moore, Andy Frampton, Rhys Weston, George Francomb (Kevin Sainte-Luce), Peter Sweeney (Harry Pell), Michael Smith, Charlie Strutton (Luke Moore), George Porter.