A below-strength Wimbledon side eventually ran out of steam and needed late heroics from Ross Worner to salvage a draw this afternoon.
Worner made three fantastic saves near the end that earned a 0-0 draw against a Mansfield side that had failed to record a league win since September. Mansfield’s late rally came after Wimbledon produced an admirable performance considering the key players that they had missing.
It was a much-changed Wimbledon line-up from the side beaten at Bristol Rovers with injuries and a suspension decreasing Neal Ardley’s options.
Harry Pell and Alan Bennett both missed out due to injuries, Sammy Moore was suspended, but the Wimbledon manager did make one change that was not forced upon him with Luke Moore preferred to George Porter. In what was a rare switch to 4-4-2 for Wimbledon these days, Barry Fuller filled in at centre-back with George Francomb deployed in an unorthodox central midfield role. There was also a first start since August for Charlie Sheringham, who joined Michael Smith in attack.
It was a scrappy start to the match with neither side creating a chance of note in the first 15 minutes. However, Wimbledon gradually warmed to the task and started to turn the screw midway through the first-half. The hosts created their first chance in the 20th minute when Sheringham dropped deep and provided a first glimpse of his talent. The forward found space effectively before picking out strike partner Smith with a defence-splitting pass, but Wimbledon’s top scorer fired high and wide.
Luke Moore provided a bright spark upon his reintroduction and he twice came close to making the breakthrough within a matter of minutes. First, Luke Moore’s dangerous cross was bound for the top corner before Mansfield goalkeeper Andy Marriott got back to save and then he volleyed just wide after a corner was only half cleared. Mansfield defended resolutely in the first-half though and after holding League 1 Oldham Athletic last week, it was never going to be easy for the Dons to make a breakthrough. The Stags were also lively on the break and Sam Clucas powered through Wimbledon’s defence just after the half hour and struck a shot that was deflected just wide.
Wimbledon created a decent chance six minutes before the break when smart play by Peter Sweeney found Sheringham in space, but he sliced his shot wide. There was an even better opportunity for the Dons a couple of minutes later when a mistake by Darryl Westlake put Luke Moore through one-on-one, but Marriott got down well to save. The only other chance fashioned by the visitors came when Clucas latched onto a long ball and bore down on goal, but he fired into the side netting.
The first-half had been an even affair overall, but Wimbledon had shaded it in terms of chances created and could perhaps take encouragement from that in the second-half.
A slow start to the second-half burst into life 10 minutes in when Wimbledon forced a flurry of corners that raised the atmosphere in the EcoHouse End. One of those deliveries from Callum Kennedy almost paid off when the ball fell nicely for Fuller, but he shot just over the crossbar. Wimbledon started to up the tempo around the hour mark and the gaps started to open up in the Mansfield defence. Kennedy was quick to exploit that with a searching pass that found Smith in space, but his goal-bound shot was just deflected over the crossbar.
Neal Ardley decided to make his first change in the 67th minute when George Porter was given an opportunity to show his pace and dribbling skills down the right with Luke Moore making way. Jack Midson was also introduced 15 minutes from time in place of Sheringham, who had produced an encouraging return to first-team action.
Wimbledon needed Ross Worner to come to the rescue 13 minutes from time when he produced a superb point-blank save from Mansfield substitute Matt Rhead and he did even better to hold onto it. At this point, Mansfield were beginning to sense that there could be something more in it for them and perhaps a first league win since September. And it needed Worner to make an arguably even better save seven minutes from time when Sam Clucas got on the end of Ross Dyer’s flick, but his header produced a brilliant fingertip save from the Dons goalkeeper.
In a frantic finale, Worner was required to make it a hat-trick of wonderful saves when he dived full stretch to keep out Dyer’s powerful header and that at least salvaged a point for the Dons.
AFC Wimbledon: Ross Worner, Jim Fenlon, Callum Kennedy, Andy Frampton, Barry Fuller, Luke Moore (George Porter), George Francomb, Peter Sweeney, Kaid Mohamed, Charlie Sheringham (Jack Midson), Michael Smith.