Wimbledon failed to make the most of a one-man advantage for 34 minutes as they slipped to a disappointing defeat at Dagenham this afternoon.
Dagenham adapted better to the rain-sodden conditions early on and they earned a 1-0 victory despite having Lawson D’Ath sent off in the 56th minute. The Dons could certainly not complain about a lack of support at Victoria Road as 619 Wimbledon fans turned out for this New Year’s Day match.
However, Wimbledon failed to show enough thrust in attack to reward them for such great support and they will need to do better in 2014 if they are to avoid being dragged into a relegation fight. The plus for Wimbledon was Harry Pell came back into the squad after four weeks out through injury and Neal Ardley will hope that the return of key players can provide a welcome boost in the coming weeks.
Neal Ardley decided to tweak his starting line-up after the 1-1 draw against Plymouth with two changes in personnel. Will Antwi, who previously played for Dagenham, was given the nod to make his first start since 1 April in place of Jim Fenlon and George Francomb stepped up from the bench to replace Peter Sweeney. It was the same 3-5-2 system deployed against Plymouth on Sunday though, this time with Barry Fuller and Callum Kennedy asked to push on down the wings.
On a pitch that played very well in the opening exchanges considering the amount of rain, both sides showed early threat. Rhys Murphy had a decent shooting opportunity after a foul by Antwi just outside the area, but the talented Dagenham midfielder curled just wide. A good response followed from Wimbledon with Fuller sending over a superb cross that Charlie Sheringham and Michael Smith just failed to reach.
The Dons were caught out on their left side though in the 10th minute and that resulted in Dagenham making the breakthrough. Murphy was the instigator as he found former Wimbledon loanee Gavin Hoyte in space on the wing and his pull-back fell nicely for Dagenham captain Abu Ogogo, who slotted home emphatically. Wimbledon were fortunate to survive further damage when Murphy picked out Ogogo down the other side and the visitors just managed to scramble it clear.
At this stage, Wimbledon had it all to do if they were to make it three successive victories at Victoria Road. However, a good spell before the half hour mark suggested that Wimbledon were up for the challenge. Smith had spoken in the build-up to this match about ending his loan spell on a high and he was almost celebrating his 11th goal this season with a shot from an acute angle that had to be cleared off the line by Scott Doe. Then Francomb’s powerful strike after a short corner was only just deflected over.
There was a setback for Wimbledon in the 33rd minute when Francomb had to go off injured. That meant a sooner than anticipated return for Harry Pell, who received a warm reception from the Dons travelling support in the Traditional Builders Stand. Wimbledon dominated possession for long spells of the first-half with Dagenham seemingly content to soak up the pressure and cause problems on the break. However, Wimbledon needed to find more of a cutting edge in the second-half if they were to take anything from this match.
Playing towards their own fans in the second-half, Wimbledon fashioned their best chance so far in the 53rd minute. Fuller’s fine cross put Luke Moore through one-on-on, but he delayed the shooting opportunity and Dagenham goalkeeper Chris Lewington managed to just keep out the midfielder’s subsequent shot.
Wimbledon were offered a helping hand in their pursuit of an equaliser in the 56th minute when Dagenham’s D’Ath was shown a second yellow card for a rash challenge on Sammy Moore. Neal Ardley made a double substitution shortly afterwards in an effort to capitalise on the one-man advantage with George Porter and Jack Midson replacing Callum Kennedy and Charlie Sheringham. Porter almost sparked an improvement with his first touch when he combined well with Smith and got in a dangerous cross that was just cut out before Midson could reach it. Dagenham were proving to be a tough nut to crack with 10 men though as they got everyone behind the ball and broke with pace when they did have it.
The Dons had their best chance since Dagenham were reduced to 10 men when Fuller powered down the tight and sent over a fine cross for Porter, but he volleyed well wide. Wimbledon came so close to an equaliser in the 82nd minute after Smith’s flick-on put Luke Moore through. Yet again, he was denied by Lewington though and Midson’s follow-up was then blocked, before the Dagenham goalkeeper got back up to save from Porter. It was now sustained pressure from Wimbledon, but Dagenham offered stubborn resistance and they could have sealed it four minutes from time on the break when Worner saved well from Medy Elito.
Wimbledon’s final chance of snatching a point was squandered in injury-time when Andy Frampton’s cross fell nicely for Porter, but he volleyed wide from close-range.
AFC Wimbledon: Ross Worner, Barry Fuller, Callum Kennedy (George Porter), Andrew Frampton, Alan Bennett, George Francomb (Harry Pell), Sammy Moore, Michael Smith, Luke Moore, Will Antwi, Charlie Sheringham (Jack Midson).