Wimbledon’s first home game of 2014 was certainly one to forget for Neal Ardley’s men as they slumped to a disappointing defeat at the hands of lowly Torquay United.
Goals from Krystian Pearce and Jayden Stockley earned Chris Hargreaves a dream start as Torquay manager with his side securing a 2-0 victory at The Cherry Red Records Stadium. It was a tough afternoon for Wimbledon and the closest they came to getting back into it was when George Francomb had a shot cleared off the line by Aaron Downes.
Wimbledon made two changes to their starting line-up with the most significant involving a quicker than expected return for George Francomb. The midfielder, sidelined with a calf injury since coming off at Dagenham & Redbridge, came in for Harry Pell, who missed out due to illness, and Callum Kennedy replaced the suspended Jim Fenlon. Youngsters Will Nightingale and Chace Jacquart gained experience of being a part of the first-team set-up as they were both called up to be on the bench.
Neal Ardley said during the pre-match build-up that he expected Torquay to be rejuvenated after the appointment of Chris Hargreaves as manager and they made a bright start at The Cherry Red Records Stadium. First, Elliot Benyon got behind Alan Bennett to earn a shooting chance, but he scuffed his shot wide and then Kevin Nicholson’s shot from just outside the area sailed over the crossbar.
Wimbledon did start to get on top in the possession stakes as the first-half wore on, but Torquay’s defence provided stubborn resistance and apart from an Andy Frampton header over, the Dons failed to threaten in the first half hour. And after a promising start to Hargreaves’ reign, Torquay snatched the lead in the 29th minute. It was a poor goal for Wimbledon to concede as Will Antwi made a hash of his clearance to allow Jayden Stockley a shooting chance. Though Ross Worner brilliantly saved Stockley’s effort, Krystian Pearce had an easy task to put Torquay in front.
The Dons did hit back and they had their best chance so far just minutes later. Wimbledon needed someone to grab the game by the scruff of the neck and it was no surprise that Barry Fuller provided it. The right-back produced a lung-bursting run down the right, before he delivered a cross that was parried by Gulls goalkeeper Michael Poke, but Luke Moore shot over with the goal gaping. However, Wimbledon struggled to find a spark during the first-half and a below-par first-half from the Dons got worse three minutes before half-time. Anthony O’Connor was allowed space to break free down the right and he needed no second invitation to deliver a teasing cross that Stockley met with a looping header to leave Worner with no chance. The unthinkable almost happened on the stroke of half-time when Damien Lathorpe’s shot came close to putting Wimbledon 3-0 down at the break.
It therefore came as no surprise when Neal Ardley decided to make a double substitution at the break with wingers Chris Arthur and Kevin Sainte-Luce introduced in place of Alan Bennett and Luke Moore. That meant a switch back to a more orthodox 4-4-2 from the 3-5-2 preferred by Neal Ardley in recent times. Playing towards the Nongshim Stand, Sainte-Luce provided just what the fans behind that goal were looking for when he powered down the right and was sent sprawling by Kevin Nicholson, who was booked for that challenge. Callum Kennedy sent over a teasing cross that Michael Poke parried before a Wimbledon player could get a touch. Wimbledon finally started to exert a spell of pressure just before the hour, but Torquay held firm at the back.
Wimbledon’s best move of the match so far followed when Jack Midson found Sainte-Luce and his cross was headed just over by Charlie Wyke. It was nearly all over though for Wimbledon when Aaron Downes rose highest in the box from a Nicholson corner, but his header was just too high. At the other end, Wimbledon’s best chance appeared to be from set-pieces and Kennedy’s teasing free-kick was beaten out by Poke, but was cleared to safety after a scramble in the box. The Dons came so close to reducing the arrears when Midson’s superb flick from a Kennedy cross set-up Francomb, but his effort was cleared off the line by Downes.
That was it for Wimbledon as far as chances go and the only meaningful occurrence from a Wimbledon perspective in the latter stages was that Aaron Morris came on for his debut after signing yesterday.
AFC Wimbledon: Ross Worner, Barry Fuller, Callum Kennedy, Alan Bennett (Kevin Sainte-Luce), Andy Frampton, Will Antwi, Sammy Moore, George Francomb (Aaron Morris), Charlie Wyke, Jack Midson, Luke Moore (Chris Arthur).