Another memorable fightback ultimately proved beyond Wimbledon on this occasion as Charlie Wyke’s late strike failed to prevent an eighth successive defeat against Oxford United.
The 693 Dons fans that made the trip could take encouragement from pushing promotion-chasers Oxford all the way in a 2-1 defeat, but there was perhaps a sense of frustration that their side left it too late to really turn the screw on their opponents. So many times lately, Wimbledon have fallen behind and rallied to turn it around, but a 2-0 deficit against a side fighting for promotion proved too much to recover from.
Wyke celebrated extending his loan deal yesterday with a goal to get Wimbledon back into it, but they failed to really build on that lifeline and Oxford were fairly comfortable in the end.
The Dons made three changes from the side that started against Hartlepool United with Alan Bennett, Charlie Wyke and Danny Hylton all given the nod in place of Kevin Sainte-Luce, Charlie Sheringham and Jack Midson.
For the first time since he signed for Wimbledon, Aaron Morris was deployed in a midfield role as part of the 3-5-2 system that Neal Ardley has put so much emphasis on in recent times. It may have been the start of a new era for Oxford with Mickey Lewis inheriting the reins, but Wimbledon knew that familiar foes were likely to be causing them problems, in particular with James Constable leading the attack.
Wimbledon made a bright start at the Kassam Stadium with Morris making an influential start in the centre of the park. The versatile former Aldershot man started a fine move that ended with a teasing cross from Barry Fuller that found Sammy Moore in the box, but the midfielder was unable to direct his header on target. In an opening spell that offered so much promise for Wimbledon, Jim Fenlon had a decent shooting chance to score at the Kassam Stadium for the second season running, but this time he fired over the crossbar.
It had been all Wimbledon in the first 20 minutes with the travelling Dons fans creating plenty of noise and Hylton could have given them cause to celebrate when the ball fell nicely for him just outside the area, but his shot was straight at Oxford goalkeeper Ryan Clarke. The hosts gradually warmed to the task though and they had their first meaningful chance when Josh Ruffels got on the end of a deep cross, but he directed his header wide.
That warning served notice of Oxford’s aerial threat and Wimbledon paid the ultimate price for failing to deal with a routine corner in the 39th minute. Danny Rose swung a dangerous cross in from the right and Tom Newey ghosted in at the near post to flash a header past Ross Worner, who had not had a save to make in the first-half. That at least stirred a response from the Dons and Fenlon, whose influence had grown during the first-half in a more advanced role, started a move that ended with Sammy Moore bringing a save out of Clarke. Wyke then headed straight into the arms of the Oxford goalkeeper after good work down the right from Barry Fuller.
It was a familiar scenario for Wimbledon as they needed to turn around a half-time deficit once again, but this time there were no changes at the break after an encouraging first-half in spells from the visitors. However, they would have to find a greater cutting edge if they were to finally end their dismal run against Oxford.
Wimbledon had a mountain to climb 10 minutes after the break when they conceded a goal that was so basic in its execution. A long ball over the top caused hesitation in the Wimbledon defence and 35-year-old David Connolly, who was making his debut, won a race for the ball with Will Antwi and steered the ball around Worner and into the empty net. Urgency was now required from Wimbledon if they were to make a game of it and they almost found the key to the door when Fuller produced another fine delivery to find Wyke, but he headed over. With the Dons now pushing more men forward, they were always going to be vulnerable to the counter attack and Deane Smalley almost sealed victory with a powerful drive just wide.
Neal Ardley had seen enough by the 63rd minute and he made a double substitution with wing pair Chris Arthur and Sainte-Luce introduced for Antwi and Fenlon. That did produce an improvement from Wimbledon as it offered width to their attacking play with Arthur offering a useful outlet on the left. And the Dons were gifted a lifeline 16 minutes from time when David Hunt’s clearance fell well short and Wyke slotted home at the second attempt after his initial effort had been superbly saved by Clarke. It was now a totally different game as the alarm bells started to ring for the home faithful and the introduction of their former striker Jack Midson, who replaced Morris, offered further hope for Wimbledon.
However, Oxford were not put under any sustained pressure after conceding that goal. Arthur set-up a decent chance for Hylton in injury-time, but he headed wide and the Dons will be hoping to put this defeat behind them back on home turf against Rochdale next Saturday.
AFC Wimbledon: Ross Worner, Barry Fuller, Jim Fenlon (Kevin Sainte-Luce), Sammy Moore, Darren Jones, Alan Bennett, Will Antwi (Chris Arthur), Harry Pell, Charlie Wyke, Danny Hylton, Aaron Morris (Jack Midson).