Wimbledon’s impressive recent home run came to an end in disappointing fashion this afternoon as promotion chasers Rochdale proved too strong on the day.
A 16-minute second-half hat-trick from Scott Hogan settled the outcome and earned a 3-0 win for the visitors after Wimbledon had matched their opponents for the best part of an hour.
Neal Ardley decided to hand Chris Arthur his first League 2 start for the Dons as one of two changes from the side that started at Oxford. Arthur was deemed ready for the step-up after several substitute appearances since his recovery from an ankle injury and there was also a recall for George Francomb. Will Antwi missed out due to injury and Jim Fenlon had to settle for a place on the bench on this occasion. The Dons this time lined up with a back four of Barry Fuller, Darren Jones, Alan Bennett and Aaron Morris, who showed his versatility once again by reverting to left-back in a more traditional 4-4-2 formation.
Wimbledon had the first chance to make a breakthrough in the 11th minute when Harry Pell picked out Charlie Wyke with a superb cross from the left, but the striker headed just over the crossbar. It was a match that struggled to click into gear though with both sides failing to have a shot on target in the first 25 minutes. However, Rochdale had their first chance shortly afterwards when Scott Hogan got behind the Wimbledon defence, but his shot was too close to Dons goalkeeper Ross Worner.
The Dons suffered a setback when Sammy Moore had to go off after a clash of heads and that meant an early introduction for crowd pleaser Kevin Sainte-Luce. Promotion-chasers Rochdale had been well marshalled during the first-half by a Wimbledon defence that functioned particularly well. And when the visitors did finally open them up with a defence-splitting pass from Matt Lund, Jamie Allen fired over the crossbar. Wimbledon almost fashioned a chance at the other end when Sainte-Luce tried to latch onto a long ball from Fuller, but defender Matt Done got there first and his pass back was just about dealt with by Rochdale goalkeeper Josh Lillis.
Neither side really deserved to be in front when the half-time whistle shrilled with little in the way of first-half goalmouth action. Indeed, AFC Wimbledon would have to step it up as an attacking force in the second-half if they were to notch the two goals they needed to bring up the 1,000 since the club was formed in 2002.
Rochdale started the second-half strongly and Lund flashed a powerful header over the crossbar from a corner. Though Wimbledon enjoyed a greater share of possession, they struggled to make an impact and Lund had another decent chance to give Rochdale the lead, but he again headed over from an Ashley Eastham cross.
However, Wimbledon were handed the best chance so far before the hour when Eastham’s back pass fell well short and that provided Wyke with a great opportunity. It appeared to be an easy task for Wyke to slot home after rounding Rochdale goalkeeper Josh Lillis, but he hesitated after strike partner Danny Hylton got in his way and the chance was gone. At a time when Wimbledon appeared to be getting on top, Rochdale hit them with a sucker-punch to claim the opener. Matt Done broke free down the left for Rochdale and sent over a cross that Scott Hogan met before Ross Worner could get there and his header looped into the net. There was a further blow for the Dons as Fuller was injured when trying to prevent the goal and he was replaced by Jim Fenlon.
The Dons made a final change 15 minutes from time with Charlie Sheringham offered a chance to make a difference as he entered the fray for Hylton. However, it was effectively all over 12 minutes from time when Hogan reacted quickest to get on the end of Lund’s through ball and he calmly rounded Worner before slotting into an empty net. It got worse for Wimbledon three minutes later when Hogan notched his hat-trick with the best goal of the lot. The Rochdale striker broke though and expertly lobbed Worner with a clinical finish to end the match as a contest.
There was little to enthuse about in the final stages from a Wimbledon perspective and they will need to pick themselves up quickly with a trip to Newport County scheduled for Tuesday night.
AFC Wimbledon: Ross Worner, Barry Fuller (Jim Fenlon), Chris Arthur, Aaron Morris, Darren Jones, Alan Bennett, Sammy Moore (Kevin Sainte-Luce), Harry Pell, Charlie Wyke, Danny Hylton (Charlie Sheringham), George Francomb.