The Dons produced a spirited performance to deny promotion-chasers Chesterfield tonight and end their dismal recent home run.
Wimbledon battled all the way to earn a 1-1 draw after three successive home defeats and they ended their goal drought in style too with George Francomb scoring his first Dons league goal with a superb strike.
At that point, it looked like Wimbledon could go on and win it, but the visitors showed exactly why they were top heading into this game with a determined fightback.
Wimbledon’s management team had hinted at changes to the starting line-up after Saturday’s disappointing display against York City and it was a team selection that suggested a fresh approach against the League 2 leaders. Neal Ardley made five changes with captain Alan Bennett, Kevin Sainte-Luce, George Francomb, Andy Frampton and Peter Sweeney all handed recalls in place of Darren Jones, Luke Moore, Tom Richards, Will Antwi and Charlie Sheringham. It was clear that Wimbledon were attempting to bolster the midfield area against such a good footballing side with Kevin Sainte-Luce supporting lone front man Danny Hylton.
Chesterfield’s swift start suggested that they would take full advantage of any Wimbledon weaknesses and they would have been celebrating an opener after 43 seconds without the intervention of Dons goalkeeper Ross Worner. A long header from Ritchie Humphreys sent Eoin Doyle scampering clear, but Worner made himself big to block with his feet. It was a crucial save and though the Dons had little possession in the early stages, they did threaten to cause problems on the break. Sweeney did not take long to highlight his class when he put through a lovely defence-splitting pass that put Hylton through, but he delayed his shot and Chesterfield captain Ian Evatt got back to block. Then Francomb produced an encouraging run down the right and made space for a shot, but his subsequent effort was too close to Chesterfield goalkeeper Tommy Lee.
Wimbledon’s tactic of soaking up pressure and hitting on the break was certainly paying dividends in the first-half and the pace and trickery of Sainte-Luce was a potent weapon at the other end. The flying winger produced an eye-catching run down the left, before delivering a cross that just evaded everyone in the box. Then from the subsequent corner Wimbledon came even closer when Frampton met Francomb’s corner with a powerful header that thudded against the top of the crossbar.
Wimbledon’s early efforts really lifted the home crowd and it was a noticeably different atmosphere from Saturday. Despite the 0-0 score-line, it had been a very entertaining first half hour and it was easy to see why Chesterfield were top of League 2. Chesterfield danger-man Doyle again showed his quality when he got behind Wimbledon’s defence and set-up a shooting chance for Jay O’Shea, but he curled just wide. The Dons ended the half strongly and Hylton should have done better when Francomb picked him out with a fine cross, but he headed straight into the arms of Lee. Wimbledon could be well pleased with their first-half efforts as the half-time whistle shrilled with Neal Ardley’s game plan having worked effectively so far.
And playing towards the EcoHouse End, Wimbledon were celebrating their first home goal since 28 January less than five minutes into the second-half. It was scored in great style too as George Francomb latched onto a throw-in and turned inside before unleashing a superb left-footed strike that left Lee with no chance. The lead was short-lived though as Chesterfield struck back within five minutes. It came about after Wimbledon failed to clear a cross and though Jimmy Ryan’s initial shot was well saved by Worner, Ollie Banks composed himself and then fired home emphatically to put the visitors level. As the second-half progressed, Wimbledon were forced deeper and deeper, but they hung in there and it needed last-ditch tackles from Sammy Moore and Alan Bennett to stop the visitors breaking through.
With Wimbledon having been forced to chase the ball for long spells of the second-half, Neal Ardley decided to make a double change in the 71st minute. Chris Arthur and Charlie Wyke were both introduced in place of Sainte-Luce and Hylton. Arthur had an immediate chance to make an impression when he got on the end of a corner from Francomb, but his header was just wide. The pressure from Chesterfield became greater as the game progressed into the last 10 minutes. The Dons were camped in their own final third, but they continued to defend resolutely against Chesterfield’s fluent attack. It had been a Wimbledon display full of determination and defensive resilience that fully deserved a share of the spoils and maybe they can now build on this in the coming weeks.
AFC Wimbledon: Ross Worner, Barry Fuller, Aaron Morris, Sammy Moore, Alan Bennett, Andy Frampton, George Francomb, Peter Sweeney (Harry Pell), Danny Hylton (Charlie Wyke), Michael Collins, Kevin Sainte-Luce (Chris Arthur).