A dramatic equaliser from Darren Jones in the sixth minute of injury-time earned Wimbledon a deserved point at the Pirelli Stadium this afternoon.
The leveller may have been rather last-gasp, but there was nothing fortunate about this point for Wimbledon as they produced a determined second-half fightback that earned a 1-1 draw against promotion-chasers Burton.
It appeared that Wimbledon would be sent crashing to an unjust defeat after Andy Frampton headed against a post in injury-time, but Jones smashed home to silence the baying calls from Burton fans for the final whistle. It was the least Neal Ardley’s men deserved and it rewarded a sizeable and vocal Dons following for their excellent support.
With the Dons having performed so admirably to hold Chesterfield on Tuesday night, Neal Ardley made just two changes to his starting line-up. Harry Pell and Darren Jones were both recalled to the side in place of Peter Sweeney and Aaron Morris with Neal Ardley having hinted in the build-up to this match that the latter pair would be rested.
There was a good pre-match feel to this match for the Dons with around 100 of the club’s travelling support having enjoyed dining at the Pirelli Stadium as part of the annual volunteers’ away day. Wimbledon goalkeeping great Dickie Guy was also invited to lead out the Dons as part of a Prostate Cancer UK campaign, in partnership with the Football League. However, it appeared unlikely that such excellent hospitality would be extended to matters on the pitch as Burton were just one point off the automatic play-off places heading into this match.
The omission of Morris meant that Barry Fuller played in an unfamiliar left-back role with Jones on the other side in a 4-5-1 that meant Hylton was their lone front man. Wimbledon’s defence had no problems coping with Burton’s threat in the first 20 minutes, but the visitors contributed to their own downfall when captain Alan Bennett was adjudged by referee David Whitestone to have brought down Dominic Knowles in the box. Billy Kee stepped up confidently and beat Ross Worner with an emphatic drive straight down the middle. Wimbledon had failed to threaten in the first half hour and their only sniff of a chance came when George Francomb, who looked lively after his midweek goal against Chesterfield, broke free down the right and sent over a cross that just eluded Danny Hylton.
Wimbledon suffered a setback in the 31st minute with Fuller withdrawn due to injury and he was replaced by young Tom Richards. A couple of minutes later and Wimbledon needed Worner to be at his best to beat away a powerful drive from Jimmy Phillips.
With Wimbledon having failed to test Burton goalkeeper Rob Lainton in the first-half, Neal Ardley decided to make a change and he added another striker with Charlie Wyke replacing Harry Pell. Wyke had an almost instant chance to make a difference when he got on the end of a lovely cross from Richards, but he headed over from close range. Playing towards their own fans in the second-half, Wimbledon finally gave them something to shout about with a bold start after the break. This time Francomb, who had switched wings with Sainte-Luce, sent over a teasing delivery from the left that Frampton headed just off target. Then Michael Collins, who started to have more influence in the second-half, picked out Hylton in space, but he headed straight at Lainton with the referee’s assistant having kept his flag down.
It had been a much-improved second-half display from Wimbledon as the hour mark approached and they had another fine chance to equalise when Francomb sent over another superb cross from a corner, but Wyke’s header was just too high again. With the Dons now committing so many men forward, they were almost caught with a sucker-punch when Alex MacDonald put over a deep cross that Shane Candsell-Sherriff headed over. Burton had an even better chance shortly afterwards when a shot from outside the area bounced fortuitously for Burton substitute Matty Palmer, but Worner spread himself superbly to deny him.
Neal Ardley made his final change 20 minutes from time when he introduced Jack Midson for Hylton and the Dons favourite was given a rousing ovation from Wimbledon’s fans. He was almost involved straight away when he just failed to reach a near-post cross from Sainte-Luce. Then a smart flick from Midson set-up a shooting chance for Francomb, but he fired over the crossbar. It had been much better from Wimbledon after the break as they limited another promotion chasing side to few chances, without getting the equaliser they perhaps merited. Worner was needed to maintain his concentration at the other end as he got across his goal well to tip over a free-kick from Damien McCory.
Burton held firm until a late Dons rally that had the hosts desperately hanging on during injury-time. When Frampton headed against a post, it looked like the visitors would go home empty handed. However, Jones got on the end of another great Francomb delivery from a corner to smash home emphatically and that resulted in jubilant scenes among Wimbledon’s players, fans and coaching staff.
AFC Wimbledon: Ross Worner, Barry Fuller (Tom Richards), Andy Frampton, Alan Bennett, George Francomb, Sammy Moore, Danny Hylton (Jack Midson), Harry Pell (Charlie Wyke), Kevin Sainte-Luce, Darren Jones, Michael Collins.