Wimbledon this time paid the price for a slow start as their four-match unbeaten run came to an end against a Mansfield side that proved too strong on the day.
A fortuitous seventh minute goal from Adam Murray decided the outcome and this time there was no late rally for the 318 travelling Dons fans to cheer as Wimbledon succumbed to a 1-0 defeat.
It was a match of few chances and on the balance of play Wimbledon perhaps deserved better. Alan Bennett came closest to a late equaliser with a header, but his effort was cleared off the line. The only consolation for the visitors in defeat was that Northampton’s loss meant that the Dons still have a healthy points advantage over the bottom sides.
Wimbledon made two changes from the side that started at Northampton with both of those enforced as Andy Frampton missed out due to a leg injury and Jack Midson was suspended. However, Neal Ardley resisted the temptation to pitch new signing Kwesi Appiah straight in and he decided to field another defender with Darren Jones and Will Antwi both recalled.
Both sides came into this game in decent form with Mansfield unbeaten in three and the Dons having not lost in four matches. Mansfield had earned a reputation for a direct approach in their first season back in the Football League and that meant Wimbledon started with centre-backs Antwi, Alan Bennett and Jones deployed as part of a 5-4-1 system. But that never stopped Mansfield making a breakthrough from a set-piece in just the seventh minute. Mansfield captain Adam Murray delivered a free-kick that evaded everyone and the ball nestled in the back of the net after Ross Worner was deceived by the bounce.
Wimbledon were forced into an early change in the 15th minute with Darren Jones unable to continue after he took a nasty kick to his head from Anthony Howell, who was subsequently booked for that challenge. With the Dons having fallen behind so early, Neal Ardley decided to revert to a 4-4-2 formation with Appiah sent on for his debut.
A spirited response to going behind followed as Wimbledon started to dictate matters in midfield and Wyke again impressed with his hold-up play. It was Wyke that had the first sniff of a chance for the visitors when he got on the end of a Tom Richards cross, but his header was just wide. And Mansfield almost pressed the self-destruct button when Martin Riley’s back pass was well short, but home goalkeeper Alan Marriott just got there before Appiah.
Wimbledon fashioned their best chance so far in the 42nd minute and it was a great opportunity for Appiah to score his first goal for the Dons. Appiah started it himself by finding George Francomb down, but the on-loan Crystal Palace striker shot too close to Marriott after getting on the end of the cross.
There had certainly been plenty of encouragement for Wimbledon to take from their response after the goal as they had the majority of possession, albeit without finding a cutting edge to match.
Appiah showed plenty of promise on his debut and more good work from the striker set-up an opportunity that could have resulted in the equaliser. Appiah dispossessed Ritchie Sutton and sent over a cross that picked out Francomb, but he sliced his finish high and wide. With 52 minutes on the clock, Neal Ardley made another attacking change with Chris Arthur replacing Richards at left-back. However, with Wimbledon having made little impression as an attacking force by the hour mark, it was time to send for Kevin Sainte-Luce and he replaced Wyke up front. With the pairing of Sainte-Luce and Appiah offering plenty of pace up front, the ball over the top was certainly now an option for Wimbledon.
Wimbledon came so close to an equaliser 12 minutes from time when Bennett rose highest in the box to meet Francomb’s dangerous corner, but his powerful header was cleared off the line by Jamie McGuire. The Dons were showing signs of producing a late onslaught that had become their trademark recently and Appiah forced Marriott into a decent save. However, that was it as far as any Dons threat was concerned and they will be hoping to pick themselves up at home to Bristol Rovers next Saturday.
AFC Wimbledon: Ross Worner, Barry Fuller, Alan Bennett, George Francomb, Sammy Moore, Will Antwi, Charlie Wyke (Kevin Sainte-Luce), Aaron Morris, Darren Jones (Kwesi Appiah), Michael Collins, Tom Richards (Chris Arthur).