Wimbledon endured an afternoon of frustration against a resolute Bristol Rovers side today after failing to make the most of their superior possession and chances.
Despite dominating for long spells and creating plenty of opportunities, Wimbledon were denied by a defiant Rovers display and that resulted in just the second 0-0 draw of the season at the Cherry Red Records Stadium.
Jack Midson (pictured) twice came so close to striking the winner, but it was not to be for the Dons and they still need more points to ensure League 2 safety for another season. Though it was far removed from the thrills and spills of that seven-goal thriller against Cheltenham Town, there was perhaps consolation to be taken from Wimbledon’s overall performance.
Neal Ardley had to rotate his squad significantly due to injuries and unavailability with four changes made from the side that started at Mansfield last Saturday. With Michael Collins having gone back to Scunthorpe United and Sammy Moore suspended, it was a completely different central midfield pairing with Peter Sweeney and Harry Pell both recalled. That offered Pell an opportunity to face his old club as he spent a previous loan spell with Rovers a few years ago and earned a Young Player of the Year accolade from their fans. The other changes saw Jack Midson and Kwesi Appiah both starting in place of injured captain Alan Bennett and Charlie Wyke as Wimbledon switched to a 4-4-2.
Wimbledon started brightly and forced Rovers back towards their own goal, but they had to wait until the 17th minute to test away goalkeeper Steve Mildenhall for the first time. A cross from Tom Richards found George Francomb on the far post, but his cross was too close to the Rovers number one. It was a scrappy first half hour as the Dons struggled to make their superior possession count against a Rovers side that showed in the early exchanges that they would be no pushovers. Pell and Sweeney were both on the receiving end of particularly hefty challenges as Rovers took no prisoners from the outset.
Appiah was in determined mood to show what he could do in front of Wimbledon’s home fans for the first time and he produced a powerful drive through the middle, but his shot was comfortably wide in the end. During a spell of persistent Wimbledon pressure, Barry Fuller sent over a deep cross that Rovers striker Matt Harrold just cut out before Appiah could attempt to score his first Dons goal.
As the first-half wore on, Wimbledon really started to turn the screw and they should have had the opener their play deserved in the 38th minute. A long ball out of defence from Pell picked out Midson and he rounded Mildenhall, but Seanan Clucas got back to clear his effort off the line. Clucas was fortunate that Midson stayed on his feet when going through as he could have been red-carded if the Dons striker had gone down. It had been an impressive first-half from the Dons, albeit without scoring, and it appeared a matter of time before they made the breakthrough. The strike pairing of Midson and Appiah had certainly proved a handful for Rovers to contain and the latter was so nearly celebrating his first Dons goal when he volleyed just over the crossbar from 25 yards.
Unsurprisingly considering their bright end to the first-half, Neal Ardley decided to retain the same starting 11 for the second-half. Midson had the first meaningful effort after the break when he produced a fierce shot from 20 yards that Mildenhall did well to tip over.
The Dons continued to press forward and Midson was tantalisingly close to getting on the end of Francomb’s long cross from the right. Rovers did start to finally come out of their shell after the break, but Wimbledon dealt comfortably with what they had to offer and referee Tim Robinson was unimpressed by Harrold’s hopeful appeal for a penalty.
With Wimbledon having failed to really build on their impressive end to the first-half, Neal Ardley made a double substitution in the 66th minute. Kevin Sainte-Luce and Danny Hylton were both introduced in place of Sweeney and Appiah. That offered an extra edge to Wimbledon’s attack and they were so unlucky not to make the breakthrough 20 minutes from time. First, Midson was denied by the legs of Mildenhall and then Francomb’s goal-bound shot was just blocked by Lee Brown.
The Dons made their final change five minutes from time with Midson withdrawn and Wyke offered an opportunity to mark his farewell match by making a late difference. However, that dream scenario was not to be as Rovers held firm and the Dons still have work to do before safety is assured.
AFC Wimbledon: Ross Worner, Barry Fuller, Tom Richards, Peter Sweeney (Kevin Sainte-Luce), Darren Jones, Will Antwi, Aaron Morris, Harry Pell, Kwesi Appiah (Danny Hylton), Jack Midson (Charlie Wyke), George Francomb.