Wimbledon bowed out of the FA Cup in cruel circumstances after they conceded three goals in just 13 second-half minutes.
The 3-1 score was harsh on Wimbledon as they marched into a deserved lead in the 54th minute through Michael Smith, but Seb Brown’s mistake allowed Coventry to equalise and it was all downhill for the Dons after that.
The significant change to Wimbledon’s starting line-up was a dramatic return in goal for Brown after virtually a year since his last first-team appearance. Brown, who had not started for Wimbledon since the 4-3 FA Cup replay win against York City on 12 November, 2012, was thrust back into the limelight with number one choice Ross Worner held-up in traffic due to severe delays on the A3.
In a similar manner to when Dons hero Neil Sullivan took his place for an emotional return against Aldershot last season, Brown’s first contribution when he punched away a Coventry corner was greeted with warm applause from the Wimbledon faithful. A telling fact of the changes initiated by Neal Ardley during the past year was that not one player out of Wimbledon’s starting line-up tonight played in the FA Cup second round tie at Milton Keynes.
The Dons made a very bright start that perhaps took Coventry by surprise before they were able to get into their stride. George Porter proved too hot to handle for the League 1 side in the early exchanges and he gave Coventry left-back Blair Adams a testing time in the early exchanges. First, he got down the right and produced a searching cross and Michael Smith just failed to get on the end of it. Then Wimbledon had an even better chance to take the lead in the eighth minute when Porter again broke free down the right and his cross was flicked on by Smith for Harry Pell, but his shot was too close to Coventry goalkeeper Joe Murphy, who made a point-blank save.
At this stage, the cup tie had all the ingredients required for an upset with a vocal home support getting behind a Wimbledon side that looked in the mood to turn it on in front of the live TV cameras. Considering the threat posed by Coventry’s 22-goal strike-force of Leon Clarke and Callum Wilson, there had been little to trouble Wimbledon in the first-half and Brown never had a meaningful save to make before half-time. Wimbledon should really have had a 1-0 lead to take into the break too after they put together their best move of the match. Several passes were exchanged before Porter fed the impressive Sweeney and when his clever ball picked out Smith a goal looked inevitable, but the striker’s powerful drive was beaten out by Murphy.
Certainly, Wimbledon could take plenty of encouragement from their first-half performance and they continued the momentum at the start of the second. With Sweeney continuing to pull the strings in midfield and Porter starting where he left off before the break, Wimbledon caused Coventry more problems. A teasing cross from Francomb created another clear shooting chance for Smith, but his shot was saved by the feet of Murphy.
Wimbledon survived by the skin of their teeth just a couple of minutes later though when Wilson raced onto a through ball and though Barry Fuller nipped in before him, he watched in relief as the ball bounced off the outside of a post. That let-off proved significant as Wimbledon grabbed the lead in the 54th minute with a superb goal. Porter again produced another powerful surge down the right and this time Smith made no mistake as he scored with a bullet header that had the Wimbledon supporters in the EcoHouse End in raptures.
The game was turned on its head three minutes later though with a moment that Brown will want to forget. The Wimbledon goalkeeper spilled a harmless cross from Cyrus Christie and Wilson was left with a simple task to tap into an empty net. All of a sudden, it was a completely different game now as Coventry swarmed forward and it was 2-1 just three minutes later when Franck Moussa broke down the left and crossed for Carl Baker to stab home.
The game was effectively all over 20 minutes from time in unfortunate circumstances for Wimbledon when Baker’s free-kick took a wicked deflection and wrong-footed Brown. It had been a cruel twist in the tale for Wimbledon after they had taken the game to Coventry for long spells. Neal Ardley reacted by making a double substitution with Jack Midson and Luke Moore entering the fray for George Francomb and Harry Pell. Midson almost got Wimbledon back into it when he latched onto Smith’s flick and got in a decent strike, but Murphy reacted well to tip it wide.
It had long gone flat by the time of that opportunity, but there had certainly been little wrong with the home side’s performance in defeat against talented opponents and they have another appealing home match to pick themselves up in with Portsmouth up next.
AFC Wimbledon: Seb Brown, Barry Fuller, Callum Kennedy, Sammy Moore, Andy Frampton, Alan Bennett, George Francomb (Jack Midson), Harry Pell (Luke Moore), Michael Smith, Peter Sweeney, George Porter.