Debut goals from Matt Tubbs and Sean Rigg were just not enough to provide the perfect start for Wimbledon as they were pegged back by a late James Collins equaliser.
Despite that late setback in a 2-2 draw, Neal Ardley could take plenty of positives from Wimbledon’s overall display with Tubbs and Rigg (pictured), along with Bayo Akinfenwa offering forward options that were lacking last season.
Wimbledon started 2014/15 with seven new players in their starting line-up, including Adam Barrett, who partnered captain Alan Bennett at the heart of defence, and James Shea was given the nod to start in goal. It was all change for Shrewsbury too with manager Mickey Mellon selecting nine of his 16 new additions in his first 11.
Wimbledon made a bright start and they first threatened when Jack Smith picked out Matt Tubbs after excellent movement from the striker, but his cross was well taken by Shrewsbury goalkeeper Jayson Leutwiler. Then Tubbs headed just wide after good work by George Francomb.
However, the Dons fell behind in the 10th minute with a goal that was a poor one to concede from a defensive perspective. A free-kick from Liam Lawrence found James Collins unmarked and though goalkeeper James Shea got a hand to the striker’s header he couldn’t stop it finding the net. Shrewsbury wasted no time making that goal count and they came close again when a fierce shot from Jordan Clark flashed just wide of the far post from an acute angle.
The hosts recovered well after those worrying moments and they came so close to an equaliser in the 21st minute. George Francomb produced a powerful run down the right and sent over a cross that Sean Rigg met with a powerful header, but it was cleared off the line.
However, there was no reprieve for Shrewsbury in the 26th minute – and there was no surprise about the identity of Wimbledon’s goalscorer. There was plenty of work still to do when that man Tubbs met Smith’s cross, but Shrewsbury goalkeeper Leutwiler was left with absolutely no chance after a majestic header found the back of the net. It was a great way to mark a debut for Tubbs, who had already shown just why Neal Ardley worked so hard to sign him in the summer.
Wimbledon ended the half as the team with momentum and they came so close to being in front for the first time. Francomb was again the instigator and more good work from the winger provided a chance for Rigg, but his powerful shot produced a brilliant point-blank save from Leutwiler. With Rigg and Francomb offering good width down the flanks and Tubbs and Akinfenwa offering experience up front, there was plenty to be pleased about from an attacking sense as the first-half came to a close.
With his starting 11 having produced an encouraging first-half display, Neal Ardley decided to make no half-time changes and there was another moment of promise from the Dons at the start of the second-half. Sammy Moore picked out Bayo Akinfenwa and his great first touch set-up a shooting chance, but his shot was too high.
The first 15 minutes of the second-half offered little in the way of goalmouth incident as both sides battled for supremacy in midfield. Wimbledon’s greater share of possession at least meant there was little to trouble James Shea during the first 20 minutes of the second-half.
It was therefore no surprise when Wimbledon marched into the lead for the first time. Francomb again played a part with a cross from the right and when Leutwiler failed to collect under pressure from Akinfenwa, Rigg was in the right place to stab home from close-range.
With Shrewsbury having caused little to worry Wimbledon in the second-half, it appeared that the Dons may cruise to victory. However, nothing is ever that simple in football and the visitors drew level five minutes from time. Nathaniel Knight-Percival was allowed time to get down the left and he put in a cross that was scrambled in at the far post by Collins. All of a sudden, it was Wimbledon hanging on as Shrews pushed for a winner and Mark Ellis had a goal-bound effort just deflected wide. Then Wimbledon just managed to scramble the ball away from danger after Shrewsbury had done everything but score with three efforts all charged down.
Scott Vernon shot over in injury-time as Shrewsbury continued to press, but defeat would have been harsh on Wimbledon and they can take encouragement from matching one of the promotion favourites.
AFC Wimbledon: James Shea, Barry Fuller, Jack Smith, Sammy Moore, Adam Barrett, Alan Bennett (Mark Phillips), Sean Rigg, Dannie Bulman, Bayo Akinfenwa, Matt Tubbs, George Francomb (Kevin Sainte-Luce).