Wimbledon’s unbeaten start to the league season came to an end today as they allowed lowly Hartlepool to come from behind and snatch victory.
The Dons appeared to be coasting to victory after a first-half goal from Matt Tubbs (pictured), but former Dons loanee Charlie Wyke equalised and Marlon Harewood earned a 2-1 win for the visitors. Tubbs had a golden opportunity from the penalty spot to at least secure a point for Wimbledon, but he was denied by a brilliant save from Hartlepool goalkeeper Scott Flinders.
Neal Ardley unsurprisingly selected the same starting 11 after Tuesday night’s fine victory at Southend, though there was a notable inclusion among Wimbledon’s substitutes with 17-year-old Ben Harrison in the squad.
Hartlepool came into this game without having scored a goal so far this season, but they started with a fluency that belied that statistic. Their bright start included a decent effort from Wyke that forced James Shea into an early save. However, with Matt Tubbs and Bayo Akinfenwa up front, you get the feeling that Wimbledon could strike at any time and that was exactly what happened in the 10thminute. Callum Kennedy swung in a fine cross to pick out that man Tubbs in space and he took one touch before finding the bottom corner with a powerful left footed drive from 10 yards.
It was all Wimbledon now as they aimed to press home their advantage and it was noticeable that George Francomb and Sean Rigg were starting to find space down the flanks. Rigg certainly fancied his chances of scoring again after his debut goal against Shrewsbury and he unleashed a cracking volley that was just too high. Francomb then sped down the right side after a good lay-off from Akinfenwa, but his powerful cross eluded everyone in the box.
With Wimbledon stretching the Hartlepool defence seemingly at will, more goals appeared likely as we approached the half hour mark and there was almost a rare goal for last season’s Player of the Year Barry Fuller to celebrate. The combative right-back, who has yet to score in a Dons shirt, struck a fierce drive from an acute angle that rattled the crossbar. However, there was a warning for Wimbledon shortly afterwards when Wyke found space in the box, but he headed straight at Shea from close range.
Francomb had been particularly lively in the first-half and he almost created the second when he sent over a teasing cross Akinfenwa got on the end of, but he scuffed his shot and Pools goalkeeper Scott Flinders dived to his left to save. Despite Wimbledon’s domination, Hartlepool showed fleeting moments of threat and it needed Alan Bennett to make a crucial headed clearance to stop Wyke getting on the end of a cross from Jonathan Franks.
Wimbledon had controlled the first-half and the only regret was that they didn’t have a second goal to show for their efforts when the half-time whistle shrilled. They were made to pay for that with just 43 seconds played in the second half. It was a poor goal to concede from a defensive perspective as the Dons failed to react after Adam Barrett had half cleared a free-kick and Charlie Wyke headed home despite James Shea’s attempts to gather the ball.
The Dons struggled to regain their supremacy of the first-half after the break and only a Tubbs strike well off target from Akinfenwa’s flick threatened to change matters before the hour. Neal Ardley unsurprisingly decided to change matters just after the hour as he made a double substitution with Harry Pell and Kevin Sainte-Luce both introduced for Sammy Moore and George Francomb. However, Hartlepool turned the match on its head with a goal in the 69thminute. With the hosts pushing men forward, Hartlepool wide man Ryan Brobbel broke down Wimbledon’s right and sent over a cross that Marlon Harewood slotted home after a smart turn in the box.
Sainte-Luce offered Wimbledon a different option as they attempted to get back into it and the pacy winger helped create a golden opportunity when he found Tubbs just inside the box and the striker was fouled in the area. Tubbs picked himself up and took responsibility for the penalty, but his well-struck shot was superbly saved by Flinders and Hartlepool scrambled the rebound to safety.
Though the Dons rallied in a desperate search for an equaliser, they never really looked like earning a late leveller and they will have to pick themselves up for Stevenage at home next Saturday.
AFC Wimbledon: James Shea, Barry Fuller, Callum Kennedy (Ade Azeez), Sammy Moore (Harry Pell), Adam Barrett, Alan Bennett, Sean Rigg, Dannie Bulman, Bayo Akinfenwa, Matt Tubbs, George Francomb (Kevin Sainte-Luce).