Wimbledon slipped to a second successive home defeat this afternoon after failing to break down a Mansfield side reduced to 10 men with almost an hour left to play.
The visitors had Robert Taylor red carded for a late challenge on Sammy Moore, but they managed to hold on for a 1-0 win in a scrappy League 2 contest.
With the Dons having won two successive games, it was no surprise that Neal Ardley decided to keep an unchanged starting line-up. It was a proud day for the AFC Wimbledon academy with home-grown trio Ben Harrison, George Oakley and Will Nightingale all named among the substitutes.
The Dons made a fast start and threatened to make a breakthrough in the very first minute. George Francomb swung in an excellent free-kick that Bayo Akinfenwa reached before Mansfield goalkeeper Dimitar Evtimov, but the flag was up for offside before Jake Goodman’s attempt to apply the finish. Akinfenwa required lengthy treatment after a collision in the box and the striker was forced to accept the inevitable five minutes in as Ade Azeez replaced him.
Despite establishing good early possession, Wimbledon could have fallen behind in the 14th minute. A quickly taken free-kick put Robert Taylor in plenty of space down the left and his cross was met by a volley from Mansfield striker Matt Rhead, but the ball bounced off a post and away from danger.
Mansfield had belied their lowly 19th position in the League 2 table during the first half hour with a stubborn defence and a threat in attack. However, the game was transformed shortly afterwards when Mansfield’s Robert Taylor was red carded for a reckless challenge on Sammy Moore. Thankfully, Moore was up on his feet again after receiving lengthy treatment from physio Stuart Douglas. With home fans growing impatient with Mansfield’s robust approach, Ryan Tafazolli inflamed the situation further with a late challenge on Francomb, but this time referee Darren Deadman reached into his pocket for just a yellow card.
There had been little to enthuse about in the first half with neither side managing to create much in a scrappy 45 minutes. The stop-start nature of the first half was summed up by eight minutes of injury time. Only an effort from Francomb came close to making a breakthrough for Wimbledon as he produced a fine curler that flashed just wide.
Wimbledon had a whole 45 minutes to break down 10 men, but the Dons fell behind less than two minutes into the second half. A long ball over the top caused Wimbledon all sorts of problems and Vadine Oliver pounced on a weak Jake Goodman header to make it 1-0. It was clear what Mansfield’s tactic would be from this moment onwards as they sat deep and soaked up Dons pressure. With Wimbledon struggling to open up their opponents, Dannie Bulman took matters into his own hands and let fly with a fierce drive that Mansfield goalkeeper Dimitar Evtimov did well to tip over. Mansfield then just scrambled the ball away from Francomb’s cross as Wimbledon started to raise the tempo.
The Dons twice had James Shea to thank for staying in it just after the hour mark. The goalkeeper reacted superbly to tip a powerful header from Rhead wide and then he produced a save of even better quality to tip Ryan Tafazolli’s effort over. At the other end, Wimbledon finally started to exert a sustained spell of pressure midway through the second half. Sammy Moore was twice denied by Evtimov in quick succession as the Dons started to open up gaps against the 10 men.
With Wimbledon struggling to make an impression against a stubborn defence, Neal Ardley made a change with 15 minutes left as George Oakley replaced Azeez up front. Oakley was straight into the thick of it and he almost reached a cross from Barry Fuller, but Evtimov got there first. Wimbledon piled on the pressure in the last 10 minutes and Moore was denied once again by Evtimov, before Oakley headed just wide.
Harry Pell was thrown into the mix with seven minutes remaining as Wimbledon launched everyone forward in search of an equaliser. However, one felt it was not going to be Wimbledon’s day when Sean Rigg nodded a cross from Barry Fuller right across goal, but the ball failed to drop to a Dons player. Then Pell headed Francomb’s well delivered free-kick just wide from close range.
Wimbledon had six minutes of added time to conjure up an equaliser and they came so close to doing that. Fine play from Rigg put Matt Tubbs through, but he was foiled by Evtimov, who pulled off an even better stop to deny Oakley and then the goalkeeper made it a treble save to keep out Pell.
There was still another chance for Wimbledon after Callum Kennedy put over a searching cross, but Pell headed just wide and the Dons will now be aiming to get back on track at Portsmouth on Boxing Day.
AFC Wimbledon: James Shea, Barry Fuller, Callum Kennedy, Sammy Moore (Harry Pell), Adam Barrett, Jake Goodman, Sean Rigg, Dannie Bulman, Bayo Akinfenwa (Ade Azeez, George Oakley) Matt Tubbs, George Francomb.