Wimbledon came up short in their bid for a third successive League 2 victory as the Dons were just edged out in a hard-fought match at Stevenage.
The Dons appeared to be heading for a point at the Lamex Stadium after a brilliant equaliser from George Francomb, but referee Philip Gibbs’ decision to award a penalty was the difference with Simon Walton converting to earn a 2-1 win for Stevenage.
Neal Ardley handed debuts to his two new signings with Jake Reeves and Deji Oshilaja both starting at the Lamex Stadium. Oshilaja formed a new-look centre-back pairing with Jake Goodman after the departure of Adam Barrett and Ade Azeez was given the nod to partner Bayo Akinfenwa up front with Matt Tubbs having left. Sammy Moore had to settle for a place on the bench to make way for Reeves.
The Dons made an uncomfortable start against a Stevenage side in good form of late. Graham Westley’s men came out of the blocks quickly and they had a chance in just the third minute. Ronnie Henry whipped in a cross from the right and Chris Whelpdale met it at the far post, but his effort was into the side netting. There was more relief for Wimbledon shortly afterwards when Chris Beardsley broke through down the right and delivered a cross that rebounded back to him, but he headed wide from close range.
On a pitch that was in poor condition, Wimbledon struggled to establish meaningful possession, but a rare foray forward in the first 20 minutes ended with a long-range shot from Sean Rigg that Stevenage goalkeeper Chris Day did well to tip wide. However, it was all Stevenage in the first half hour as their direct style – far from easy on the eye – caused Wimbledon problems. Another diagonal ball from the right by Henry again found Whelpdale on the far post and his header was brilliantly tipped over by James Shea.
Considering how the first third of this match had gone, it was no surprise that Stevenage took the lead in the 32nd minute, albeit with a slice of fortune. Adam Marriott created space for himself in the area and his shot deflected into the path of Tom Pett, who finished clinically into the roof of the net. However, a spirited response followed from Wimbledon and the Dons were level less than four minutes later. It came in great style too with Bayo Akinfenwa and Rigg combining to set-up a shooting chance for Francomb and he curled a lovely effort into the bottom corner from 20 yards.
The Dons had gradually got to grips with Stevenage’s direct approach as the first-half wore on and offered fleeting moments of threat when they did get on the ball.
Stevenage continued to pile on the pressure after the break, but the Dons offered admirable resistance. Goodman and Oshilaja showed promise in their first match together at the heart of defence and they were well protected by tenacious midfielder Dannie Bulman, who was facing one of his old clubs. Wimbledon’s defence limited the hosts to very little in the first 20 minutes after half-time with only a free-kick from Walton just over the crossbar.
At the other end, Wimbledon struggled to create chances, but Francomb appeared the most likely to make a difference again. Another of his trademark crosses picked out Akinfenwa, but his downward header just failed to find Azeez in the box. The game swung in Stevenage’s favour again after a decision from referee Philip Gibbs in the 69th minute that was certainly open to debate. The man in black adjudged that Oshilaja had fouled Dean Wells in an aerial challenge in the box and Walton made no mistake from 12 yards.
In response, Wimbledon piled forward and the Dons appeared to have good claims for a penalty themselves when Azeez was sent sprawling in the box, but the referee waved away the appeals. With Wimbledon struggling to find a way back into the match, Neal Ardley sent on George Oakley in place of Rigg nine minutes from time.
Despite a late rally, Wimbledon failed to snatch a point and Neal Ardley’s men will be aiming to get back on track at home to Carlisle next Saturday.
AFC Wimbledon: James Shea, Barry Fuller, Dannie Bulman, George Francomb, Bayo Akinfenwa, Sean Rigg (George Oakley), Ade Azeez, Callum Kennedy, Jake Reeves, Jake Goodman, Deji Oshilaja.