Wimbledon paid the price for a lacklustre second-half at Victoria Park today that allowed rock-bottom Hartlepool to snatch all three points.
Following a first-half of Wimbledon domination, Hartlepool raised their game in the second half and outfought their opponents to earn a 1-0 win, thanks to a goal from Ryan Bird on his debut.
The Dons made four changes to their starting line-up after the midweek draw at Cambridge United. With Jack Smith having made his first start since late November, Neal Ardley decided to restore Callum Kennedy at left-back. Dannie Bulman, Craig Tanner and Sean Rigg also returned from the start with Sammy Moore, Ade Azeez and Tom Beere all on the bench.
Following a scrappy start at Victoria Park, Wimbledon created their first chance in the 14th minute to really turn up the heat on rock-bottom Hartlepool. A lovely flick from Craig Tanner found Bayo Akinfenwa in space and he picked out Jake Reeves, but the midfielder delayed his shot and Hartlepool goalkeeper Scott Flinders was able to save. The Dons came even closer minutes later when Reeves swung over a dangerous corner and Deji Oshilaja met the ball with a looping header that came back off the crossbar.
Wimbledon continued to press in pursuit of the opening goal and Akinfenwa struck a decent half volley that flashed wide of a post. However, the Dons needed Dave Winfield to clear a cross from under his own crossbar after Connor Smith had reached a through ball before James Shea.
Despite those brief flashes of threat from Hartlepool, Wimbledon continued to boss the game and they came close again 10 minutes before half time. Callum Kennedy swung over a cross that bounced off the crossbar and fell for Tanner, but he struck wide from 10 yards with Flinders caught in no man’s land.
Wimbledon had been well in charge at Victoria Park in the first-half, but they had been unable to convert chances and possession to goals and the worry was that Hartlepool would take confidence from the 0-0 score line so far.
The Dons were a touch fortunate to survive shortly after the break when Deji Oshilaja mishit a dangerous cross, but the ball rolled into the grateful arms of James Shea. However, the Dons came so close to making a breakthrough when Craig Tanner did well to deliver a shot, but the ball bounced agonisingly wide of the far post after a deflection.
With Hartlepool’s Michael Woods having to be stretchered off, the game was held up by six minutes for him to receive treatment and he was replaced by Nicky Featherstone. When the match resumed Wimbledon again threatened through Dannie Bulman. Attempting to repeat his screamer from last Saturday against Luton, this time Bulman’s powerful drive flashed just wide.
However, Wimbledon had to withstand a fair bit of Hartlepool pressure midway through the second half as the home faithful really got behind their side’s survival bid. An effort just wide from Aaron Tshibola threatened for Hartlepool and that was the signal for Neal Ardley to make a double change. Sammy Moore was introduced to add more strength in midfield with Sean Rigg making way and Ade Azeez came on for Alfie Potter.
Wimbledon paid the price for a lacklustre second-half in the 73rd minute when Hartlepool opened the scoring. Jack Compton broke free on the left side and he delivered a pinpoint cross for Ryan Bird, who made no mistake to notch a debut goal.
The Dons made another change with seven minutes left of normal time and it offered David Connolly an opportunity to make a difference for a second successive Saturday as he replaced Tanner up front. Wimbledon did threaten when Akinfenwa heading wide and then Moore also shot off target, but it was far from sustained pressure as we entered the final minutes of normal time.
The Dons had 12 minutes of injury time to conjure up an equaliser due to earlier injuries, but they never really threatened an equaliser to reward the 203 Dons fans that made the trip and Hartlepool held on comfortably in the end.
AFC Wimbledon: James Shea, Barry Fuller, Callum Kennedy, Dannie Bulman, Dave Winfield, Deji Oshilaja, Alfie Potter (Ade Azeez), Jake Reeves, Bayo Akinfenwa, Craig Tanner (David Connolly), Sean Rigg (Sammy Moore).