James Shea was Wimbledon’s hero tonight as his excellent penalty save earned a point for Neal Ardley’s men at Cambridge United.
It was a 0-0 stalemate that saw goalkeepers come out on top as Chris Dunn had earlier saved a spot-kick from Bayo Akinfenwa.
The Dons had the better of possession and chances, but they were just unable to make it count against a Cambridge side scrapping for a return to form.
Neal Ardley had hinted that changes would be made in the build-up to this game and he certainly decided to fully utilise his squad options at Cambridge. Tom Beere came in for just his second League 2 start and Sammy Moore, Ade Azeez and Jack Smith were also handed recalls. That meant Sean Rigg, Dannie Bulman, Craig Tanner and Callum Kennedy had to settle for places on the bench.
Taking on a Cambridge side struggling for confidence after their 6-2 home defeat against Portsmouth, Wimbledon aimed to capitalise on that and they made a bright start at the R Costings Abbey Stadium. Smith, who had not featured for the first-team since the reverse fixture against Cambridge in November, linked-up superbly with Alfie Potter and the winger’s cross was met by Tom Beere, but his goal-bound effort was blocked. Bayo Akinfenwa then had an effort comfortably saved by Chris Dunn.
It had been all Wimbledon in the first 20 minutes and more fine approach play involving Potter resulted in a presentable opportunity for Azeez, but he was unable to get enough of a connection on his shot. However, Cambridge served warning of their threat when Matt Harrold – so often a thorn in Wimbledon’s side in the past – set-up Robbie Simpson, but his effort was just wide. That was a rare foray forward for Cambridge in the first quarter though with virtually all the play in the home side’s half and Akinfenwa headed just wide from a corner by Jake Reeves.
Midway through the first-half Cambridge seized the initiative with Wimbledon forced to defend in numbers. Shrugging off a nervy start, Richard Money’s men started to force the issue and Robbie Simpson brought James Shea into action for the first time. The Wimbledon goalkeeper then produced an even better save as he reacted well to turn aside a Robbie Coulson header that appeared to be looping into the far corner.
It became an end to end affair around the half hour mark with a clash of styles particularly apparent. The Dons looked threatening with their passing style aiming to utilise the wing trickery of Potter and pace of Azeez, but Cambridge offered a more direct approach with Harrold their main target. There had been plenty of promising approach play from Wimbledon in the first half and all it lacked was that cutting edge. In another fine move Beere sent over another fine cross from the right, but Akinfenwa was unable to direct a header goalwards.
Despite a decent first half display, Wimbledon had Dave Winfield to thank for keeping the score level. The Dons were caught out by a ball to the back post and it needed Winfield to make a last-ditch clearance off the line to deny Liam Hughes the opener.
The second-half had barely kicked off when Wimbledon had a golden chance to take the lead. Jack Smith picked out Azeez and when he was sent sprawling in the box by Josh Coulson referee Gavin Ward had no hesitation in pointing to the penalty spot. Akinfenwa stepped up and though his penalty was better than his missed effort against Newport, it again lacked power and Chris Dunn dived to his left to save.
It was a penalty miss that unsurprisingly lifted Cambridge and they had a penalty chance of their own to snatch the lead just before the hour. Ward adjudged that Sammy Moore had handled a cross and he immediately pointed to the spot. Again, it was a goalkeeper who came out on top with Shea pulling off an even better stop as he denied Simpson with a brilliant full stretch save to his right.
Wimbledon recovered their composure after withstanding a spell of pressure from the hosts and they came so close to making a breakthrough 19 minutes from time. Potter, who again demonstrated his creative edge with another fine display, sent over a teasing cross to the back post that Beere met first time, but Coulson cleared off the line.
Neal Ardley decided to make an attacking change with 13 minutes remaining as Sean Rigg replaced Beere, who could be well pleased with a display that offered plenty of promise. However, it was Cambridge that threatened most to win it and there was a real let-off for the Dons when Sullay Kaikai fired wide with the goal gaping after Shea had failed to take a cross. The hosts never really threatened after that and Wimbledon earned a creditable point to reward the 318 Dons fans that made the trip.
AFC Wimbledon: James Shea, Barry Fuller, Sammy Moore, Dave Winfield, Deji Oshilaja, Jack Smith, Alfie Potter (Dannie Bulman), Jake Reeves, Bayo Akinfenwa, Ade Azeez (David Connolly), Tom Beere (Sean Rigg).