A rousing Wimbledon start eventually came to nothing as the Dons started 2015/16 with a disappointing defeat to Plymouth.
Admittedly, the men from Devon - play-off semi-finalists last season – were simply clinical in front of goal and that was the difference between the two teams. It was a 2-0 defeat for Wimbledon that never seemed likely early on as the Dons dominated in front of a bumper crowd of 4,805.
Neal Ardley decided to select the same 11 that started in Wimbledon’s final pre-season match against Cheltenham Town. That meant competitive debuts for Paul Robinson, Karleigh Osborne, Andy Barcham, Tom Elliott and Lyle Taylor.
A 3-4-3 formation had long been settled upon by Neal Ardley as the way forward during pre-season and the attacking line-up tore right into Plymouth from the first whistle. In a frantic first six minutes, Wimbledon had four corners as they peppered the home goal. The Dons came closest when George Francomb sent over a dangerous cross from the right that eluded Plymouth goalkeeper Luke McCormick, but Bayo Akinfenwa was just unable to bundle the ball home.
Wimbledon continued to play at a high tempo with an all-action approach that forced Plymouth onto the back foot. The direct approach so nearly came up trumps for the hosts when Tom Elliott flicked on a long ball and Akinfenwa set-up a shooting chance for Andy Barcham, but his effort was saved by McCormick. An even better Dons move was put together a few minutes later and it ended with Jake Reeves picking out Barcham, but he turned inside and fired over the crossbar.
It had been a storming start from Barcham on the left and one lovely run from the ex-Pompey wide-man bamboozled the Plymouth defence, but his cross was too high. At the other end, Plymouth finally showed their threat by testing James Shea for the first time in the 20th minute. Hiram Boateng sent through a defence-splitting pass and Gregg Wylde escaped the attentions of Barry Fuller, but his shot was tipped around a post by Shea.
Barcham continued to carry the fight for Wimbledon, this time popping up on the right flank and beating his man, but his cross was just cut out. The match slowed down a little around the half hour mark as Plymouth started to earn a share of possession. However, the Dons continued to threaten and Akinfenwa so nearly found Lyle Taylor at the back post with a clever header across the face of goal. Akinfenwa almost notched the opener himself when he just failed to reach a corner from a Francomb cross.
Wimbledon had been knocking on the door for large spells of the first-half, but Plymouth snatched the advantage in the 39th minute. Jake Jervis broke down Wimbledon’s left and sent over a deep cross that Gregg Wylde met with a superb volley that had enough power to beat Shea at his near post. A sign of Wimbledon’s pressure was the amount of corners they had earned, but the clinical touch required had eluded them as the half-time whistle shrilled.
Any thoughts Wimbledon had of turning it around quickly in the second half went out of the window with one swing of Graham Carey’s boot. Less than three minutes had elapsed when Carey took aim from 25 yards and his shot took a wicked deflection off Jake Reeves to leave Shea with no chance. At this stage, the Dons were struggling to stay in it as Plymouth swarmed forward and Jervis powered a shot just wide after good work by Reuben Reid.
It certainly didn’t look good for Wimbledon around the hour mark as Plymouth held a firm grip and were threatening to extend their advantage. Jervis was a constant threat down the right and he set-up a shooting chance for Reid, who curled just wide. It had all gone rather flat from a Wimbledon perspective and Plymouth were almost out of sight in the 64th minute. Jervis got the better of Osborne and drove towards goal, but his effort was beaten away by Shea.
With Wimbledon needing something different to get back into it, Neal Ardley sent on Sean Rigg for Taylor midway through the second-half. Rigg offered extra energy on the left and he sent over a lovely cross to the back post for Akinfenwa, but his header was cleared. In credit to Neal Ardley’s men, they refused to lie down and Reeves blazed over after good work by Barcham on the left. Francomb also missed his kick when well positioned in the box and Meades cracked a subsequent shooting chance straight at McCormick.
It was not to be for Wimbledon as opening day optimism had gone rather flat and now the Dons will be aiming to pick themselves up at Cardiff City in the Capital One Cup on Tuesday.
AFC Wimbledon: James Shea, Barry Fuller, Paul Robinson, Karleigh Osborne, George Francomb, Dannie Bulman (Jon Meades), Jake Reeves, Andy Barcham, Tom Elliott, Bayo Akinfenwa (Ade Azeez), Lyle Taylor (Sean Rigg).