Wimbledon paid the price for three moments of madness as Cambridge produced a dramatic turnaround that appeared unlikely at half-time.
Following a first-half that Wimbledon completely dominated, a 1-0 lead was the least the Dons deserved, but less than three minutes into the second half it was 2-1 and that’s the way it ended. The manner of the goals conceded made it a defeat that was tough to take as both goals came from corners.
It was a double setback that would have been tough for any side to come back from and the Dons struggled for a response, before a late rally.
Neal Ardley made three changes to the side that started at Crawley on Saturday. Callum Kennedy, Dannie Bulman and Sean Rigg were all restored to the side with Lyle Taylor, Jon Meades and George Francomb the men to make way.
It was certainly a power-packed front two for Cambridge to deal with as Bayo Akinfenwa was paired with Tom Elliott up front. Taking on the club he left in the summer, Elliott seemed determined to prove a point from the outset. The towering front man thought he had opened the scoring inside three minutes, but his clinical effort was ruled out for offside. However, it was only a temporary reprieve for Cambridge as Wimbledon mounted attack after attack. It needed a clearance off the line to deny Akinfenwa as the Dons started with a blitz that was similar to the opening match against Plymouth.
When Barcham had an effort superbly saved by Cambridge goalkeeper Chris Dunn, there was perhaps a worry that the Dons may endure more home frustration. However, the opening goal arrived in the 12th minute. There was a slice of fortune about it as Rigg’s shot deflected into the path of Elliott, but the finish was emphatic and Wimbledon’s storming start fully deserved the lead. There was no let-up neither with Elliott and Barcham, in particular, tormenting Cambridge. Both had efforts just wide and then Elliott had an effort cleared off the line after Akinfenwa had set him up.
Wimbledon’s best move of the half was still to come as Barcham and Kennedy linked up well down the left flank and the latter’s cross found Elliott, but he headed straight into the arms of Dunn. With half an hour gone, Cambridge had offered virtually nothing as an attacking force and the only concern for Wimbledon was that it was only 1-0.
Dannie Bulman and Jake Reeves had been dominant in midfield against a Cambridge side that struggled to contain the fluency of Wimbledon’s attack. The hosts had another sniff of a second goal when great hold-up play from Akinfenwa set-up a shooting chance for Rigg, but he shot over from 20 yards.
As the half-time whistle sounded, Cambridge had not tested James Shea once and the Dons could count themselves unfortunate not to have a greater lead.
However, the game was turned on its head within three minutes of the second-half as Cambridge stunned Wimbledon with two goals in quick succession, both coming from corners.
Barely 30 seconds of the second-half had elapsed when Ryan Donaldson sent over a corner that Leon Legge met with an emphatic near post header that left Shea with no chance. Worse was to come for Wimbledon less than two minutes later. This time Harrison Dunk delivered the corner from Cambridge’s left side and Barry Corr took advantage of slack marking to power home a volley.
It was a completely different game now as Wimbledon struggled to come back from that double blow. Corr was allowed to turn just outside the area and his curler was just wide of the far post as Cambridge threatened to go further in front. With 25 minutes of the second half gone, Wimbledon had failed to create a chance of note after the break and it was a far cry from their fluent first half.
With the Dons having made little impression in the second-half, Neal Ardley decided to make a treble change with 71 minutes gone. Taylor, Francomb and Azeez all entered the fray with Elliott, Rigg and Kennedy all making way. Minutes later it was so nearly 3-1, but Shea reacted brilliantly to beat out a header from Mark Roberts. The Dons finally fashioned a second half chance when Francomb picked out Karleigh Osborne, but his header was well wide.
With 10 minutes left Wimbledon belatedly started to exert some pressure. A fine move involving Francomb and Fuller ended with the full-back sending over a cross that found Barcham, but his header was deflected wide. Then minutes later Azeez appeared to be hauled over in the box, but nothing was given despite vociferous Dons appeals.
Despite five minutes of injury-time, Wimbledon failed to exert late pressure and Cambridge held on comfortably at the end.
AFC Wimbledon: James Shea, Barry Fuller, Paul Robinson, Karleigh Osborne, Callum Kennedy (Ade Azeez), Dannie Bulman, Jake Reeves, Andy Barcham, Tom Elliott (Lyle Taylor), Bayo Akinfenwa, Sean Rigg (George Francomb).