Wimbledon produced another good performance on the road today, but this time Neal Ardley’s men had to settle for a creditable draw.
A 1-1 outcome in Cumbria was far from a bad result at a venue where Cambridge only drew last Saturday, but there was an element of frustration that it could have been better with the Dons eventually pegged back after Andy Barcham’s opener.
However, there was evidence of the resilience that Neal Ardley had demanded from his side as Wimbledon defended doggedly for long spells and at least gave the 311 travelling Dons something to go home happy about.
Neal Ardley made three changes to his starting line-up from the side that started against Cambridge United. Bayo Akinfenwa had to settle for a place on the bench as Lyle Taylor was restored and George Francomb and Jon Meades both also came into the fray for Sean Rigg and Callum Kennedy.
The Dons made a shaky start at Brunton Park against a Carlisle side that started with serious attacking intent after netting four in their last home game against Cambridge. It needed a captain’s example to keep the Dons level just a few minutes in when Barry Fuller cleared from under his own crossbar to stop Derek Asamoah’s cross. Wimbledon’s early defending came at a cost though as Dannie Bulman pulled up injured and he was withdrawn immediately.
Bulman’s departure meant a reorganisation as Callum Kennedy came on at left-back and Jon Meades switched to central midfield. Carlisle wasted no time testing Wimbledon’s resolve and they so nearly broke the deadlock 10 minutes in when Jason Kennedy rose highest to meet a cross from Asamoah, but his header struck the inside of a post and bounced to safety.
Wimbledon struggled to build attacking momentum in the first 20 minutes, but Tom Elliott looked lively again up front and he met a cross from Callum Kennedy with a towering header that Carlisle goalkeeper Mark Gillespie was forced to turn away from danger. Lyle Taylor also produced a smart turn to make space in the box, but his shot was over the crossbar. They were fleeting moments of danger though from Wimbledon as Carlisle pressed forward in numbers and James Shea had to be alert to hold onto Jason Kennedy’s shot.
Despite being forced onto the back foot for long spells of the first half, Wimbledon always looked a threat in attack and the Dons showed the clinical edge that Neal Ardley had called for in the 36th minute. Taylor found space and delivered a lovely low cross that was given the finish it deserved by Andy Barcham, who slotted home emphatically with his right foot. Yet again, that meant “The Raptor” goal celebration was in full flow for a second successive Saturday on the road.
In response, Carlisle tested the Wimbledon defence by peppering the visitors with plenty of long balls and set-pieces into the box. Keith Curle’s side had played an expansive, passing game this season, but Carlisle’s change to a more direct style was perhaps influenced by the manner of goals conceded by Wimbledon against Cambridge. Crosses were swung into the box at every opportunity, but Wimbledon defended them well in the first half. Michael Raynes shot just wide from a half cleared cross, but the Dons defended resiliently during the first 45 minutes.
Wimbledon had a chance to secure the killer second four minutes after the break. Elliott controlled a long clearance superbly, before setting up a shooting chance for Francomb. In fairness, the angle was against Francomb and Gillespie was able to get down well to save. With Carlisle struggling to make an impression, Wimbledon pressed to seal victory and the Dons should really have had the cushion of a second 10 minutes after half-time. Elliott again showed brilliant touch to create space in the box, but he could not produce the finish to match and blazed over.
Neal Ardley decided to make a change just after the hour with Akinfenwa introduced for Taylor up front. There was also a change for Carlisle with former Dons loanee Charlie Wyke entering the fray for Asamoah. Carlisle’s home faithful really started to get behind their team midway through the second half and an equaliser was secured in the 67th minute. A free-kick was launched into the box and Jabo Ibehre pounced to smash home emphatically after Wimbledon had only half cleared.
Akinfenwa certainly made a difference when he came on as he twice threatened to score in style. First, he produced a sublime volley that brought back memories of his goal of the season contender at Exeter last season, but this time it was just over. Then he turned smartly and curled just wide with the outside of his boot. Wimbledon made their final change with 15 minutes left as Ade Azeez was introduced for Elliott.
However, neither side really threatened to win it after that and with no midweek game coming up Wimbledon will have a week to regroup and focus on the home match against Exeter City.
AFC Wimbledon: James Shea, Barry Fuller, Dannie Bulman (Callum Kennedy), Paul Robinson, George Francomb, Jake Reeves, Tom Elliott (Ade Azeez), Jon Meades, Andy Barcham, Karleigh Osborne, Lyle Taylor (Bayo Akinfenwa).