The Dons today showed plenty of resilience and no shortage of quality to stay unbeaten away from home in League 2.
Though Neal Ardley’s men failed to build on a classy opener from Tom Elliott, Wimbledon showed the steel that was perhaps lacking in previous seasons at Mansfield to secure a 1-1 draw.
It was a match that also saw the Dons end with 10 men as substitute Lyle Taylor was red carded in injury time. Elliott led the line superbly in what was his best display in a Dons shirt and Wimbledon produced some fine attacking moves with an approach that was in stark contrast to Mansfield’s direct style.
It was a far different starting 11 from the side that started in the JPT defeat to Plymouth with Neal Ardley making six changes. Wimbledon had a lot more experience through the spine of the team with Dannie Bulman and Paul Robinson restored in place of Tom Beere and Will Nightingale. George Francomb, Tom Elliott, Bayo Akinfenwa and Jon Meades were all restored with Andy Barcham, Ade Azeez, Lyle Taylor and Ben Harrison missing out. Barcham missed out due to a head injury and Tom Beere was deemed not fit enough after suffering a foot injury.
There was a new name on the substitutes’ bench for Wimbledon with 18-year-old Egli Kaja involved for the first time. Dan Gallagher had also recovered enough from his midweek injury to make the bench.
Taking on a Mansfield side without a home win so far this season, Wimbledon aimed to increase anxiety among the natives by taking the game to them. A good early sign for the Dons was a shooting chance for Rigg after a knock-on from Akinfenwa, but he volleyed wide of the target. However, the Wimbledon travelling support never had to wait long to celebrate a goal as the opener came in the sixth minute. A lovely defence-splitting pass from George Francomb put Elliott through and he beat Mansfield goalkeeper Brian Jensen with an excellent low finish.
In contrast to previous seasons at the One Call Stadium, Wimbledon had made a great start. Full of confidence after his opening goal, Elliott was causing all sorts of problems with his pace and movement. First, he sent over a cross from the left that Akinfenwa was just unable to reach and then he shot into the side netting.
Despite all of Wimbledon’s early promise, Mansfield restored parity in the 15th minute. Paul Robinson conceded a free-kick 20 yards out and Chris Clements curled a lovely effort around the wall and into the bottom corner. A good response to that setback followed from Wimbledon and Francomb delivered a teasing cross from the right that just eluded Akinfenwa.
There was a setback for the Dons after half an hour with Karleigh Osborne having to go off injured and that meant Nightingale entered the fray. Though Wimbledon had to deal with the trademark direct approach from Mansfield and long balls a plenty, the best chances came at the other end. Rigg showed great trickery down the left and put a dangerous cross in that fell for Elliott, but he headed wide.
Though Mansfield ended the half strongly, there had been little cutting edge from the hosts and Matt Green struck an effort straight into the arms of Shea as the score remained level at half-time.
The second half started with Mansfield committing more men forward and Wimbledon needed a last-ditch clearance to stay level. After Green won a race for the ball with James Shea, Reggie Lambe could have made it 2-1, but his shot was cleared off the line by Paul Robinson.
Wimbledon had a great chance at the other end just minutes later that they should have done better with. More fine play from Elliott created a chance for Rigg, but his fierce strike was parried by Jensen and the Dons striker headed the rebound wide.
The Dons continued to have the better of it with Elliott producing an outstanding forward display and Nightingale offering stern resistance at the other end alongside Robinson. Neal Ardley decided to go for fresh legs though with 20 minutes left as Taylor entered the fray for Elliott, who had put in a tireless shift up front.
With Mansfield having appeared to have run out of steam at this stage, Wimbledon sensed that all three points were there for the taking. Taylor had a decent opportunity from a free-kick, but he curled high and wide from just outside the area.
Wimbledon piled forward in numbers in an effort to secure all three points and Francomb let fly with a fierce 30-yard effort that caught Jensen by surprise, but it was just wide.
There was still time for Taylor to be dismissed after a clash with Nicky Hunt and Clements shot just wide from a free-kick in injury time.
However, defeat would have been harsh on the Dons and it was another encouraging display on the road.
AFC Wimbledon: James Shea, Barry Fuller, Dannie Bulman, Paul Robinson, George Francomb, Jake Reeves, Tom Elliott (Lyle Taylor), Bayo Akinfenwa (Ade Azeez), Sean Rigg, Jon Meades, Karleigh Osborne (Will Nightingale).