Wimbledon’s fine record in 2016 was dented by old rivals Oxford this afternoon with Neal Ardley’s men slipping to an undeserved defeat.
The Dons had plenty of chances on the day and gave automatic promotion contenders a real run for their money, but Michael Appleton’s side earned a hard-fought 2-1 win.
It had seemed that AFC Wimbledon were on track for a long-awaited win against Oxford at the 12th attempt after an equaliser from Andy Barcham, but it was not to be in front of a bumper crowd of 4,628.
Neal Ardley made two changes to his starting line-up after the hard-fought win against Carlisle United with Dannie Bulman and Sean Rigg both recalled in place of Connor Smith and George Francomb.
Wimbledon had three former Oxford players involved with Bulman, Rigg and Jon Meades perhaps all having points to prove. However, it was Danny Hylton who struck first as the former Dons loanee opened the scoring in the 4th minute. Wimbledon were caught napping from a throw-in and though the hosts initially blocked Liam Sercombe’s shot, Hylton scrambled the ball home.
In a rocky start for Wimbledon, it needed Kelle Roos to make a brilliant save to deny Hylton a second after a fine cross from Sercombe. At this stage, Oxford were certainly not missing the presence of top scorer Kemar Roofe as they dominated the early exchanges. However, the Dons gradually came into it with Andy Barcham leading the charge. The industrious winger got down the flank and delivered a fine cross that Rigg met superbly with his head, but Oxford goalkeeper Benjamin Buchel just managed to tip it over.
Hylton continued to cause problems and he struck a snap-shot just wide. In an entertaining first half hour, Wimbledon so nearly drew level when Paul Robinson met a Jake Reeves corner with a powerful header that Buchel saved superbly and Taylor was just unable to force it over the line. However, the equaliser did arrive in the 31st minute and it was certainly well deserved on the balance of play. Meades and Barcham combined on the left to set-up Elliott and though his effort was scrambled away by Oxford keeper Buchel, Barcham had continued his run and he steered home from close range.
It was reward for the Dons exerting plenty of pressure and it was Wimbledon’s first goal against Oxford since February 2014 when Charlie Wyke struck in a 2-1 defeat at the Kassam Stadium. Wimbledon had upped the tempo since conceding early on and the visitors were rocked by the ferocity of the fightback. The Dons were wasting no time getting the ball in the box with Elliott’s pace and power causing all sorts of problems.
From one of a number of first-half Wimbledon corners, Elliott headed home emphatically, but it was ruled out with Taylor adjudged to have fouled Buchel. Then just before the half-time whistle came another near miss when Barcham met a Reeves corner, but he was just unable to force it home. Though the half-time whistle shrilled with the score still 1-1, Wimbledon could be well pleased with a brave first-half fightback, a ferocious response from Neal Ardley’s men after Oxford’s quick start.
That offered Wimbledon all the encouragement they needed and they started the second-half with all guns blazing. It was so close to being 2-1 to Wimbledon in the 52nd minute. Reeves swung in a free-kick that Robinson flicked on and Jon Meades produced a fine strike that beat Buchel, but it was cleared off the line by Hylton. Robinson then headed just wide from the subsequent corner.
As Wimbledon continued to dominate, Rigg had a fine shot well saved by Buchel, who had certainly been busy between the sticks. However, out of nothing came a goal from Oxford – completely against the run of play. There was still plenty to do when Ryan Sweeney failed to clear just inside his own half, but substitute Jordan Bowery powered forward all the way to the edge of the area and struck a superb angled drive that found the bottom corner.
There was no sign of heads going down in the Wimbledon ranks as the hosts continued to drive forward. Midway through the second-half Francomb was introduced with Barcham struggling through injury. The Dons continued to pile forward and an equaliser so nearly arrived 16 minutes from time. A lovely ball from Lyle Taylor provided Elliott with a sight of goal and his fiercely struck effort was well saved by Buchel. Akinfenwa entered the fray in the 77th minute for Elliott, who had ran himself into the ground with another all-action display. With 10 minutes to go, it was still all to play for and Oxford had not really had a meaningful attack in the second-half, apart from their goal.
Wimbledon were so unlucky not to equalise with three minutes left when Francomb’s cross was flicked on by Taylor and Rigg headed against the crossbar. There had certainly been nothing wrong with Wimbledon’s overall display as they created plenty of chances, but the finishing touch just eluded them on the day.
It was just Wimbledon’s second defeat of 2016, and perhaps harsh on the day, but the fixture list doesn’t get any easier with a trip to leaders Northampton up next.
AFC Wimbledon: Kelle Roos, Barry Fuller, Paul Robinson, Ryan Sweeney, Jon Meades, Jake Reeves (Connor Smith), Dannie Bulman, Andy Barcham (George Francomb), Tom Elliott (Bayo Akinfenwa), Lyle Taylor, Sean Rigg.