AFC Wimbledon suffered a second successive away defeat today with a late rally at Morecambe coming too late to save Neal Ardley’s men.
Ryan Sweeney was red carded for a professional foul late on as the Dons were beaten 2-1 with a fine goal from George Francomb proving to be of consolation value only.
Despite a bold showing late on, the Dons just took too long to get going and allowed strugglers Morecambe to gain in confidence.
Neal Ardley made three changes from the side beaten at Bristol Rovers with the most significant involving a full debut for Rhys Murphy, who replaced the injured Tom Elliott. George Francomb and Andy Barcham were both back in from the start in place of Sean Rigg and Connor Smith. It was a memorable day in the young career of Paul Kalambayi as the teenage defender was included in the first-team squad for the first time.
Taking on a Morecambe side looking for a boost with eight defeats out of 10, Wimbledon did not come out of the blocks quickly and Kevin Ellison showed early threat with a shot over the bar. In a sticky start for Wimbledon, Tom Barkuizen pounced on a half clearance from Ryan Sweeney and marched clean through, but Kelle Roos spread himself well to save.
In the first half hour, Wimbledon struggled to mount attacks and Neal Ardley was calling for more movement up front against a Morecambe side defending comfortably. Jake Reeves shot well over with a free-kick from 20 yards and Lyle Taylor shot across the face of goal after a smart turn, but they were fleeting moments of danger from Neal Ardley’s men.
However, Wimbledon did start to get on the ball as we approached half-time. With Jake Reeves starting to pull the strings in midfield, the Dons gradually made it count and gaps began to open up. A smart quick free-kick from Barry Fuller picked out Francomb and his fine cross was just deflected wide before Andy Barcham or Rhys Murphy could get there. Then there was a really promising moment for Wimbledon when Morecambe goalkeeper Barry Roche saved Lyle Taylor’s shot and Murphy showed the instinct of a poacher to smash home, but the offside flag was up.
The best chance of the first half fell to Wimbledon in the 43rd minute, but the Dons failed to take it. Jake Reeves put through a lovely ball to split the defence open and Murphy showed fine movement to latch onto it, but he dragged his shot just wide. It had been much better from Wimbledon in the spell before half-time and that offered hope that the Dons could claim a valuable three points.
Neal Ardley made an enforced half-time change with Sean Rigg introduced for Andy Barcham, who had to be withdrawn due to a back injury. Morecambe had the first chance after the break though with Shaun Beeley finding space on the right and delivering a cross that presented Barkhuizen with a good chance, but he headed over. At the other end, Wimbledon had a good chance to break the deadlock when Fuller charged through after good work from Murphy, but Roche spread himself well to save. Rigg then produced a smart turn and shot from 25 yards, but Roche was equal to it again.
Though Wimbledon held a good share of possession in the second-half, chances were proving tough to come by against a Morecambe defence showing plenty of resolution. Wimbledon made another change with 15 minutes left as Ade Azeez was sent on for Rhys Murphy, who had shown plenty of promise on his debut.
Morecambe snatched the lead shortly afterwards as the hosts punished slack defensive play. Shaun Miller was allowed to march down the left and he produced a cross that was deflected into the path of substitute Andy Fleming, who fired home clinically. A spirited response followed from Wimbledon and the Dons came so close to an equaliser when Dannie Bulman’s lovely ball found Taylor in space and he charged through and struck a powerful drive that bounced off a post.
With 11 minutes to go came the key incident of this game when a long ball caught out Wimbledon and Barkuizen raced over the top under pressure from Ryan Sweeney. When Barkhuizen tumbled over in the area, referee Geoff Eltringham ruled that it was worthy of a penalty and a red card due to a professional foul. Jamie Devitt slotted home and it appeared that was game over. However, a frantic finale followed. Francomb found the net with a lovely finish from the edge of the area after a pass from Robinson and that set-up a grandstand finish.
Wimbledon so nearly grabbed a late equaliser against the odds when Taylor’s powerful shot was superbly saved by Roche and Azeez volleyed wide from the rebound. There was still time with five minutes of injury-time remaining, but it was just not be for Wimbledon and next Saturday’s home match against York City now assumes even more importance.
AFC Wimbledon: Kelle Roos, Barry Fuller, Dannie Bulman, Paul Robinson, George Francomb, Jake Reeves, Jon Meades, Andy Barcham (Sean Rigg), Ryan Sweeney, Lyle Taylor, Rhys Murphy (Ade Azeez).