The Dons again left it late to earn another vital victory with a superb header from Paul Robinson finally breaking Crawley’s resistance.
Robinson struck seven minutes from time to secure a 1-0 victory that rewarded Wimbledon for perseverance, a goal just never looking likely for long spells.
However, it was another crucial win in the search for a play-off place and for a second successive week the Dons snatched a late winner.
Neal Ardley made three changes to his starting line-up with two of those forced upon him. Tom Elliott missed out due to illness and Jake Reeves was ruled out due to injury, the pair replaced by Bayo Akinfenwa and Connor Smith. The other change involved a recall for Rhys Murphy, who had an opportunity against the club he scored nine goals for during a loan spell earlier this season. Murphy replaced Andy Barcham and that meant a return to the 4-3-3 system that worked so well at Wycombe Wanderers.
Taking on a Crawley side in 18th place and without a win in five games, Wimbledon attempted to capitalise on that by making a strong start. Decent early pressure forced a corner, which was swung in by George Francomb and Paul Robinson rose highest to meet it with a powerful header that flashed just wide. Then Dannie Bulman did brilliantly to win possession in midfield and he produced a fine run, but his shot was too close to Crawley goalkeeper Jack Rose.
The Dons failed to build on the bright start though and Crawley started to settle into the game as we approached the midway point of the first half. The visitors so nearly snatched the lead in the 24th minute when a free-kick was swung in to the middle and a looping header from Crawley captain Sonny Bradley beat Kelle Roos, but bounced off the crossbar. That provided a warning sign that it was going to be far from easy and perhaps the Dons would need to show all the resilience that eventually got the better of York City in the last home game.
It had been a frustrating first half for the hosts with Crawley offering stubborn resistance and Wimbledon unable to create enough to exert any sustained pressure. There was a promising moment for the Dons when Akinfenwa and Murphy combined superbly, but the latter was just stopped in his tracks before he could get a shot in.
Wimbledon needed to do better in the second-half to maintain a grip on seventh place, but the Dons required Kelle Roos to make a smart save when he did well to deny Lee Barnard, who had turned smartly in the box to create a chance for himself from a throw-in. A sign of Crawley’s growing confidence was when Lyle Della-Verde unleashed a dipping volley that had Roos scrambling across to try and save, but it was just over the crossbar.
The Dons were forced to make a change just after the hour with Jon Meades replaced by Callum Kennedy. Meades appeared to be caught by Bradley during an aerial battle for the ball and though he initially carried on, Neal Ardley decided to take him off minutes later as he was clearly struggling. There was also a change shortly afterwards with Ade Azeez entering the fray for Akinfenwa. The Dons certainly needed another one of those game-changing cameo displays from Azeez. With 20 minutes to go, the Dons had failed to really trouble Crawley goalkeeper Jack Rose.
With 15 minutes to play, Neal Ardley made his final change with Sean Rigg replacing Connor Smith. Still Crawley remained resilient and a winning goal just never looked like coming. However, that all changed with one majestic header from Robinson. Lyle Taylor combined with Barry Fuller and the Wimbledon captain delivered a brilliant cross from the right that was headed home emphatically. Unsurprisingly, that changed the mood around the Cherry Red Records Stadium and the fans roared their team forward in search of a killer second. Murphy shot into the side netting, but it was a credit to the Dons that they did not sit back on the lead.
One was enough in the end, Wimbledon again staying patient to earn another vital victory late on in the play-off race.
AFC Wimbledon: Kelle Roos, Barry Fuller, Paul Robinson, Darius Charles, Jon Meades (Callum Kennedy), Connor Smith (Sean Rigg), Dannie Bulman, Bayo Akinfenwa (Ade Azeez), Rhys Murphy, Lyle Taylor, George Francomb.