A dramatic finale elsewhere meant that AFC Wimbledon secured a play-off place without managing to beat Stevenage this afternoon.
The combination of a 0-0 stalemate in Hertfordshire and a 2-2 draw between Cambridge United and Plymouth meant that a top-seven place is now assured.
Neal Ardley celebrated with the 1,119 away fans at the final whistle – and rightly so after a brilliant run of form for AFC Wimbledon since December.
It was certainly a tense finish at the Lamex Stadium with news first coming through that Cambridge were winning 2-1, before a late Plymouth goal changed the mood completely.
Neal Ardley made two changes from the side beaten at Portsmouth on Tuesday with George Francomb and Jake Reeves replacing Andy Barcham and Connor Smith.
With a vocal Wimbledon travelling army finding their voices early on, it felt like a home game in some ways and the Dons threatened to make the breakthrough in the first 15 minutes. Tom Elliott caused problems from the outset and his flick put Lyle Taylor racing through, but the flag went up for offside. Francomb, who scored at this venue last season, then put over a dangerous cross that flashed across the box with no one able to apply the finish.
It had been all Wimbledon in the first 20 minutes, but it needed Kelle Roos to be alert at the other end when he came 30 yards out to stop Greg Luer going through. Wimbledon squandered a fine chance when Taylor broke through, but his pass was a bit behind Francomb and Tom Pett was able to stop him getting a shot in. Elliott also came close when he rose highest to meet a Callum Kennedy cross, but his header was wide.
As we progressed towards the half hour mark, Stevenage began to gain more possession and the hosts came so close to taking the lead in the 37th minute. First, Roos reacted well to deny Luer and then he showed great reflexes to get up and stop Dean Parrett scoring from the rebound. The Dons suffered a setback a few minutes before the break when Jake Reeves had to go off injured and he was replaced by Connor Smith.
Though Wimbledon had shown flashes of good play, the spark shown in previous matches was lacking and 0-0 was probably a fair reflection at the break. The penultimate match of the regular season certainly had plenty riding on it for Wimbledon, but Stevenage had shown plenty of motivation in the first half to win their final home match of 2015/16. With Cambridge versus Plymouth 0-0 at half-time, the Dons would be in the play-offs anyway if that score stayed the same.
Shooting towards their own fans in the second-half, Wimbledon created a chance early on when Callum Kennedy’s cross picked out Taylor, but his header was straight into the arms of Stevenage goalkeeper Jamie Jones. With the Dons having failed to build on that by the hour mark, Neal Ardley made a change with Ade Azeez replacing Elliott. Wimbledon had their best chance so far when Barry Fuller put over a lovely cross from the right that Sean Rigg got on the end of, but he stabbed just wide.
Stevenage continued to show threat in their rare forays forward and Roos was beaten by a cracking strike from Adam Marriott, but it was just wide of the target. At the other end, Fuller sent over another fine delivery from the right, but no one was there to convert. With 13 minutes to play, Bayo Akinfenwa entered the fray for Taylor. Akinfenwa showed a great touch immediately after his introduction when he found Fuller in space, but his cross was cut out.
Yet again, another Wimbledon chance fell for Rigg. It was far from easy to score when he exchanged passes with Azeez, but he should have done better with his shot lacking power and too close to Jones.
The Dons had laboured in search of a winner, but Plymouth’s late goal rendered that academic and celebrating a play-off place at the final whistle was a great way to reward the fans on volunteers’ away day.
AFC Wimbledon: Kelle Roos, Barry Fuller, Callum Kennedy, Dannie Bulman, Paul Robinson, George Francomb, Jake Reeves (Connor Smith), Tom Elliott (Ade Azeez), Sean Rigg, Darius Charles, Lyle Taylor (Bayo Akinfenwa).