AFC Wimbledon suffered last-gasp FA Cup heartbreak today with National League leaders Forest Green Rovers snatching victory in injury-time.
Just when a replay looked to be the only outcome, Elliott Frear cracked home a superb strike from 20 yards to earn a 2-1 win for Rovers.
Though Callum Kennedy had struck a brilliant equaliser, the Dons were unable to build on that against a Rovers side that defended admirably and there was a cruel sting in the tail for Wimbledon.
Wimbledon dominated possession for long spells, but they were unable to make it count, and the Dons were eventually punished right at the death.
The Dons made just two changes to the side that started against Hartlepool last time out. With George Francomb having suffered a dead leg in training on Friday, Sean Rigg filled the right midfield slot with Callum Kennedy retained on the left. The other change was a straight swap up front with Tom Elliott preferred to Ade Azeez. It was a very young bench with 21-year-old Ade Azeez as the youngest substitute, teenagers Ryan Sweeney, Dan Gallagher, Egli Kaja and Christian Toonga all included in the squad. Bayo Akinfenwa missed out due to injury.
National League leaders Forest Green Rovers produced a start that showed they were not lacking in confidence and they took the lead in just the sixth minute. Keanu Marsh-Brown pounced on a slip by Dannie Bulman close to the touchline and his cut-back set-up Darren Carter, who powered home.
The early goal was exactly what a side chasing an upset wanted and it was important that Wimbledon did not panic. The Dons steadily attempted to get back into it and Callum Kennedy appeared in the mood to build on his fine performance last week. He created Wimbledon’s first half chance with a dashing run down the left and his cross eventually found Rigg, but his header lacked power. Kennedy, who scored direct from a free-kick against Hartlepool, then sent over another trademark delivery from the right that this time flashed just wide.
As Wimbledon gradually built-up momentum, the gaps started to appear and Tom Elliott struck a decent effort from outside the area that Forest Green goalkeeper Steve Arnold did well to hold. However, that was only a temporary reprieve for the visitors and the equaliser arrived in great style in the 24th minute. Lyle Taylor picked out Barry Fuller and he produced a driving run down the right, before pulling the ball back to find Kennedy. There was still plenty to do for Kennedy on the edge of the area, but he produced a fierce effort that arrowed into the top corner and left Arnold with no chance.
Apart from the early goal from Rovers, it had been all Wimbledon and now the Dons poured forward after drawing level. Elliott went down in the area after another quick move, but referee Graham Horwood was unimpressed. Then the Dons had the ball in the back of the net, but Elliott was adjudged to have fouled Arnold.
Despite Wimbledon’s domination of possession, it had been far from easy to get in behind a stubborn Forest Green defence. Taylor did manage it just before the break after good play by Rigg, but he dragged his shot wide from an acute angle. As the half-time whistle shrilled, the Dons knew it was going to be a far from easy task to break their opponents down in the second-half.
However, Forest Green showed they still had the ability to threaten at the start of the second half and they should have regained the lead less than two minutes in. Marsh-Brown sent over a dangerous cross that picked out Charlie Clough, but his close-range header thudded against the crossbar and away to safety.
Wimbledon gradually started to get back on top and Arnold was required to make two quick saves in succession with Taylor and Rigg both denied. The Dons had an even better chance to take the lead just before the hour when Reeves put Rigg clean through, but with the angle narrowing he shot just wide.
With 20 minutes to go, the Dons were still struggling to create chances against a Forest Green side defending doggedly in numbers. Neal Ardley therefore made a double change with Ade Azeez and Cristian Toonga introduced for Tom Elliott and Dannie Bulman.
Still the visitors made it tough for Wimbledon and Rigg’s shot from distance was too close to Arnold. However, there was a real let-off for Wimbledon when Fuller failed to deal with a cross and it ended up with a clear shooting chance just eight yards out for Marsh-Brown, but he shot straight into the grateful arms of Ben Wilson.
Though Wimbledon piled on the pressure, no meaningful chances followed and Rovers won it in the third minute of injury-time. There was a lot to do when Frear latched onto a loose ball 20 yards out, but he cracked home brilliantly to leave Wilson with no chance. When Robinson headed a cross from Jake Reeves wide, Wimbledon’s final chance was gone and the Dons are now left to concentrate solely on the league.
AFC Wimbledon: Ben Wilson, Barry Fuller, Paul Robinson, Karleigh Osborne, Jon Meades, Dannie Bulman (Christian Toonga), Jake Reeves, Sean Rigg, Callum Kennedy (Tom Beere), Lyle Taylor, Tom Elliott (Ade Azeez).