AFC Wimbledon missed out on the chance to seal a play-off place tonight with a five-match winning streak ended in frustrating fashion.
Despite having plenty of the play and chances, Portsmouth triumphed 1-0 with Michael Smith, who scored 10 goals on loan for Wimbledon in 2013/14, netting the winner.
It meant that Wimbledon still have work to do to make mathematically certain of a play-off place.
With the Dons having made it five successive wins against Leyton Orient, Neal Ardley made just one enforced change with Sean Rigg recalled in place of George Francomb, who missed out due to a thigh injury. Portsmouth manager Paul Cook had bemoaned a growing injury list in the build-up to this game, but they still had plenty of attacking threat with former Dons loanee Michael Smith leading the line.
Pompey did show ambition early on, albeit without creating anything of note, and the first meaningful chance came Wimbledon’s way. Callum Kennedy delivered a corner from the left that Darius Charles met with a superb downward header, but Portsmouth goalkeeper Paul Jones got down well to save.
The visitors had a first effort on goal in the 20th minute, but it was a routine save for Kelle Roos as he comfortably gathered a header from Gareth Evans. Wimbledon carried the greater threat though and one swift attacking movement nearly paid off for Neal Ardley’s men. Lyle Taylor set Rigg racing down the right flank and he sent over a deep cross that Tom Elliott met well, but his header was deflected just wide. At the other end, Wimbledon had shown plenty of composure in defence during the first half hour, unsurprisingly having gone so long without conceding a goal.
However, the Dons fell behind against the run of play in the 36th minute. Gary Roberts snatched the ball on the left, but he appeared to foul Sean Rigg in the process. With Wimbledon appealing for a free-kick, Roberts sent over a cross that found Smith, who took a touch before striking a clinical effort into the bottom corner. All of a sudden, Pompey were rejuvenated and Smith had the ball in the back of the net again shortly afterwards, but the referee blew for a foul. Wimbledon struggled to conjure up a response before the break and a half-time deficit was not something we had become accustomed to in recent times.
Neal Ardley made a half-time change with Jake Reeves entering the fray for Rigg and there was also a key substitution for Pompey with their goalkeeper Paul Jones forced off injured and Brian Murphy taking his place. Wimbledon made a much better start to the second-half and Barcham flashed a volley just wide. However, the Dons were fortunate to survive conceding a second when Kai Naismith was left unmarked at the back post from a free-kick, but he shot straight into the arms of Kelle Roos.
Wimbledon put on plenty of pressure around the hour mark with Pompey forced onto the back foot. A succession of corners followed with Elliott and Charles both heading over. A better chance fell for Barcham though after a defensive lapse, but he dragged his shot wide. With 23 minutes left, Wimbledon were appealing for a penalty and a possible red card when Murphy appeared to take out Taylor, but referee Andy Madley was unimpressed.
The Dons made another change midway through the second-half when Ade Azeez was introduced for Tom Elliott, who had produced another tireless performance up front. A few minutes later the Dons were fortunate to still be in it. With Wimbledon committing more men forward in search of an equaliser, Pompey found space on their right with Evans picking out Roberts, but he blazed over.
With 15 minutes left, Wimbledon were struggling to build attacking momentum and Neal Ardley made his final change with Rhys Murphy replacing Barcham. Portsmouth had two gilt-edged chances to seal victory within a minute of each other, but they missed both of them. First, Naismith took too long to finish and Barry Fuller got back well to clear off the line and then Roberts was clean through, but he shot wide.
However, Wimbledon were unable to create the chances to make Pompey pay in the final stages and the Dons may need to do it the hard way with a positive result at Stevenage on Saturday.
AFC Wimbledon: Kelle Roos, Barry Fuller, Paul Robinson, Darius Charles, Callum Kennedy, Connor Smith, Dannie Bulman, Andy Barcham (Rhys Murphy), Tom Elliott (Ade Azeez), Lyle Taylor, Sean Rigg (Jake Reeves).