AFC Wimbledon’s new adventure in English Football League One started with a defeat at Walsall today.
The 3-1 scoreline was harsh on Wimbledon as the Dons fashioned plenty of chances on the day, but the hosts showed the clinical edge that almost got them into the Championship last season.
Wimbledon didn’t help themselves with some less than impressive defending on the day, particularly when Walsall scored their second at a time when the visitors were dominating. Lyle Taylor's late penalty was the least Wimbledon deserved and it at least gave our vocal fans something to cheer.
Fourteen years since AFC Wimbledon started life in the Combined Counties League, a total of 1,049 Dons fans provided great support as the club stepped up to the third tier of English football.
All six of AFC Wimbledon’s summer signings were selected in the squad, but only three of those made Neal Ardley’s starting 11. Ryan Clarke was preferred in goal, Sean Kelly came in for the injured Jon Meades at full-back and Chris Whelpdale started on the right flank.
Wimbledon were pushed back from the very first minute as the hosts made a bright start that was rewarded with an opening goal. Following a foul 20 yards out by Whelpdale, Erhun Oztumer stepped up and curled a free-kick superbly around the wall and into the back of the net via a post. At this stage, Wimbledon were struggling to get to grips with a fluent Walsall attack and it needed brave goalkeeping from Clarke to prevent a second as he dived at the feet of Florent Cuvelier.
As we approached the midway point of the first-half, Wimbledon started to gain a fair share of possession after a very tough start. Jake Reeves, fresh from signing a new contract, began to get on the ball and make things happen. Reeves was at the heart of a fine move that ended with Whelpdale showing smart control to set-up a shooting chance just eight yards out, but he scuffed his shot wide.
Wimbledon should have been level just after the half hour, Walsall twice surviving by the skin of their teeth. Barry Fuller’s cross was headed back by Tom Elliott for Lyle Taylor, but his shot was parried by Neil Etheridge and then Andy Barcham’s follow-up effort was also blocked on the line by the Walsall goalkeeper.
Following a shaky opening 10 minutes, Wimbledon’s fightback had perhaps warranted an equaliser, but the visitors were made to pay for poor defending in the 38th minute. Yet again, it came from a free-kick as a routine ball in from Oztumer was headed back at the far post and Simeon Jackson made no mistake with a simple finish from close-range. The Dons showed plenty of spirit in response with Whelpdale’s surging runs carrying the fight. One of his powerful runs won a corner that offered a decent opportunity at the back post for Elliott, but he headed wide. Fuller then provided Taylor with a sight of goal, but Walsall defender James O’Connor got back well to clear.
Shooting towards a sizeable away following in the second-half, Wimbledon started on the front foot and the deficit should really have been halved inside two minutes. Reeves swung in another excellent delivery from a free-kick that picked out Elliott, but he was unable to get enough on his header and the ball drifted wide. With Wimbledon having created quite a few chances, one felt that there could still be something in this for the Dons if they could get one back.
Sean Kelly had a decent opportunity from a free-kick, but he curled over and then Elliott pounced on a defensive lapse, but his shot was wide. With 67 minutes on the clock, Neal Ardley decided to make a double change with Tyrone Barnett and Dominic Poleon sent on for their competitive Wimbledon debuts, Elliott and Barcham making way for them. With 20 minutes to go another change followed with Dean Parrett entering the fray for Whelpdale.
However, any hopes Wimbledon entertained of still getting something from the game evaporated 18 minutes from time. With the Dons committing men forward in search of a goal back, a quick break ended with substitute Amadou Bakayoko in plenty of space on the Walsall left and his cross was diverted in by Jackson, who got there just before Darius Charles.
That was effectively game over, but at least Wimbledon kept on going and they really did deserve at least one goal on the day. It so nearly came when Taylor reached a Poleon cross before Etheridge, but his header was just wide. However, there was a goal back to celebrate when Taylor was brought down by Rico Henry in the box and he picked himself up to smash home from 12 yards. Another late goal failed to arrive during six minutes of injury-time, but at least there is a quick chance to bounce back at Peterborough on Tuesday night.
AFC Wimbledon: Ryan Clarke, Barry Fuller, Paul Robinson, Jake Reeves, Dannie Bulman, Tom Elliott (Dominic Poleon), Chris Whelpdale (Dean Parrett), Andy Barcham (Tyrone Barnett), Sean Kelly, Darius Charles, Lyle Taylor.