A resilient away display just failed to earn AFC Wimbledon a first League One win at Rochdale this afternoon.
The Dons were stunned by an equaliser deep into injury-time as goalkeeper Ryan Clarke failed to gather a corner from Jamie Allen and it ended up in the back of the net to make it 1-1 at the death.
It had looked like Andy Barcham’s 12th minute opener had earned victory after plenty of dogged defending from the Dons. The hosts ended the match with 10 men as Callum Camps was dismissed for two bookings.
Neal Ardley made just one change to his starting line-up, but it meant a significant inclusion with Jon Meades in at left-back for his first League One game of the season. Sean Kelly was the man to make way after starting every game so far during this campaign.
As expected, Rochdale attempted to pass the ball around well from the first whistle and Wimbledon had to be resilient early on. Paul Robinson earned an early booking for a late challenge and that meant he had to tread carefully. With Tom Elliott and Lyle Taylor offering at every opportunity up front, Wimbledon showed early promise in attack and it was 1-0 to the Dons in the 12th minute. A rampaging run down the right from Chris Whelpdale ended with a deep cross for Andy Barcham, who rose superbly and headed home emphatically.
There was no sign of Wimbledon sitting on their lead and there was a golden opportunity to double the advantage before the half hour mark. Taylor wriggled free on the right and had plenty of time to pick his cross, but it was too close to Rochdale goalkeeper Conrad Logan with Barcham denied the chance to tap home at the far post. Whelpdale then had a shot charged down as Wimbledon continued to threaten. However, Rochdale continued to have plenty of possession and they threatened when Steven Davies cracked a shot just wide.
Wimbledon’s attacking play had certainly impressed in the first-half and another fine move almost ended with the cushion of a second goal. Whelpdale showed good composure to slide a pass through for Elliott, but his low goal-bound shot was blocked by Harrison McGahey. As the first-half reached its conclusion, Rochdale continued to find little change out of a well drilled Wimbledon defence. When they did get in behind to fashion a good crossing opportunity, Robinson superbly cut-out a cross from Andy Cannon.
When the half-time whistle shrilled it had been a very impressive 45 minutes from Wimbledon, a performance that combined great defending and good breakaway moves to launch attacks.
Following such a good first-half display, Neal Ardley unsurprisingly made no substitutions. Though Rochdale started the second-half well, they struggled to get in behind Wimbledon. A chance finally came their way through a lapse in concentration from Wimbledon when a long ball found its way to Ian Henderson and he rounded Clarke, but with the angle narrowing he shot wide. In response, lovely play by Taylor provided Elliott with a shooting chance, but his effort was blocked.
Neal Ardley made a double change in the 62nd minute with Dean Parrett and Tyrone Barnett replacing Chris Whelpdale and Tom Elliott. With the latter having shown trademark willingness and graft for the team, chants of “We’ve got Tom Elliott” could be heard from the travelling Dons in appreciation of his efforts. Wimbledon were very fortunate to survive in the 67th minute as Rochdale squandered a great chance to equalise. A corner was swung in deep to the far post with Matthew Lund completely unmarked, but he headed wide. As the players walked back, Neal Ardley was furious at his players for allowing Rochdale a golden chance.
At this stage, Wimbledon were struggling to get out as Rochdale forced the Dons to defend deep. There was a worrying sight 18 minutes from time as Taylor hobbled off injured and that meant George Francomb came on to make his first-team return to action after injury. The Dons needed fine goalkeeping from Clarke to stop Henderson equalising and Meades did well to block the follow-up. As Wimbledon really started to hang on, Jamie Allen had a great shooting opportunity and he cracked an effort against the crossbar.
Wimbledon’s task was seemingly made easier eight minutes from time when Rochdale substitute Callum Camps was sent off for two bookings. However, the pressure continued from Rochdale and Calvin Andrew headed agonisingly wide for the hosts. There was a cruel sting in the tail for Wimbledon deep into injury-time when a corner from Allen was swung in and an under pressure Clarke appeared to get the final touch.
AFC Wimbledon: Ryan Clarke, Barry Fuller, Jon Meades, Dannie Bulman, Paul Robinson, Darius Charles, Andy Barcham, Jake Reeves, Tom Elliott (Tyrone Barnett), Lyle Taylor (George Francomb), Chris Whelpdale (Dean Parrett).