Wimbledon failed to complete another fightback as Neal Ardley’s men left themselves with too much to do against Sheffield United.
The Dons suffered a 3-2 defeat that featured plenty of spirit to make a game of it, but they ultimately paid the price for defensive lapses. A well-worked goal, finished off by substitute Tom Elliott, got Wimbledon back into it with 18 minutes to go, but the hosts were unable to complete the job on this occasion.
Neal Ardley had talked about the strength of his squad in the build-up to this match and that was highlighted by his team selection. Lyle Taylor and Dannie Bulman, a pair both pivotal to promotion last season, had to settle for places on the bench with Dominic Poleon and Dean Parrett in from the start. Poleon, who struck the late winner last week against Chesterfield as a substitute, was starting his first home league game.
Chances were few and far between early on, but it was Wimbledon who came closest inside 10 minutes when Tyrone Barnett headed just wide, the striker again coming close to his first Wimbledon goal. With United coming into this match on the back of an impressive away win at Gillingham, it was always going to be a difficult task for Wimbledon and the opening exchanges showed that would be the case. United defended resolutely and Wimbledon struggled to create chances, though Barnett did volley just over with an opportunist effort.
Based on the early pattern of play, it was tough on Wimbledon when United made the breakthrough in the 20th minute. Jake Reeves slipped on the rain-sodden turf to allow Mark Duffy in and he twisted and turned in the box, before beating Ryan Clarke with a smart low finish. The Dons had a mountain to climb six minutes later when United doubled their advantage. Matt Done swung in a dangerous cross from the United left and Billy Sharp showed a typical poacher’s instinct by getting to the near post first, before directing a glancing header past Clarke.
A good response followed from Wimbledon and considering his flying early season form, it was little surprise that Andy Barcham was the instigator. Giving right-back Chris Basham a tough time, Barcham beat him with lovely skill, before sending over a cross that United keeper Simon Moore was only just able to divert wide. From the corner, Barnett headed just wide as Wimbledon threatened an instant response. However, the Dons did reduce the deficit in the 38th minute with a well-worked goal. More lovely wing play from Barcham took him to the by-line and he sent over a fine near post cross that was headed home powerfully by Poleon.
The goal was a lifeline for Wimbledon and though the half-time whistle signalled a deficit at the break, it was definitely something for Wimbledon to build-on. However, the Dons were fortunate not to fall further behind in the 48th minute when a United move ended with a great chance for Duffy, but he fired wide with the goal gaping. Then Clarke did just enough to prevent a second when he forced Matt Done wide in a one-on-one and that meant the United man shot into the side netting. Wimbledon did threaten an equaliser when more good work by Poleon caused problems and Parrett had a shot well held by Moore.
United earned a third goal their second-half play had deserved just before the hour. Substitute John Fleck’s defence-splitting pass put Done through on goal again and this time he held his nerve by rounding Clarke, before firing into the empty net. Manager Neal Ardley responded with a double change as Lyle Taylor and Tom Elliott were introduced for Darius Charles and Barnett. Wimbledon showed plenty of spirit at a time when it would have been easy for heads to go down and the Dons were back in it in the 72nd minute. Instead of shooting from a free-kick, Parrett delivered a sublime chip to the back post and Elliott gave it the finish it deserved with a clinical low shot past Moore.
It was now all Wimbledon as United defended their penalty area doggedly. It could have been 3-3 when Elliott headed on for Taylor, but his powerful strike was too high. Despite late pressure during five minutes of injury-time, United held on and the Dons will be aiming to get back on track at Charlton next Saturday.
AFC Wimbledon: Ryan Clarke, Barry Fuller, Paul Robinson, Darius Charles (Lyle Taylor), Jon Meades, George Francomb (Chris Whelpdale), Jake Reeves, Dean Parrett, Tyrone Barnett (Tom Elliott), Dominic Poleon, Andy Barcham.