AFC Wimbledon today had victory snatched from their grasp with an injury-time equaliser from Conor McLaughlin denying them all three points.
Neal Ardley’s men had appeared to be heading for victory after Dean Parrett’s penalty had put them 2-1 up, but McLaughlin scrambled home a last-ditch equaliser to make it 2-2.
That setback was a real shame for Wimbledon after a rousing second-half had turned around a half-time deficit against a Fleetwood side who produced impressive football at times.
Due to injuries and suspensions, Neal Ardley made changes to his starting line-up after the battling draw at Millwall. Suspensions for Jon Meades and Barry Fuller meant that Seth Owens and Dean Parrett were handed recalls, the latter back in midfield with George Francomb switching to right-back. With Lyle Taylor missing out due to a hip injury, Tyrone Barnett was given an opportunity up front and Chris Whelpdale started in place of Tom Elliott, who was on the bench.
With so many changes, it was not going to be easy to find cohesion and Wimbledon’s task was made more difficult when Fleetwood took the lead in the 12th minute. It was a simple goal for Fleetwood and a bad one to concede from a Wimbledon perspective as Cian Bolger rose unchallenged in the box to head home a corner. Parrett attempted to get Wimbledon going with a tenacious double challenge that raised the decibel levels and put his team on the front foot. The Dons then did threaten from a flurry of corners in quick succession, Paul Robinson first having a shot deflected wide from one of them. Fleetwood also just managed to scramble clear another dangerous delivery from Parrett with Robinson also having an effort charged down.
Wimbledon almost had a mountain to climb in the 20th minute as Fleetwood came so close to doubling the advantage. Bobby Grant let fly with a wonderful strike from 30 yards that beat James Shea, but it bounced off the inside of a post and away to safety. Though the Dons did respond with good possession, creating chances against a well drilled Fleetwood defence was no easy task. A lovely defence-splitting pass from Dannie Bulman created an opportunity that Dominic Poleon would normally relish as he was one-on-one with the last man, but his shot was straight at Fleetwood keeper Alex Cairns.
With five minutes until half-time, Wimbledon were twice fortunate to avoid conceding a second goal. Another strike from Grant was deflected and Shea just managed to change direction and save it. Ashley Hunter then blazed over the crossbar from close range after Fleetwood showed their aerial threat from a corner once again. A half-time lead for Fleetwood had been fully deserved as they had combined good defending with plenty of threat on the break.
The Dons certainly needed to raise the tempo in the second-half and there was no time wasted in doing that after the introduction of Tom Elliott, who replaced Barnett at half-time. Parrett delivered a teasing cross from a corner that Elliott met with one of his trademark headers and Poleon steered home from close-range. All of a sudden, there was a different mood around the Cherry Red Records Stadium. A superb run down the left from Poleon ended with a fine cross that Elliott met first time, but Cairns got down well to tip wide.
When Fleetwood did regain their composure, they had two great chances to regain the lead. The first one was not a bad miss, more excellent last-ditch defending as Sean Kelly, who replaced Owens at half-time, got back well to clear off the line from Kyle Dempsey. However, the second one was a gilt-edged opportunity squandered as Dempsey set-up Hunter, but with the goal gaping, he fired wide.
Midway through the second-half, it was difficult to tell which way this game was going to go. With Fleetwood demonstrating an expansive passing style that was pleasing on the eye, Wimbledon had to show plenty of patience to nullify their opponents, while retaining a threat on the break. It almost paid off when Elliott headed on for Poleon, who was just unable to reach it before the defender. However, Wimbledon did find the key to the door with 14 minutes to go when Elliott’s power and strength again proved too much for Fleetwood. After reaching a long ball first, Elliott was sent sprawling just inside the box by Joe Davis and the outcome was a penalty. Dean Parrett stepped up and sent Cairns the wrong way from 12 yards.
The Dons had opportunities to add to their lead, first when Whelpdale fired over after fine play on the flank from Dean Parrett. Then Poleon struck a great chance wide after powering clean through. Two appeared to be enough, but with time running out, McLaughlin bundled home a corner in injury-time to snatch a point for the visitors.
AFC Wimbledon: James Shea, George Francomb, Seth Owens (Sean Kelly), Paul Robinson, Chris Robertson, Chris Whelpdale, Jake Reeves, Dannie Bulman, Dominic Poleon, Tyrone Barnett (Tom Elliott), Dean Parrett (Tom Beere).