AFC Wimbledon suffered late heartbreak today with an 86th minute penalty from Matt Taylor earning victory for Northampton.
A 1-0 defeat meant that Wimbledon’s long unbeaten home league run, stretching back to October, came to an end. Taylor’s spot-kick came at a time when a 0-0 draw outcome appeared to be a certainty, before Chris Robertson was adjudged to have handballed in the area. However, Neal Ardley felt that referee Nigel Miller should have awarded a penalty to the Dons earlier on when Lyle Taylor's cross appeared to be handled in the box, appeals from the Chemflow End falling on deaf ears.
Judging on the balance of play, defeat was harsh on Wimbledon, and Neal Ardley's men will be aiming to pick themselves up quickly on Tuesday night.
With the games coming thick and fast during the rest of March, Neal Ardley decided to make four changes to his starting line-up. Chris Robertson, Dean Parrett, Andy Barcham and Lyle Taylor all earned recalls with Paul Robinson, Dannie Bulman, Jon Meades and Tom Elliott having to settle for places on the bench. The changes meant that George Francomb was handed the captain’s armband, the wide man being relied upon to get up and down the right flank as part of a 3-5-2 formation.
In pursuit of a third win in four matches, Wimbledon came out with plenty of attacking intent, but it was Northampton with the first decent chance. A fine move ended with Luke Williams finding space for a shot, but he dragged his effort wide. Responding to that well, Wimbledon wasted no time getting forward and Tom Soares tried his luck with a rasping drive from 25 yards that flashed just wide.
Against a well-drilled Northampton defence, Wimbledon attempted a different corner routine with Parrett tapping the ball to Barcham, who put in a lovely left-footed cross that fell nicely for Darius Charles, but his shot was blocked. Poleon also came close to finding a way through, but Zander Diamond made a timely interception, though he was fortunate that his clearance came back off the Dons striker and straight into the arms of Northampton keeper Adam Smith.
Wimbledon were finding it tough to prise open a well-drilled Northampton defence and that was perhaps summed up by Dean Parrett having a shot from distance that drifted wide. Northampton had shown little ambition in the first-half, but they did threaten twice in their best spell so far just before the break. Matt Taylor produced an excellent free-kick attempt from 30 yards, but it was just over the crossbar. Then former Wimbledon loanee Michael Smith found space in the box, before producing a smart turn, and then firing just wide of the far post. The half-time whistle sounded almost immediately after that and a 0-0 score-line was probably about right with Northampton improving as the first-half progressed.
There was a half-time change for Wimbledon with Tom Soares withdrawn and Dannie Bulman entering the fray. Wimbledon attempted to up the tempo after the restart and a half chance followed when Dean Parrett swung over a dangerous corner, but Will Nightingale headed just wide. Wimbledon had struggled to build sustained pressure in the second-half as we reached the hour mark. Despite a flurry of corners, Northampton held firm with no clear-cut chances ensuing. James Shea was called into action at the other end when he stayed alert to turn away another long-range free-kick from Matt Taylor.
Wimbledon’s best chance of the second-half so far came in the 65th minute when Parrett swung over another corner and a goal-bound header from Darius Charles was saved by Smith and Northampton just managed to scramble the ball clear. Wimbledon also had claims for a penalty turned down when Lyle Taylor's cross appeared to be handled in the box.
Neal Ardley decided to make a double change with 20 minutes to go with Tom Elliott and Jon Meades entering the fray for Lyle Taylor and George Francomb. Parrett and Reeves had certainly spread the ball around well in the centre of the park, but with Northampton proving a tough nut to crack, perhaps a more direct approach was needed.
With pressure starting to build from the visitors, it needed Jake Reeves to make a great last-ditch challenge to stop Matt Taylor going through on goal. However, there was no reprieve for Wimbledon with four minutes to play. Chris Robertson was adjudged to have handballed a corner and Matt Taylor made no mistake from the subsequent penalty.
Though the Dons tried to rally in response, there was no way back and Neal Ardley’s men will be aiming to make amends with another home game on Tuesday night.
AFC Wimbledon: James Shea, George Francomb (Jon Meades), Will Nightingale, Chris Robertson, Darius Charles, Dean Parrett, Jake Reeves, Tom Soares (Dannie Bulman), Andy Barcham, Dominic Poleon, Lyle Taylor (Tom Elliott).