AFC Wimbledon bowed out of the League Cup at the first time of asking once again in a thrilling match at Peterborough.
Wimbledon’s attacking play was encouraging, but they were let down once again by lacklustre defending with all three goals conceded in the 3-2 defeat coming from set-pieces.
It had all seemed to be going so well when Chris Whelpdale opened the scoring, but a crazy spell of two goals conceded in four second-half minutes swung the match Peterborough’s way.
Neal Ardley decided to make three changes from the side that started at Walsall on Saturday. There was a different attacking edge for Wimbledon with Tyrone Barnett and Dominic Poleon selected up front in place of Lyle Taylor and Tom Elliott. Dean Parrett also came in for his first start in place of Dannie Bulman.
Wimbledon started brightly with Chris Whelpdale causing problems down the right against his former club. A first effort on goal resulted from Wimbledon’s early pressure when Andy Barcham cut inside and shot, but his effort was tipped over by Peterborough goalkeeper Ben Alnwick. The Dons had certainly made a much better start than at Walsall on Saturday. One early move ended with Barry Fuller finding Barnett in plenty of space in behind, but he failed to make the most of the opportunity with his cross cut out.
Peterborough finally started to make an impression 10 minutes in and a decent shot from outside the box by Hayden White flashed wide of the far post. Still, it was Wimbledon controlling possession and it was a very encouraging first 20 minutes for the visitors. With Jake Reeves and Parrett getting on the ball in midfield, the signs looked positive for Wimbledon. However, they could easily have slipped behind on the half hour when Peterborough created space for Hughes in the area, but he sliced wide.
Considering the pattern of this game, it was no surprise when Wimbledon marched into the lead. Neal Ardley had talked up Chris Whelpdale’s aerial ability following his signature and he showed exactly why by meeting a corner with a brilliant near post header that looped over Alnwick and into the back of the net. It should have been 2-0 less than a minute later when a smart free-kick from Parrett picked out Darius Charles completely free at the back post, but he headed wide from close range.
The half ended with Marcus Maddison cracking a shot just wide, but when the half-time whistle shrilled Wimbledon were full value for the lead. It had been achieved with an impressive first-half performance from the visitors and just maybe a first win in the competition was on the cards for AFC Wimbledon.
There was a half-time change for Wimbledon with Tom Beere replacing goalscorer Whelpdale. Peterborough opened sharply with Shaquile Coulthirst, who scored against our Under-18s a couple of years ago, striking into the side netting. However, it didn’t take long for Wimbledon to find their stride again and it was so nearly 2-0 seven minutes into the second-half. A ball across the box from Barnett found Poleon in space just inside the area and his shot was beaten out by Alnwick.
With Peterborough having yet to test Ryan Clarke by the hour mark, it was a surprise when they restored parity in the 64th minute. A lovely ball in from the Peterborough right by Hayden White picked out substitute Tom Nichols at the near post and he headed home emphatically. It’s often said that goals change games and there was no greater example than in this match. All of a sudden, Peterborough were a different team and less than four minutes later it was 2-1. In similar fashion to Saturday at Walsall, Wimbledon failed to deal with a routine free-kick and Paul Taylor took full advantage to put Peterborough ahead.
A double substitution followed with Lyle Taylor and Tom Elliott entering the fray for Poleon and Barnett. It should have had an immediate effect when Taylor struck an effort from an acute angle that Alnwick could only parry and it fell to Barcham just six yards out, but he sliced his shot against the angle of post and crossbar. Wimbledon had shown plenty of spirit to battle back as it would have been easy to have lost their heads after two goals in quick succession. And they were rewarded with the equaliser in the 78th minute. Good work from Elliott provided Taylor with a shooting opportunity on the edge of the area and he delivered a lovely finish, steering the ball into the bottom corner to leave Alnwick with no chance.
As we entered the final stages, both teams had chances to win it. Michael Bostwick struck a fierce effort just wide of the post and at the other end Barcham cut inside smartly and had an effort deflected just over the crossbar. With the match seemingly heading for extra-time, Peterborough struck what turned out to be the winner three minutes into injury-time. A corner was headed on by Jack Baldwin and Nichols steered home from close range.
When Taylor struck just wide after doing everything in his power to reach a cross, Wimbledon's final chance was gone. It meant more cup misery in a competition that has proved to be fruitless for the club ever since promotion to the Football League five years ago.
AFC Wimbledon: Ryan Clarke, Barry Fuller, Paul Robinson, Jake Reeves, Dominic Poleon (Lyle Taylor), Chris Whelpdale (Tom Beere), Andy Barcham, Dean Parrett, Sean Kelly, Tyrone Barnett (Tom Elliott), Darius Charles.