AFC Wimbledon suffered a first defeat in the Checkatrade Trophy tonight with a goal in each half securing victory for hosts Newport County.
Though the Dons suffered a 2-0 defeat, Neal Ardley’s men still go through to the last-32 of the competition after two previous wins in Southern Group B.
It was a match played in front of a sparse crowd of 368 spectators at Rodney Parade and on a pitch decimated by heavy rain. The plus points for Wimbledon was that Dominic Poleon came through 71 minutes on his return and several young players got more experience at first-team level.
Neal Ardley retained five players from the side that started against Bury on Saturday with James Shea, George Francomb, Chris Robertson, Tom Beere and Tyrone Barnett all in the starting 11. There was a notable inclusion at left-back with Seth Owens handed his first-team debut. Academy products Will Nightingale, Tom Beere and Alfie Egan all started the game with fit-again Dominic Poleon making his return. Newport manager Graham Westley selected seven players from the side that started in their 1-1 FA Cup draw against Alfreton Town on Saturday.
On a rain-sodden pitch, Wimbledon endured a sticky start with Newport grabbing the lead in just the seventh minute. A free-kick was delivered right across the face of goal and Scott Bennett tapped home from close range with appeals for offside proving to be in vain. There was another blow for Wimbledon in the 11th minute when James Shea had to go off injured and he was replaced by Joe McDonnell. McDonnell was thrust straight into the action as he saved from Josh Hanlon and Will Nightingale reacted well to clear it to safety.
McDonnell was a busy man after entering the fray and he showed good athleticism to tip a tricky cross from Jack Webb over the crossbar. The Dons did start to recover their composure and Francomb shot over with a long-range effort. A fine move then followed with Francomb and Egan combining down the right to set-up a chance for Poleon, who turned superbly but directed his shot just wide. In a good spell for Wimbledon, Francomb sent over a deep cross from the right that Chris Whelpdale met with a brilliant header, but Newport goalkeeper Joe Day got down well to save in superb fashion.
As we approached half-time, Wimbledon were showing signs of drawing level. Owens, who had responded well to the challenge after being booked early on for a late tackle, put over a lovely cross from the left that just eluded everyone in the box. Considering the tricky conditions, it had been an entertaining first-half with Wimbledon reacting well after falling behind early on. However, Newport twice had good opportunities to double the advantage just before the break. Rhys Healey found himself clean through after Owens had slipped on the turf, but he dragged his shot wide and then McDonnell got down to his right to palm away a free-kick from Jack Jebb.
It was an extended half-time with referee Andy Davies having to go off injured and a qualified match official answering the call over the PA system for a fourth official. When the second-half did get underway, it was Wimbledon who came closest to a goal with Whelpdale curling a fine effort just wide of the far post. At the other end, Nightingale and Robertson held firm at the heart of defence to repel Newport’s bid for a second goal.
Neal Ardley made his first change with 58 minutes on the clock as David Fitzpatrick entered the fray for Beere. The Dons needed fine goalkeeping from McDonnell to stay in it when he managed to tip a deflected close-range effort from Josh Sheehan over the crossbar. With 19 minutes remaining, the Dons made another change and it was a significant one as George Oakley made his first-team return after battling back from a lengthy injury lay-off. Dominic Poleon was the man to make way after getting valuable minutes under his belt.
Wimbledon came so close to an equaliser when Fitzpatrick set-up Egan and his well struck shot from eight yards came back off the crossbar. It was so unfortunate for the Dons, Egan coming so close to netting his first senior goal. Wimbledon continued to press for an equaliser, but as they committed more men forward they became vulnerable to a Newport sucker-punch and the hosts took full advantage five minutes from time. After a quick switch of play to the right, Jazzi Barnum-Bobb cut inside and fired home with a fine strike that left McDonnell with no chance. There was no way back, but it mattered little in terms of the Checkatrade Trophy as Wimbledon went through to the last-32 as group winners.
AFC Wimbledon: James Shea, George Francomb, Seth Owens, Will Nightingale, Chris Robertson, Tom Beere (David Fitzpatrick), Alfie Egan, Dean Parrett, Tyrone Barnett, Dominic Poleon (George Oakley), Chris Whelpdale.
Picture credit: Stuart Butcher, Pro Sports Images.