AFC Wimbledon produced a resilient defensive display to halt Fleetwood’s automatic promotion charge.
Following the 2-0 midweek win against Milton Keynes, this was a very different kind of performance from the Dons, but every bit as praiseworthy as Neal Ardley’s men battled away for a 0-0 draw.
Apart from a superb save to deny Ashley Hunter, James Shea was not troubled in the Wimbledon goal as the defence stood firm. It was another good result for Neal Ardley at a venue where he achieved his first point as AFC Wimbledon manager back in October 2012.
Neal Ardley made four changes to his starting line-up after the victory against Milton Keynes. Will Nightingale, George Francomb, Dean Parrett and Tyrone Barnett all earned recalls in place of Jon Meades, Sean Kelly, Tom Soares and Lyle Taylor. On a wet and blustery day on the Fylde Coast, Wimbledon would be required to show plenty of character to tame a side rampaging towards promotion.
The Dons made a decent enough start, earning a fair share of possession and restricting Fleetwood to very little in the first half an hour. A fine Dons move ended with Tom Elliott holding the ball up well for Jake Reeves to join in the attack, but his shot was well over. At the other end, there was relief in the Wimbledon ranks when Ashley Hunter broke the offside trap to power through on goal, but James Shea reacted superbly to tip the ball over.
On a pitch that made playing football difficult, Wimbledon actually spread the ball around well in the first-half. With Elliott acting as a good foil up front, the Dons played off his aerial presence and fashioned several promising situations. Reeves pounced again after a corner from Dean Parrett was only half cleared, but this time he drove wide. At least, Reeves was showing a willingness to shoot after his impressive strike against Milton Keynes.
In a first-half when a well-drilled Dons defence offered Fleetwood little encouragement, Fleetwood were restricted to shots from outside the box and Conor McLaughlin tried his luck with a shot that Shea watched go over. At the other end, Francomb whipped in a lovely cross from the right that Barnett headed back, but no one was able to get on the end of it. Francomb showed his defensive qualities too by getting back quickly to stop a pass getting through to Bobby Grant . Just before the break, a fine Fleetwood move ended with Grant shooting just over. At the half-time whistle, Wimbledon could be satisfied with a job well done so far.
Wimbledon were forced to defend deeper at the start of the second-half as Fleetwood exerted more pressure. However, the Dons defended resiliently with stand-in captain Paul Robinson showing what was required with a great block to stop a goal-bound effort from troubling Shea. Though stern defending from Wimbledon made it difficult for Fleetwood to create anything, the concern was that Neal Ardley’s men were unable to get on the ball as much as in the first-half to relieve the pressure. Wimbledon made a double change in the 69th minute with Taylor and Meades entering the fray for Barnett and Parrett.
With 19 minutes remaining, Barcham had Wimbledon’s best chance yet. He did the first part right by showing good movement to get in behind and latch onto Elliott’s flick-on, before blazing over from just inside the area. That was the signal for Wimbledon’s best spell of the match as another half chance quickly followed with Taylor putting in a dangerous cross that Barcham was just unable to steer towards goal. Barcham was starting to really turn the screw and with anxiety increasing from the home fans, the Dons forward broke through again and put over a cross that Fleetwood just managed to scramble clear.
During a last 10 minutes when Wimbledon threatened to win it, a corner ended with Meades just failing to head towards goal and then Barcham shot just over the crossbar from the follow-up. Meades also came close with a close-range effort that unfortunately deflected into the arms of Fleetwood keeper Alex Cairns after more good work by Barcham. Though the Dons were not quite unable to claim a late winner, it was an excellent overall display.
AFC Wimbledon: James Shea, Dannie Bulman, Will Nightingale, Paul Robinson, George Francomb, Jake Reeves, Tom Elliott, Andy Barcham, Dean Parrett (Jon Meades), Tyrone Barnett (Lyle Taylor), Darius Charles.
Pic credit: Simon Davies, Pro Sports Images.