Stacy Long rescued a point for the Dons today with a late free-kick that prevented Aldershot making up ground at the bottom of League 2.
Only the man himself will know if he actually meant it as his well delivered set-piece looped over Jamie Young in the Aldershot goal, but the majority of the 4,321 crowd at the Cherry Red Records Stadium did not care as Long’s goal earned a 1-1 draw and extended Wimbledon’s unbeaten run to three.
Neil Sullivan’s Wimbledon return dominated the build-up to this match with his old team-mate Neal Ardley having drafted in the 42-year-old goalkeeper on loan from Doncaster.
Sullivan was back in a Wimbledon shirt as one of seven changes made from the side which started against York City with Neal Ardley selecting an attacking line-up that included starts for Jack Midson, Charlie Strutton and Byron Harrison. The injured Rashid Yussuff missed out completely and there were returns in midfield for Stacy Long and Jake Reeves with Huw Johnson and Christian Jolley the men to make way. There were also changes in both full-back positions with Curtis Osano replacing Jim Fenlon and Jonathan Meades restored to the side in place of Warren Cummings. The other enforced change was a return for Will Antwi at the heart of the defence in place of Mat Mitchel-King. Wimbledon’s club skipper was on compassionate leave with his mother having passed away during the week and both sets of supporters therefore observed a minute’s silence before kick-off.
Aldershot started the brighter of the two sides, but that gave the home faithful an early chance to offer Sullivan a warm welcome back when the veteran goalkeeper gathered a routine cross and was offered the same adulation as if a Wimbledon goal had been scored.
Despite being second best early on, the Dons had the best chance of the first half hour when a Steven Gregory corner found its way all the way through to Curtis Osano at the back post and he came so close to a goal against his old club when his header bounced off the crossbar.
However, the visitors caused problems for the home defence and had a greater attacking thrust during the first-half. Though they never really got behind the Wimbledon defence to create clear-cut chances, there were several scares for the hosts. Danny Hylton, who once came close to signing for the Dons, was the instigator and he sent over a cross that took a deflection and wrong-footed Sullivan, but ended up in the side-netting. Hylton then rose highest from the subsequent corner, but he headed over the crossbar from close-range. Daniel Lopez and Peter Vincenti also tested Sullivan from long-range, but the goalkeeper showed no signs of rustiness in his first match at first-team level for almost a year.
Aldershot pressure paid off in first-half injury-time though when the Dons only half cleared a cross and Daniel Lopez smashed home emphatically from close-range.
Apart from a Harrison strike which Aldershot goalkeeper Jamie Young gathered easily, the Dons had failed to flourish as an attacking force with the front trio of Harrison, Midson and Strutton struggling to make an impression.
The Dons did improve after the break and Jake Reeves came close to his first Wimbledon goal with a shot that was just deflected over the crossbar. It should have been all over though just before the hour when Lopez had a great chance to double his tally, but he shot straight into the arms of the grateful Sullivan. With the hosts offering only minimal attacking threat, Neal Ardley offered Kieran Djilali his return in a Wimbledon shirt with the winger replacing Strutton and having just under half an hour to make an impact.
There had been a lack of cutting edge in attack from the Dons and Aldershot looked set to claim a precious victory in their battle to move away from the bottom. It therefore came completely out of the blue when the Dons grabbed an equaliser in the 76th minute. Long was the man to rescue Wimbledon with a goal that could be viewed as either an audacious free-kick or a complete fluke. The in-form midfielder’s wicked free-kick from the left wing beat everyone in the box, including Aldershot goalkeeper Young, and dipped under the crossbar to leave a jubilant Long to receive congratulations from his team-mates. Though the hosts rallied near the end with home supporters baying for a late winner, Wimbledon failed to build on that and defeat would have been harsh on the visitors in the final reckoning.
AFC Wimbledon: Neil Sullivan, Curtis Osano, Jonathan Meades, Stacy Long, Yado Mambo, Will Antwi, Jake Reeves, Steven Gregory (Frankie Merrifield), Byron Harrison, Jack Midson, Charlie Strutton (Kieran Djilali).