AFC Wimbledon were left still searching for that first victory of the season in a match that turned on referee Nick Kinseley's decision to send off Marcus Forss.
With the score at 1-1, the man in the middle decided that a late challenge from Forss was worthy of a second bookable offence, and Rovers went on to win it 3-1. Forss had earlier been booked for 'over-celebrating' his first home goal for AFC Wimbledon.
The manner of defeat was difficult to take after Wimbledon had marched into the lead through an absolute cracker from on-loan Brentford striker Forss. The decisive goals from Rovers both came from situations when Wimbledon failed to defend crosses into the box and that was a disappointing aspect, but it was always an uphill struggle after being reduced to 10 men.
Wally Downes made just one change to his starting line-up after the midweek loss at Coventry City with Terell Thomas replacing Paul Kalambayi at the heart of defence. The Dons came into this match aiming to upset the formbook in search of a first win this season with opponents Bristol Rovers having lost just once in the last six matches. However, Wimbledon’s last two home matches – both ending in draws – could have yielded maximum points if chances had been taken and Wally’s boys were aiming to go one better today.
Neither side really threatened in the opening exchanges, but Wimbledon had a half chance in the ninth minute when Michael Folivi got on the end of a ball through the middle, but his header lacked power and Rovers keeper Anssi Jaakkola was able to gather it comfortably. Folivi and Forss once again looked bright in leading the attack and they combined shortly afterwards to find Callum Reilly in space down the left, but his dangerous cross was cut out.
Rovers had enjoyed decent possession early on, but they lacked that cutting edge against a well-drilled Dons defence. However, a good move ended with a shooting opportunity for the visitors, but Luke O’Neill made a superb last-ditch block to stop the goal-bound effort. That turned out to be even more important when Wimbledon marched into the lead in the 20th minute. Marcus Forss had already scored twice for Wimbledon since his arrival on loan from Brentford, but this was undoubtedly his best. The young striker, who joined us on transfer deadline day, struck a superb 20-yard strike that left Jaakkola with absolutely no chance.
By the midway point of the first-half, Wimbledon appeared to be well in control, but Rovers found an equaliser in the 28th minute. Tom Nichols delivered a cross from the left and Abu Ogogo punished slack marking by heading home at the back post. It was certainly a test of Wimbledon’s character now with the lead having been squandered on six occasions this season. A good Dons move threatened to put Wimbledon back in front with Scott Wagstaff picking out Reilly, but his shot was well saved by Jaakkola. At the other end, Ed Upson tried his luck with a long-range strike that flashed over the crossbar. On the balance of play, the 1-1 half-time score-line was perhaps fair, but from a Wimbledon perspective it was just a shame that a chance had been missed to take control at 1-0.
Wimbledon had a chance to regain the lead less than two minutes into the second-half. Folivi was presented with the ball by a Rovers defender and he did well to set-up the chance for himself, but his shot just missed the far post. Dons keeper Nathan Trott was required to keep Wimbledon on level terms in the 53rd minute, the on-loan West Ham keeper racing off his line to get there before Ogogo. However, Wimbledon had two great chances to take the lead around the hour mark. Folivi showed good vision to pick out Wagstaff, who powered through and struck a fine effort that Jaakkola did well to tip wide. Forss then had a good opportunity when the ball sat up for him nicely inside the box, but his fierce effort was too close to Jaakkola.
Wally Downes made a double change just after the hour with Anthony Wordsworth making his return in midfield, Anthony Hartigan making way for him. Joe Pigott was also introduced in place of Terell Thomas, as our manager sensed an opportunity to go for all three points. However, then came a vital couple of minutes with referee Nick Kinseley as the centre of attention. First, he decided that Ryan Delaney’s challenge on Jonson Clarke-Harris merited just a yellow card with Rovers appealing to him that he was last man. Then shortly afterwards the man in the middle decided that a late challenge by Forss merited a second yellow card. That obviously changed the course of this game and Rovers earned the lead with 15 minutes to play. A cross from Michael Kelly was met by Clarke-Harris, whose header bounced off the ground awkwardly for Trott and he was unable to keep it out. That was according to Kinseley and his assistant on the line as many inside the stadium though it hadn’t crossed the line.
It was always going to be difficult to get back into it now and so it proved as Rovers effectively sealed victory with four minutes to go. A cross was swung in by Liam Sercombe and Rovers captain Tony Craig was left with too much time to head home from close-range. There was no way back for Wimbledon and there’s now a full week before The Dons get a chance to get back to winning ways at Peterborough United.
AFC Wimbledon: Nathan Trott, Luke O’Neill, Will Nightingale, Terell Thomas (Joe Pigott), Scott Wagstaff, Anthony Hartigan (Anthony Wordsworth), Marcus Forss, Michael Folivi (Adam Roscrow), Nesta Guinness-Walker, Ryan Delaney, Callum Reilly.