In the end today's defeat against Portsmouth was of little relevance as Wimbledon's League One survival was confirmed.
Though not in ideal circumstances as we suffered a 3-1 loss at the hands of promotion hopefuls Portsmouth, defeats for Rochdale and Northampton meant that 50 points was comfortably enough for us to stay in League One.
Losing out to Portsmouth at Plough Lane came in disappointing fashion as our opponents were allowed to come from behind after Joe Pigott had put Wimbledon ahead in the first-half, two quick-fire goals by Lee Brown turning the match in Pompey's favour. Whatever the circumstances of survival being achieved this weekend, staying up was deserved because of the brilliant form shown by Wimbledon recently.
The Dons came into this match unbeaten in six games, thanks to swashbuckling attacking play. It's also worth remembering that Mark Robinson took over after a nightmare spell that yielded just two points from a possible 33. Now the challenge for our Head Coach and his players will be to ensure that next season is not about mere survival, something that has been a struggle in every campaign since promotion in 2016.
Mark Robinson made two changes to our starting 11 after the thrilling midweek draw against Rochdale. Ryan Longman was handed a recall to the side with Cheye Alexander also back in from the start, the pair replacing Ayoub Assal and Luke O'Neill. Both sides came into it seeking a result for different reasons with Wimbledon's League One place for next season still unconfirmed heading into this game and Pompey chasing a play-off place. The frantic start suggested there was plenty at stake. Portsmouth had a half chance within two minutes, but Ronan Curtis shot over the crossbar. However, Wimbledon wasted no time going through the gears as an attacking force, showing just why 17 goals had been scored in just six games.
As so often this season, Joe Pigott acted as the catalyst, winning the ball and linking up well with his strike partner Ollie Palmer, but our top scorer’s cross was cut out. Young midfield talent Jack Rudoni was heavily involved early on, shooting wide from close-range after getting on the end of a cross by Cheye Alexander, before forcing Portsmouth keeper Craig MacGillivray into a fine save with a fierce shot from outside the area. Longman was also denied by the Pompey keeper after winning the ball himself in the penalty area.
It was certainly not against the run of play when we took the lead in the 22nd minute and it was that man Pigott on the scoresheet again. A header by Ben Heneghan was deflected by a Portsmouth player into the path of Pigott and that meant he was onside. Our top scorer needed no second invitation to power through on goal and with defenders appealing for offside he struck a fine angled drive from the right that left the keeper with no chance. That appeared to be the perfect platform for the Dons to go on and do further damage after opening up their opponents with impressive attacking play, but Pompey struck back barely 60 seconds later. The visitors produced a slick move down their right and when the cross came in it was slotted home by Ronan Curtis at the back post.
Despite the equaliser, Wimbledon continued to be on the front foot, going forward at every opportunity and great play by Ryan Longman set-up Pigott, who struck a fine effort that was going in, but it was deflected out for a corner. It was a fortunate escape for Portsmouth and it showed that the Dons were still a big threat in this game. However, this game turned on two goals in quick succession before the break by Lee Brown. His first came in the 45th minute after a slick move down Portsmouth’s left that ended with Brown firing home emphatically past Nik Tzanev. Worse was to come from a Dons perspective as Brown pounced on a defensive lapse. Cheye Alexander initially intercepted a through ball, but Longman failed to clear the danger, and the ball was worked to Brown, who struck home with the outside of his left boot.
Wimbledon certainly had a mountain to climb in the second-half, but there was almost a way back into this game seconds into the second-half when a good cross from the right by Alexander set-up Pigott in the box, but his header was wide of the target. Both sides had chances in the second-half. Substitute Ayoub Assal was quick to make an impact after he came on before the hour and he had a shot well saved after fine approach play by Pigott. However, Ryan Williams shot just wide after good play by Marcus Harness and John Marquis shot off target.
The Dons had to play the last 14 minutes with 10 men as Heneghan was injured and no more substitutes were permitted. With news filtering through that all of our relegation rivals were behind, Wimbledon’s efforts on the pitch were of less relevance in the grand scheme of things. However, a heavy defeat would not have been welcome in any circumstances and Tzanev did brilliantly to prevent further damage, coming out of his goal superbly to stop Marquis, who had gone clear through. Though the final whistle signalled a 3-1 defeat, Wimbledon’s superb form in the past few weeks had certainly deserved to stay in League One.
AFC Wimbledon: Nik Tzanev, Alex Woodyard, Will Nightingale, Cheye Alexander, Ollie Palmer (Ayoub Assal), Jack Rudoni (Shane McLoughlin), Nesta Guinness-Walker, Ben Heneghan, George Dobson (Jaakko Oksanen), Ryan Longman, Joe Pigott.