AFC Wimbledon rounded off the season by matching a Lincoln City side who will contest the end of season play-offs.
Though the 0-0 draw was low in entertainment value, it was yet another example of the impressive progress made by Wimbledon since Mark Robinson took over. We've been beaten just six times in 21 matches since Robbo inherited the reins and during the dark days of January this kind of result would have been beyond us against a team who could be playing Championship football next season.
Heading into this game with League One football secured for another season was a real comfort for all followers of Wimbledon. And the outcome 90 minutes later suggested that Wimbledon are made of much stronger stuff these days, digging in to nullify one of the division's leading lights. The form shown in recent weeks has suggested that next season will be about much more than just staying up.
Mark Robinson made two changes to his starting line-up for this final game of the 2021/22 League One season. One of those was enforced with Ben Heneghan ruled out due to a hamstring injury and that meant a recall for Paul Kalambayi. Cheye Alexander also returned to the starting line-up in place of Nesta Guinness-Walker. There was a notable inclusion on the substitutes’ bench for us with Terell Thomas part of a league match day squad for the first time since January.
The Dons were aiming to mark a first visit to Lincoln since 1984 with a victory, our former player and manager Glyn Hodges having scored the winner in that previous match here 37 years ago. Wimbledon made a bright start today, creating the first chance in the 14th minute. A lovely Dons move ended with Ollie Palmer producing a smart back heel that picked out Jack Rudoni, who struck a fierce shot on goal, but it was well saved by Lincoln keeper Alex Palmer. Wimbledon enjoyed plenty of possession in the first 20 minutes, Alex Woodyard and George Dobson seeing a lot of the ball at the heart of midfield. Woodyard was required to show his defensive qualities against his old club when he got back well to cut out a cross by Morgan Rogers, and Nik Tzanev was coolness personified from the subsequent corner as he gathered it with ease.
Lincoln’s best opportunities in the first half an hour came through quick breaks, as they attempted to catch out Wimbledon with their pacy attackers. Brennan Johnson was at the heart of Lincoln’s forward threat and he got in behind to latch onto a clever through ball by Morgan Rogers, but Tzanev was quick off his line and saved well to keep Wimbledon level. At the other end, Ayoub Assal made one lung bursting run deep into Lincoln’s final third, but he was stopped in his tracks before he could get a cross into out forwards. That summed up Wimbledon’s attacking efforts in the first-half as there was plenty of promise, but a lack of cutting edge against a well drilled Lincoln defence. The hosts had the ball in the back of the net six minutes before half-time through Johnson, but it was correctly ruled out for offside. Wimbledon ended the half by creating a decent chance for George Dobson, but his shot flashed wide.
The Dons started the second-half with a real determination to increase the tempo and put Lincoln on the back foot. Assal showed plenty of bite to win back possession in the home side’s final third and that led to successive corners for Wimbledon. Though neither of those led to chances, at least life was being made more difficult for Lincoln and there was a half chance for Dobson after a lovely cross by O’Neill, but Alex Palmer saved comfortably. Just before the hour came a good chance at the other end for Lincoln, but Johnson fired wide at the back post after a ball was delivered across the face of goal.
With Wimbledon having struggled to build upon that bright start to the second-half, Mark Robinson made his first change with Ryan Longman introduced in the 64th minute for Ollie Palmer, who received a warm round of applause from watching Lincoln officials, who remembered his one-season stay at the club. Shane McLoughlin and Nesta Guinness-Walker were also introduced for Luke O'Neill and Jack Rudoni. With 12 minutes remaining, Tzanev was required to stay alert to deny Lincoln. First, he came out to stop Johnson in his tracks and when the ball rebounded into the path of Jorge Grant the Kiwi international pulled off a fine save.
A stalemate ensued with neither side able to break the deadlock, and a draw was perhaps the fair result on the day. Though this display was far removed from the thrills and spills of some previous performances under Mark Robinson's management, it was further evidence that the Dons will be more of a force in League One next season. It could be a really exciting campaign when our supporters finally get to watch regular football at our spiritual home in Plough Lane.
AFC Wimbledon: Nik Tzanev, Luke O’Neill, Alex Woodyard, Will Nightingale, Cheye Alexander, Ollie Palmer (Ryan Longman), Jack Rudoni, Ayoub Assal, George Dobson (Jaakko Oksanen), Paul Kalambayi, Joe Pigott.