Wimbledon earn a share of the spoils
The Dons showed plenty of fighting spirit on Boxing Day to earn a hard-fought draw after playing with 10 men for 86 minutes.
Paul Robinson was sent off after just four minutes for a professional foul, but Neal Ardley’s men battle resolutely to hold play-off chasers Bristol Rovers to a 0-0 draw.
It was the least Wimbledon deserved in front of a bumper crowd of 4,668, including 806 Rovers fans.
Neal Ardley made two changes to his starting 11 after the draw at Newport with Jake Reeves back in midfield for Christian Toonga and Bayo Akinfenwa preferred to Ade Azeez up front.
All of AFC Wimbledon’s best laid plans were in disarray in just the fourth minute when referee Keith Hill adjudged that Paul Robinson’s challenge on Ellis Harrison was worthy of a red card. It appeared that Robinson had got a touch on the ball 40 yards out and a sending off for a professional foul appeared harsh in this instance.
However, the Dons showed a good response in the circumstances as they came out fighting and pushed Rovers back. Though James Shea was required to come out quickly and deny Matty Taylor, Wimbledon showed plenty of attacking intent in the first half hour. A clear-cut chance so nearly arrived when Jake Reeves looked up and sent through a lovely through ball for Lyle Taylor, but he just failed to reach it. Reeves was bright early on and it was his long throw that fashioned a half chance for Akinfenwa, but he headed wide.
A feature of Wimbledon’s decent start was good link-up play down the left and that so nearly paid off when Jon Meades found Andy Barcham in space and his cross just evaded everyone in the box. There was a scare for Wimbledon when a free-kick from Lee Brown looked like giving Billy Bodin a tap-in, but Shea did well to get a hand to it and divert the ball away from danger. Lyle Taylor showed his quality with a dashing 40-yard run on the break, but Brown got back well to divert his shot for a corner.
With Francomb dropping back into his old position of right-back, Wimbledon dealt effectively with the threat from Rovers and Shea was alert when he was required. The Wimbledon goalkeeper elected to punch when a dangerous ball was swung in by Brown and it turned out to be the right decision. However, it had been far from backs-to-the wall for Wimbledon in the first-half with Rovers struggling to make any attacking impression.
Rovers started the second-half on the front foot, but they struggled to make the most of their extra man. They did come close when Billy Bodin cut inside and curled an effort just wide of the far post. However, Rovers were unable to exert sustained pressure as the Dons worked tirelessly in midfield and up front. None put more effort in than Lyle Taylor, who was a constant menace to Rovers defenders and chased down lost causes. In particular, one of his runs down the left got Wimbledon’s support going as they rallied behind their team.
The Dons were a touch fortunate to survive 25 minutes from time when Shea failed to grasp a deep free-kick from Brown, but Jake Reeves was in the right place to clear it. Wimbledon defended valiantly top stop Rovers making the most of their advantage and a superb last-ditch tackle from captain Barry Fuller summed up the collective effort. Lee Mansell looked favourite to win a race for the ball and march through on goal, but Fuller got back to get in an excellent tackle and the Dons faithful were quick to chant his name.
With 18 minutes left Neal Ardley made his first change as Akinfenwa was replaced by Tom Elliott up front. There was so nearly a chance for Wimbledon to snatch a win against the odds when Francomb swung in a dangerous free-kick from the left, but it just eluded everyone with Karleigh Osborne and Meades so close to it.
Though Rovers pressed in the latter stages, Wimbledon came closest to a winner when Reeves swung over a superb cross from the left that picked out substitute Callum Kennedy, but he headed over the crossbar. However, there was nothing to separate these two sides in the end and a draw was an excellent result for Wimbledon in the circumstances.
AFC Wimbledon: James Shea, Barry Fuller, Paul Robinson, Karleigh Osborne, Jon Meades, Dannie Bulman, Jake Reeves, Andy Barcham (Callum Kennedy), George Francomb, Lyle Taylor (Sean Rigg), Bayo Akinfenwa (Tom Elliott).
Picture credit: Pro Sports Images.