By Chris Slavin
AFC Wimbledon slipped to a second successive league defeat this afternoon with clinical finishing from Fleetwood's Devante Cole proving to be the difference between the two sides.
A 2-0 full-time score-line was harsh on Wimbledon in terms of overall play and chances, but the Dons paid the price for failing to take their opportunities. In contrast, Cole was ruthless in his finishing, making the most of the half chances that came his way as Fleetwood made it three wins out of three with victory at Highbury Stadium.
Neal Ardley made two changes to his starting line-up after the defeat against Shrewsbury. The manager once again showed his faith in seventeen-year-old Anthony Hartigan with the midfielder coming in for his full league debut in place of Dean Parrett. Lyle Taylor was also handed a recall with Kwesi Appiah having to settle for a place on the bench.
On a blustery day at Highbury Stadium, close to the Fylde coast, Wimbledon made a bright start. Jimmy Abdou tried his luck from 25 yards in the fourth minute and Fleetwood goalkeeper Alex Cairns was grateful that it came straight at him. Then good pressing from Wimbledon in the corner won possession and a cross from Abdou was well delivered, but Taylor just failed to get on the end of it. There was also a promising moment for Wimbledon when Andy Barcham charged into the area after receiving a throw-in from Callum Kennedy and his cut-back was latched onto by Cody McDonald, but he shot into the side-netting from an acute angle.
Wimbledon's early promise counted for little when Fleetwood grabbed the lead with their first effort at goal. Jordy Hiwula was allowed to stride towards the area, before finding Devante Cole in space on the left in space and he cut inside, before unleashing a lovely curler that found the top corner. It was all too easy from a Wimbledon perspective with no challenge coming in, albeit there was no disputing the quality of the strike. Falling behind did produce a positive response from Wimbledon with Neal Ardley's men having a good spell before half hour elapsed. A good move ended with Barcham threatening to run through on goal, but the referee failed to play advantage after blowing for a foul on McDonald. The subsequent free-kick was clipped in for Deji Oshilaja to latch onto, but his shot was charged down.
With the Dons winning a flurry of corners, plenty of pressure was put on Fleetwood with George Francomb delivering quality crosses into the box. A short delivery picked out Oshilaja 12 yards out, but he failed to get a proper connection on his shot. Francomb also put a searching ball in from the left, but no one was there to get on the end of it. Based on overall play, there had been nothing between the two sides, with that one decisive strike from Cole as Fleetwood's only first-half effort on goal. The half-time score of 1-0 was not really a reflection of the game so far, but Wimbledon had lacked that clinical edge after having plenty of possession.
The second-half started with Wimbledon put under pressure, but standing firm at the back. The Dons almost fashioned a chance after Hartigan found Kennedy on the left and his lovely cross just eluded McDonald at the far post. Hartigan grew into the game as it progressed, the impressive young midfielder starting to orchestrate Wimbledon's best moves. A defence-splitting pass from Hartigan put Taylor through, but he took too long to get his shot off and was crowded out, Francomb only able to divert the follow-up into the hands of Cairns.
Just when Wimbledon were starting to get more ambitious in search of an equaliser, a second goal arrived for Fleetwood in the 57th minute. Cole found space in behind Fuller on the Fleetwood left, before cutting inside and beating Long with a smart chip. The 2-0 lead flattered Fleetwood, but the Dons now had a mountain to climb to turn it around. However, just minutes later, the deficit was almost halved when Francomb's well delivered free-kick picked out McDonald, but his header crashed off the crossbar. Paul Robinson and Hartigan both had goal-bound efforts blocked as Wimbledon threatened to get back into it.
Neal Ardley made two substitutions in quick succession after the hour with Kwesi Appiah and Liam Trotter entering the fray for McDonald and Hartigan. Wimbledon continued to search for a way back into the match, but Appiah and Taylor both had efforts blocked after Fuller had crossed from the right. Wimbledon's best chance to get back into it came with 10 minutes left when Barcham picked out Taylor through the middle, but his shot rolled agonisingly wide of the far post. All hope of getting back into it was effectively over after that and it means that Wimbledon's next match – at home to Doncaster Rovers – will assume greater importance.
AFC Wimbledon: George Long, Barry Fuller, Deji Oshilaja, Paul Robinson, George Francomb, Jimmy Abdou, Cody McDonald (Kwesi Appiah), Andy Barcham, Callum Kennedy, Anthony Hartigan (Liam Trotter), Lyle Taylor.
Pic credit: Simon Davies, Pro Sports Images.