By Chris Slavin
It was a tale of two penalties at Fratton Park today with Brett Pitman's 72nd minute spot-kick proving to be decisive.
Lyle Taylor had earlier fired Wimbledon level from 12 yards to the joy of 728 travelling Dons supporters, but it ended in a 2-1 win for Portsmouth with Barry Fuller adjudged to have brought down Pitman as they battled for a cross. In a game of few chances, Portsmouth had led 1-0 at half-time through a goal just before the break by Ben Close, who cracked home emphatically from just outside the box.
Following hot on the heels of Saturday's impressive win against Bradford, Neal Ardley decided to select an unchanged team at Fratton Park. Wimbledon had a great opportunity to build momentum after that victory in just the second minute. Tom Soares sent through a lovely defence-splitting pass for Cody McDonald to run onto, but he shot wide, the Dons striker slipping in the process of attempting to beat Portsmouth keeper Luke McGee. At the other end, Matt Clarke got on the end of a free-kick and headed just wide, but the flag was up for an infringement.
With Tom Soares, Liam Trotter and Jimmy Abdou getting on the ball a lot in midfield, Wimbledon dominated possession in the first 20 minutes. The Dons had to be mindful of quick Portsmouth breaks though and Dons keeper George Long stayed alert to grasp a fierce drive from Conor Chaplin. The signs looked encouraging for Wimbledon in the opening quarter of this match with McDonald, in particular, looking sharp up front. Darius Charles put him through once again in the 21st minute, but the flag was up for offside. Portsmouth seemed happy to sit deep, offering Wimbledon the challenge of breaking them down, while attempting to break quickly.
As we approached the half hour mark, Wimbledon came under a bit of sustained pressure for the first time, and it resulted in Portsmouth's best chance of the match so far. Chaplin got on the end of a loose ball into the box and his shot was diverted by Jamal Lowe, but George Long reacted quickly to produce another fine save.
The first-half appeared to be tamely heading to a conclusion at 0-0, but there was a sting in the tale for Wimbledon in the final minute of the half. Jon Meades gave the ball away deep in his own half and Ben Close took full advantage by striding into space, before letting fly with a 20-yard drive that left Long with no chance.
Wimbledon started the second-half eager to push on for an equaliser and a big opportunity arrived with a helping hand from Portsmouth. Christian Burgess handballed in the area and referee Craig Hicks had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Lyle Taylor stepped up and made no mistake with an emphatic strike from 12 yards, before celebrating with the Wimbledon travelling fans in the corner.
Despite the home faithful raising the decibel levels in an attempt to drive their team forward, Wimbledon held firm and maintaining a fair share of possession stopped pressure from building. However, Portsmouth regained the lead in the 72nd minute. Following a deep cross into the box, captain Barry Fuller was adjudged to have fouled Brett Pitman in the box. After protests from several Dons players, Pitman stepped up and beat Long from 12 yards. In truth, neither side had really created a clear-cut chance in open play in the second-half so far.
With 15 minutes to go, Wimbledon came really close to an equaliser. Deji Oshilaja picked out Taylor on the edge of the box and he quickly flicked the ball on for Andy Barcham, who beat his man in style, before striking a shot that just missed the far post. With 12 minutes left, Neal Ardley made an attacking change with Egli Kaja entering the fray for Soares. However, it was difficult for Wimbledon to make an impression against a Portsmouth side now defending in numbers and the hosts held on fairly comfortably in the end. Next up, it's a trip to Gillingham on Saturday when the Dons will be aiming to get back on track in Kent.
AFC Wimbledon: George Long, Barry Fuller, Jon Meades, Deji Oshilaja, Jimmy Abdou, Cody McDonald, Liam Trotter, Andy Barcham, Tom Soares (Egli Kaja), Darius Charles, Lyle Taylor.
Pic credit: Graham Hunt, Pro Sports Images.