By Chris Slavin
Two first-half goals defeated AFC Wimbledon tonight in a match that was in stark contrast to that memorable win against Milton Keynes in March.
The 2-0 scoreline did not do justice to a much-improved second-half display from Wimbledon, the best chance coming when Lyle Taylor had a penalty saved. On a night when the home faithful created plenty of noise and really got behind their club, the goals just would not come and Neal Ardley's men ultimately paid the price for costly defensive lapses.
Neal Ardley made just one change to his starting line-up with Will Nightingale's neck injury meaning a return for Paul Robinson at the heart of defence.
Wimbledon started on the front foot with Andy Barcham's direct running down the left causing problems, but the visitors took the lead with their first attack. Ryan Seager reacted first in a packed area to divert a cross from the left past George Long, who had little time to react. Having fallen behind so early, Wimbledon needed a quick response. Hartigan and Barcham both sent in good crosses from the left, but no one was able to get on the end of them. Despite getting into the final third on several occasions in the first half an hour, Wimbledon struggled to create clear-cut opportunities.
A difficult start became even harder for Wimbledon in the 27th minute. A ball in from the left by Scott Golbourne caused all sorts of problems with Wimbledon missing opportunities to clear and Gboly Ariyibi pounced to make it 2-0. There was a further setback for Wimbledon when Kwesi Appiah attempted to reach a through ball from Lyle Taylor, but he went down injured. After receiving treatment, Appiah was forced to go off with Cody McDonald entering the fray.
There was still plenty of noise around the Cherry Red Records Stadium, despite the 2-0 deficit, as the home faithful attempted to really get behind Wimbledon. Captain Barry Fuller did his best to change matters with a storming run down the right and a good cross, but Barcham was unable to get enough on his header. Wimbledon came even closer to getting one back a minute before the break. Dean Parrett sent through a lovely ball over the top that picked out Deji Oshilaja and his looping header bounced off the crossbar and away to safety. It offered encouragement for Wimbledon just before the break and you sensed it could be a completely different game with a goal back.
Wimbledon made a bright start to the second-half and almost halved the deficit not long after the break. Taylor got on the end of a cross from Barcham, but his header produced a finger-tip save from Milton Keynes goalkeeper Lee Nicholls. With the visitors showing plenty of resolution in defence, Wimbledon needed to keep banging on the door for a route back into the match. A lovely ball from Fuller provided a shooting chance for Taylor, but he shot over the crossbar. In a much better second-half display from Wimbledon, the chances kept coming. Barcham got on the end of a cross from Francomb, but he lifted his shot just too high.
A big opportunity to get back into this match arrived in the 64th minute. A cross from Fuller was handled by Golbourne in the box and the referee pointed to the penalty spot. Taylor stepped up and struck a powerful effort, but Nicholls dived to his right to save at full stretch. As Wimbledon piled forward in search of a way back into the match, there was the risk of leaving the door open at the other end. Milton Keynes substitute Robbie Muirhead threatened to make it three with a good header, but George Long did well to tip the ball over.
In the latter stages, Wimbledon continued to press forward and substitute Harry Forrester drove a free-kick over the crossbar. There was a return for Darius Charles near the end after a five-month absence, Neal Ardley going for broke as the defender joined in the attack. However, a final chance was squandered when McDonald's header was saved and it was a night Wimbledon paid the price for defensive lapses and failing to take opportunities at the other end.
AFC Wimbledon: George Long, Barry Fuller, Deji Oshilaja, George Francomb, Paul Robinson (Darius Charles), Liam Trotter, Anthony Hartigan, Dean Parrett (Harry Forrester), Kwesi Appiah (Cody McDonald), Lyle Taylor, Andy Barcham.