By Chris Slavin
AFC Wimbledon produced an excellent away display to earn a valuable point at League One leaders Wigan.
Paul Cook's side were roared on by a Wigan support eager to watch their side seal the title, but Joe Pigott's superbly taken goal threatened to earn a shock win for Wimbledon. Though the Dons had to settle for a 1-1 draw in the end, it was a brilliant performance from Neal Ardley's men. Full of resilience and plenty of battling qualities throughout, Wimbledon were full value for the point and worked tirelessly to stop Wigan conjuring up a late winner.
A total of 661 travelling Dons provided great support on the day for Wimbledon and they watched their team put in a resolute display.
Neal Ardley initially made two changes to his starting line-up with Tom Soares and Callum Kennedy both recalled in place of injured midfield pair Jimmy Abdou and Liam Trotter. However, an injury to Soares in the warm-up meant that Harry Forrester was drafted in from the start with Lloyd Sam, who was not in the original squad, on the substitutes' bench. With Kennedy taking the left-back berth, it meant that Jon Meades filled the gap in midfield due the injuries.
Both sides came into this match with plenty to play for, the hosts aiming to seal the League One title and Wimbledon searching for vital points in the battle to stay up. Wigan made the brighter start and created the first chance when Callum Elder put over a good cross from the left, but Gary Roberts shot over the crossbar. However, Wigan did not have it all their own way in the opening exchanges and Wimbledon responded by putting together a good move that ended with Barry Fuller crossing to the near post for Forrester, but he flicked the ball just wide. At the other end, George Long denied Michael Jacobs, but the flag was up for offside.
By the midway point of the first-half, Wigan had offered very little threat and Wimbledon marched into the lead in the 24th minute. Lyle Taylor exploited a defensive lapse and kept his composure to slide through a lovely pass for Joe Pigott and he finished expertly with a low finish that left Wigan keeper Christian Walton with no chance. With confidence soaring in the Wimbledon ranks, it was almost 2-0 shortly afterwards. A lovely ball by Forrester picked out Dean Parrett and he raced through, before turning onto his right foot and striking a good effort that Walton did well to tip over the crossbar.
Taking on the potential Champions, it was expected that Wimbledon would be put under plenty of pressure, but that certainly didn't materialise during the rest of the first-half. Only a Dan Burn shot threatened an equaliser before the break, but George Long did well to save the close-range effort that came about from a corner. The half-time 1-0 score-line signalled a job well done by Wimbledon so far and it was a fully deserved lead.
A power-packed 45-yard run from captain Barry Fuller at the start of the second-half provided an example of just what Wimbledon were going to need to hold onto the advantage. His run eventually ended with Burn conceding a corner and Wigan keeper Walton was forced into a routine save to deny Kennedy's curler after it was only half cleared. The hosts created a good chance in the 52nd minute with a move down the left, but Will Grigg, who scored the winner against Manchester City in the FA Cup earlier this season, shot over from close range.
Pressure from the hosts started to build around the hour mark. Though they struggled to create clear-cut chances, the Dons were fortunate when a corner from Gary Roberts was missed by George Long and the ball was just deflected wide. Long also did well to deny substitute Nick Powell. A sign of Wigan's increasing desperation came with appeals for a penalty against Deji Oshilaja, who had merely stood his ground under pressure. However, Wigan did earn an equaliser in the 69th minute. A well-worked moved ended with Michael Jacobs finding space and he struck a shot that was deflected past Long. Unsurprisingly, the goal made it a completely different game. Long made a fine point-blank save to deny Ryan Colclough, before making an even better stop with Wigan's next attack. Will Grigg's volley looked destined for the top corner, but Long reacted superbly to tip it over the crossbar.
The Wigan pressure continued in the last 15 minutes and many home supporters thought their team had scored again, but Colclough's shot had flashed into the side-netting. Neal Ardley made a double change with 11 minutes remaining. Kwesi Appiah and Egli Kaja were both introduced for Taylor and Barcham. Shortly afterwards, Alfie Egan came on as substitute for Jon Meades, who was injured. During six minutes of injury-time Wigan piled forward, but Wimbledon stayed resolute in defence to defy the Champions-elect. What a performance from Wimbledon and it was a great way to move closer to League One survival.
AFC Wimbledon: George Long, Barry Fuller, Jon Meades (Alfie Egan), Deji Oshilaja, Andy Barcham (Egli Kaja), Dean Parrett, Harry Forrester, Callum Kennedy, Darius Charles, Lyle Taylor (Kwesi Appiah), Joe Pigott.
Pic credit: Simon Davies, Pro Sports Images.