By Chris Slavin
AFC Wimbledon's much-improved display ended in frustration today with substitute Lee Novak striking a late equaliser for Scunthorpe.
Will Nightingale's brilliant header appeared to have earned Wimbledon a vital victory, but it ended 1-1. Despite Scunthorpe's late pressure, it was a game Wimbledon dominated for long spells, particularly during an impressive first-half. Indeed, it was Wimbledon's best performance for some time, but it was just not enough to claim all three points.
Neal Ardley decided to select an unchanged squad after the narrow defeat against Fleetwood. Though Lyle Taylor was the lone striker, there was plenty of potential ammunition in support with Dean Parrett, Harry Forrester and Egli Kaja all seeking to join him in attack at every opportunity. Wimbledon supporters created a cracking atmosphere around the stadium right from the first whistle, singing the manager's name and recognising the significance of today's game.
Wimbledon burst forward from the outset and a first corner of the game created havoc in the box. Dean Parrett delivered it to the back post, but Will Nightingale was just unable to apply the finishing touch. However, there was not long to wait for the opener – and what a goal it was too. This time Nightingale made no mistake, rising highest in the box to meet Harry Forrester's cross and the power of the header left Scunthorpe keeper Matt Gilks with no chance.
The goal so early was exactly what everyone connected with AFC Wimbledon had been craving after a barren run in front of goal recently. It could have got even better with Wimbledon's next attack when Forrester struck a delightful effort that thudded off the crossbar. Seconds later, Parrett had the ball in the back of the net, but it was ruled out for offside. The high tempo start had Scunthorpe camped in their own half and Lyle Taylor did well to get in behind their defence, but his shot was well held by Gilks. With Parrett, Forrester and Kaja all impressing in support of Taylor, Wimbledon were rampant early on.
It took Scunthorpe until the 20th minute to pose a threat when Rory McArdle headed goalwards, but it was deflected, and Wimbledon managed to scramble it clear. Though Scunthorpe enjoyed more possession in the spell up to half-time, Wimbledon's defence held firm and George Long was untested between the sticks. At the other end, Forrester showed good pace to latch onto a through ball, but he shot wide from an acute angle. With five minutes to go until half-time, Parrett produced a fine run to set-up a shooting opportunity and his rasping 25-yard drive flashed just wide. It was almost 2-0 on the stroke of half-time when lovely hold-up play by Lyle Taylor set-up Liam Trotter and his shot just missed the top corner. The half-time whistle sounded with the score at 1-0, but that definitely flattered Scunthorpe and Wimbledon's very impressive first 45 minutes deserved more.
Scunthorpe had been limited to very little so far, but they did force a couple of early corners at the start of the second-half. Whether they could build on that would depend upon Wimbledon maintaining the same tempo that was so impressive in the first-half. Though Parrett and Wimbledon's other attack-minded players had caught the eye, the performance of Tom Soares had been every bit as important, the holding midfielder protecting the back four with a fine display. By the hour mark, Scunthorpe had not really threatened, but they did finally test George Long when Jordan Clarke tried his luck from outside the area, but the Wimbledon keeper grasped it comfortably.
Though Scunthorpe had been well shackled, it was important that Wimbledon maintained concentration as we entered the final quarter of this game. Wimbledon's second-half performance was in stark contrast to the all-action nature of the first, but the Dons looked defensively sound. Neal Ardley's had men maintained a good defensive shape to stop Scunthorpe's superior possession from having any relevance.
With 16 minutes to go, the manager decided it was time for fresh legs with Andy Barcham's introduction aiming to inject energy into the side. Harry Forrester was the man to make way. There was another change 11 minutes from time with Jimmy Abdou introduced for Dean Parrett, who deservedly earned a standing ovation from Wimbledon supporters for his fine midfield display. The substitutions failed to stop Scunthorpe from netting the equaliser. In truth, they had barely threatened in the whole game, but one incisive attack was enough. Scunthorpe exposed gaps down the Wimbledon right and Duane Holmes put over a delightful cross that substitute Lee Novak stabbed home. It was a completely different game now and Wimbledon needed a fine last-ditch clearance from Deji Oshilaja to cut-out another cross from the left.
With a couple of minutes to go, Lloyd Sam came on for his Wimbledon debut and he showed some promising touches. There was not enough time for Sam to make a meaningful impact, apart from a free-kick against the wall. Both sides had to settle for a point after six minutes of injury-time. In the circumstances, a point was better than none, but it had seemed for so long that Wimbledon were on course for a vital win.
AFC Wimbledon: George Long, Barry Fuller, Jon Meades, Deji Oshilaja, Will Nightingale, Dean Parrett (Jimmy Abdou), Tom Soares, Liam Trotter, Harry Forrester (Andy Barcham), Lyle Taylor, Egli Kaja (Lloyd Sam).
Pic credit: Matt Redman, Pro Sports Images.