Andy Barcham's first goal of the season rewarded Wimbledon for a determined second-half fightback in Wally Downes's first match as manager.
The 1-1 draw was deserved for a second 45 minutes full of character from the Dons after falling behind in the first-half. Substitute Barcham fiinished off a nice Wimbledon move in the 70th minute, but the Dons needed Joe McDonnell to make a brilliant save in the last minute.
In his first game in charge, Wally Downes initially made three changes to the side that started last Saturday at FC Halifax. Due to Deji Oshilaja’s ankle injury, there was a recall for Tennai Watson at right-back. Scott Wagstaff was also back in the side for Anthony Wordsworth and James Hanson was preferred to Jake Jervis up front. However, our new manager was forced into a late change to the starting line-up with Pigott suffering an injury in the warm-up and that meant Jervis received a late call-up. Despite being sent off in the midweek Checkatrade Trophy tie at Chelsea, Wordsworth was named on the bench with the club having been told on Friday that suspensions only count in that competition.
Wally Downes had stated his intention to get Wimbledon playing on the front foot with a high-tempo style, but Rochdale made it difficult early on. Good passing resulted in Rochdale establishing most of the possession and Wimbledon had to sit deep and stay resolute in defence. With 15 minutes gone, Will Nightingale, who was named captain on the day, produced a commanding header to clear a dangerous cross, but the ball was worked back to Andrew Cannon, who shot over the crossbar. It had been a struggle for Wimbledon to put sustained pressure together, but there was a promising move in the 22nd minute when Wagstaff sent over a cross from the right that Hanson met, but his shot was over the crossbar.
As we approached the half hour mark, Wimbledon were gradually starting to come into it. Mitch Pinnock sent over a lovely free-kick from the right that Rod McDonald was just unable to reach, before Ben Purrington crossed for Hanson, who headed wide of the target. However, Rochdale continued to have the majority of possession and it was 1-0 to the visitors in the 35th minute. A swift Rochdale break down the Wimbledon left created space for Joseph Rafferty and his cross from the right was scrambled home with Calvin Andrew appearing to get the final touch. The half-time whistle signalled a job well done so far from a Rochdale perspective and the Dons needed more attacking urgency to prise them open.
Wimbledon did start the second-half with much more purpose and there was a great chance to equalise less than a minute in when Jervis sent over a lovely cross from the right that picked out Hanson, but he headed over from close-range. It was much better from Wimbledon at the start of the second-half. The attacking momentum continued and Pinnock sent over a cross from the left that Hanson headed back for Wagstaff, who struck a fine effort that Rochdale keeper Josh Lillis did well to save. Pinnock also swung in another fine delivery from a free-kick that caused problems in the box, but Purrington’s flick was wide. Hanson’s aerial prowess was causing havoc in the box and his presence resulted in a chance for Purrington once again, but his goal-bound shot was blocked.
With an hour gone, Andy Barcham was introduced for Jake Jervis and that turned out to be pivotal in this match. Straight away Barcham was up and down the left flank, showing the energy that has been such a feature of his three years with the club. With 20 minutes to go, Barcham had his first goal of the season to show for his efforts too. It was a lovely goal in its execution with Purrington’s throw-in flicked on by Hanson into the path of Mitch Pinnock and his lay-off was superbly steered home by Barcham. The mood around the Cherry Red Records Stadium was transformed now and it was almost 2-1 shortly afterwards. Barcham found space on the left and his pass picked out Hanson, who was clean through, but his shot was well saved by the legs of Josh Lillis.
Both sides attempted to win it in the latter stages. but it was Rochdale that came closest to snatching victory. In the last minute of normal time, McDonnell reacted superbly to pull of a wonderful finger-tip save from Andrew's header, which was bound for the top corner. However, Wimbledon appeared to have valid claims for a penalty for a challenge in the box on Wagstaff, but the referee was unimpressed. Despite failing to go on and win it, the fightback offered encouragement for Wimbledon in Wally's first game in charge.
AFC Wimbledon: Joe McDonnell, Tennai Watson, Ben Purrington, Will Nightingale, Scott Wagstaff, Anthony Hartigan, Mitch Pinnock, James Hanson, Tom Soares (Anthony Wordsworth), Rod McDonald, Jake Jervis (Andy Barcham).
Pic credit: Matt Redman, Pro Sports Images.