Substitute Mark Marshall’s 86th minute strike killed off Wimbledon’s hopes of a second-half fightback against promotion contenders Charlton at The Valley today.
In a game that saw both sides reduced to 10 men, Naby Sarr for Charlton and Mitch Pinnock for Wimbledon, the hosts scored two goals in the last half an hour to earn a 2-0 victory. With an impressive away following of 1,048 in terrible weather conditions, Wimbledon threatened an equaliser at 1-0 down, but it just wasn’t to be and it meant a first defeat since taking over as manager for Wally Downes.
Wally Downes made three changes from the side that started against Rochdale. Andy Barcham, Anthony Wordsworth, and Terell Thomas all came into the team in place of Jake Jervis, James Hanson, and Rod McDonald.
There was a turning point in this match after just 56 seconds when Naby Sarr was shown a straight red card after a rash challenge on Tennai Watson. In the immediate aftermath of that decision Charlton produced a good response, as they sought to make light of the disadvantage. Tariq Fosu caused plenty of problems down the left flank, but Scott Wagstaff was quick to offer defensive assistance to Tennai Watson. Former Dons striker Lyle Taylor showed threat for the first time when he broke down the right, but Will Nightingale did enough to stop him getting a shot in and his subsequent cross was well gathered by Joe McDonnell.
Despite the one-man advantage, Wimbledon struggled to provide support to Mitch Pinnock, who was ploughing a lone furrow up front. In a rare Dons attack in the first half an hour, Pinnock sent over a superb cross from the right that just eluded everyone in the box. At the other end, Ben Purrington did really well to make a stop a goal-bound effort from Lyle Taylor.
Wimbledon created a first meaningful chance in the 31st minute when Wagstaff did really well down the right and though his cross was half cleared, it fell nicely for Tom Soares, but he shot over the crossbar. In atrocious conditions at The Valley, referee Trevor Kettle made a big decision in the 33rd minute. On a very slippy surface, the man in the middle adjudged that Pinnock had dived under a challenge from Patrick Bauer and he showed a second yellow card to the Wimbledon forward. Pinnock would have been through on goal, so it seemed strange that he would go to ground in such a situation. He had earlier been booked for a late challenge and his red card meant that both sides had to play with 10 men for nearly an hour.
As we approached half-time, Charlton attempted to put Wimbledon under pressure, but stand-in captain Will Nightingale and Terell Thomas coped really well at the heart of defence. As the half-time whistle shrilled, neither side had tested the goalkeeper.
Charlton upped the tempo of their second-half attacks after the restart and Wimbledon had to defend deep in their own half. The hosts created a shooting chance for Ben Reeves less than two minutes into the second-half, but he blazed over the crossbar. Joe Aribo also had a good opportunity, but his effort was also over the crossbar. There was a moment of concern for Wimbledon when Lyle Taylor reached a through ball before McDonnell and his header fell for Aribo, but he volleyed off target.
The pressure was becoming greater as the half wore on and Charlton made the breakthrough on the hour. Nicky Ajose’s cross from the Charlton left was diverted in at the near post with Lyle Taylor, under pressure from Terell Thomas, credited with the goal. Wally Downes responded to that by making a quick change with Jake Jervis introduced for Anthony Hartigan. Tyler Burey was also introduced for the latter stages in place of Wagstaff and the young winger was straight into the action as he produced a direct run down the right that won a corner. At the other end, Wimbledon needed superb goalkeeping from McDonnell to stay in it when he came out of his area and spread himself to stop Ajose rounding him for an open goal.
With 13 minutes remaining, James Hanson was introduced for Andy Barcham as Wimbledon sought a late equaliser. Burey, who impressed after his introduction, twice put in lovely crosses from the right that no one was able to get on the end of. The pressure was building from a Wimbledon perspective and now it was Charlton hanging on defensively.
The Dons pushed forward in a sustained attempt to conjure up a late equaliser, but the game was effectively sealed when Marshall fired home superbly after Wimbledon had given the ball away at the back.
AFC Wimbledon: Joe McDonnell, Tennai Watson, Ben Purrington, Will Nightingale, Terell Thomas, Scott Wagstaff (Tyler Burey), Anthony Hartigan (Jake Jervis), Mitch Pinnock, Andy Barcham (James Hanson), Tom Soares, Anthony Wordsworth.
Pic credit: Matt Redman, Pro Sports Images.