By Chris Slavin
AFC Wimbledon slipped to defeat at rock-bottom Bury tonight with Neal Ardley's men paying the price for a lacklustre first-half display.
The Dons produced a much-improved second-half performance and came so close to an equaliser on a number of occasions, but Bury held out for a 2-1 win.
While the away defeat at Rotherham had been a gallant one to a certain extent, this one was tougher to take and a quick response will be required from Wimbledon at home to Northampton on Saturday.
Neal Ardley made a double change to the side that started at Rotherham with Joe Pigott handed his first Wimbledon start after impressive displays as a substitute since joining. Lyle Taylor had to settle for a place on the bench and the other change involved a recall for Jon Meades in place of George Francomb.
In an opening spell dominated by Bury, Harry Bunn forced George Long into a save, but referee Nicholas Barnard blew up for a foul with Danny Mayor aiming to get in for the rebound. The sustained early pressure from Bury continued and five minutes later the Dons keeper saved again, this time to turn away Mayor's header. Bury came even closer when George Miller's pass provided a shooting opportunity for Zeli Ismail, who had his shot saved by Long, and then Wimbledon were relieved to watch Bury captain Neil Danns fire just over. The chances continued to come and only a last-ditch block from Darius Charles stopped Mayor's goal-bound effort from finding the net.
Bearing in mind the incessant early pressure from Bury, it was no surprise when the hosts took the lead. It was a disappointing way to concede with Jon Meades bringing down Mayor just inside the area when there appeared to be little danger. Referee Nicholas Barnard had little hesitation in pointing to the spot and though Long saved the subsequent penalty from Bunn, Miller slotted home the rebound. During an opening spell when George Long was particularly overworked, the Dons keeper did well to hold a shot from Danns.
It took until the 24th minute for Wimbledon to have an effort on goal with Liam Trotter trying a volley from just outside the penalty area that Bury keeper Connor Ripley watched go over the crossbar. However, there was nothing Ripley could do to prevent Wimbledon equalising in the 28th minute after Bury failed to deal with a corner. Trotter, full of confidence after two goals already since the turn of the year, latched onto the loose ball and tried a shot from just outside the area that appeared to be going just wide, but Bury defender Phil Edwards turned it into his own net.
The goal in the 28th minute provided a lifeline for Wimbledon and Neal Ardley's men sensed there was more goals in it for them after weathering the storm. A lovely move was started by Cody McDonald, who found Andy Barcham and his pass picked out Pigott, but his effort landed in top of the net. Wimbledon looked ready to start turning the screw in the remainder of the first-half, but the hosts regained the lead in the 43rd minute. The Dons had chances to clear the ball inside the box after a move involving Greg Leigh and Miller down the left, but the ball fell nicely for Bunn and his shot found the back of the net with Long's touch unable to stop it. It could have been even worse when Mayor struck a fierce shot that Long just managed to tip wide and Wimbledon were fortunate to just be one down at half-time.
Neal Ardley made a double change at half-time with Lyle Taylor and George Francomb introduced for McDonald and Robinson. The second-half opened with Wimbledon attempting to go at Bury, Andy Barcham threatening to take the game to the hosts. One good move ended with the winger firing over a cross that no one in the box was able to reach. At the other end, Bury continued to cause problems down the Wimbledon left and Leigh put a cross over that Long was required to stop with Miller waiting to tap home.
As we approached the hour mark, Wimbledon were starting to dominate this game. Meades put over a lovely cross that Tom Soares was only able to head into the hands of Ripley. Then Francomb sent over a cracking delivery from the right that picked out Barcham, but he was unable to get his shot off. With an hour gone, Neal Ardley made his final change with Harry Forrester introduced for Soares, who was given a cracking ovation by the supporters of his former club.
Wimbledon really pushed on during the final 20 minutes, but an equalising goal proved to be elusive. The Dons did everything but score with the next two attacks, Bury surviving by the skin of their teeth. Lovely play by Pigott picked out Barcham on the left and his cross found Forrester, who produced a glancing header that came back off the inside of the far post. Minutes later it needed Ripley to make a brilliant finger-tip save to stop a header from Meades after a well-taken corner by Taylor. With five minutes remaining, Wimbledon came so close when Francomb's cross picked out Trotter at the near post, but his flick flashed into the side netting.
Wimbledon piled on the pressure, but the equaliser just wouldn't come. Immediately after six minutes of injury-time was signalled, Forrester's shot was cleared off the line. Despite more late pressure with Wimbledon camped in the Bury half, the hosts survived to earn a victory that keeps their hopes of staying up alive.
AFC Wimbledon: George Long, Jon Meades, Deji Oshilaja, Paul Robinson (George Francomb), Jimmy Abdou, Cody McDonald (Lyle Taylor), Liam Trotter, Andy Barcham, Tom Soares (Harry Forrester), Darius Charles, Joe Pigott.
Pic credit: Simon Davies, Pro Sports Images.