By Chris Slavin
A first-half goal from Jack Sowerby condemned AFC Wimbledon to defeat in a match that was barely playable due to the conditions.
The 1-0 win for Fleetwood was secured in a match that was far from conducive to good football. Wimbledon fashioned decent opportunities to equalise in the second-half, but it was very difficult to put together sustained pressure in the conditions. Referee Charlie Breakspear had a look at the pitch, particularly midway through the second-half when the rollers were ordered to come on, but the game was allowed to continue.
Neal Ardley made three changes to his starting line-up after the narrow defeat at Shrewsbury with one of those including a recall for Dean Parrett, who had not started since October due to injury. Tom Soares and Egli Kaja were also restored to the side with George Francomb, Andy Barcham, and Jimmy Abdou having to settle for places on the bench.
On a very heavy pitch due to the rain-sodden conditions, Wimbledon made a decent start and Harry Forrester struck a decent effort that took a wicked deflection, but Fleetwood keeper Alex Cairns was just able to claim it. Lyle Taylor also headed just wide after getting on the end of a long ball. Players from both sides really struggled to put any moves together during the early exchanges, but Fleetwood started to master the conditions as the first-half wore on. George Long was forced to make a fine save to stop Ashley Hunter's blast from finding the net. Shortly afterwards, a very good Fleetwood move ended with Jack Sowerby trying a curler that just missed the far post. The pressure paid off for Fleetwood in the 22nd minute. Wimbledon's attempts to hold possession were not helped by the elements and Fleetwood took full advantage, switching the play to Sowerby on the left and he finished superbly.
Wimbledon responded well to the setback with Egli Kaja catching the eye with his runs down the right. The Dons academy product came so close to an equaliser when he struck a powerful angled drive from the right that flashed just wide of the far post. Kaja also put over a lovely cross that just evaded everyone in the box. Wimbledon's best chance of the half fell for Lyle Taylor, who got on the end of a well delivered free-kick by Dean Parrett, but his acrobatic volley was wide of the target.
Fleetwood threatened to double the advantage just before half-time when Paddy Madden headed over from close-range. That was a relief for Wimbledon as a second goal just before the interval would have been tough to come back from. With conditions worsening, it was not surprising that referee Charlie Breakspear took another close look at the pitch, but he decided the game was fine to resume.
Wimbledon attempted to up the tempo at the start of the second-half and there was certainly more of a threat from the Dons. During a good spell of pressure just before the hour, Deji Oshilaja almost found a way through, but the ball fell for Taylor and his fine strike was tipped around the post by Cairns. With the pitch getting increasingly worse, there was a spell just after the hour that was farcical. Wimbledon's attempts to put passing moves together were increasingly prevented by the surface water on the pitch. One pass from Liam Trotter stopped in a puddle, signalling groans from the Dons fans. A contribution shortly afterwards from Trotter almost brought about a completely different response when he tried a 30-yard effort that flashed over the crossbar.
In an effort to see the game through to its conclusion, referee Charlie Breakspear ordered the rollers onto the pitch with groundsmen going over the areas with the most surface water. After a delay of a few minutes, the two teams were back on and Wimbledon had chances to equalise. Taylor fired over the crossbar with a very presentable opportunity, before Kaja struck a powerful effort that Cairns did well to parry. With 10 minutes to go, Neal Ardley made a change with Paul Robinson entering the fray for Dean Parrett. With the intention of going more direct, Robinson was handed an unorthodox forward role.
With five minutes left, Andy Barcham was handed a chance to make a difference with Forrester making way. It was proving difficult to break down a stubborn Fleetwood defence, but there was a hint of a chance when Taylor delivered a searching cross in Robinson's direction, but it was just cleared behind before he could get there. Though the Dons exerted late pressure, no equaliser was forthcoming and the Easter Monday match at Doncaster Rovers now has added significance.
AFC Wimbledon: George Long, Barry Fuller, Jon Meades, Deji Oshilaja, Will Nightingale, Dean Parrett (Paul Robinson), Tom Soares, Liam Trotter, Harry Forrester (Andy Barcham), Lyle Taylor, Egli Kaja.
Pic credit: Stephen Wright, Pro Sports Images.