By Chris Slavin
Wimbledon defended valiantly at Rochdale today with a resolute display earning what could turn out to be a vital point in the battle to stay up.
Wimbledon’s goalscorer Deji Oshilaja summed up the effort in the 1-1 draw, the centre-back putting his body on the line to defy Rochdale – and he certainly wasn’t the only one. A total of 238 travelling Dons watched Neal Ardley’s men battle for every ball to secure a share of the spoils. Though helped by wastefulness in front of goal from Rochdale, Wimbledon certainly earned a bit of luck with plenty of dogged defending throughout.
Neal Ardley made four changes to his starting line-up with two of those enforced due to injuries. Darius Charles (hip) and Cody McDonald (foot) both missed out and that meant recalls for Will Nightingale and Joe Pigott. Tom Soares and Jon Meades also both came back into the side with Harry Forrester and Andy Barcham having to settle for places on the bench.
Despite the wintry conditions, the pitch at Rochdale, which had been relaid before the FA Cup tie against Spurs, looked fine for a game of football. Wimbledon got off to the perfect start in the seventh minute with Deji Oshilaja opening the scoring. Lyle Taylor’s well-struck free-kick was diverted into Oshilaja’s path and he took full advantage with a clinical finish from close-range. Taylor almost created a second shortly afterwards when he found space on the right and crossed well for Pigott, but his strike partner was just unable to apply a touch at the far post.
It had been a fine start from Wimbledon, but the Dons needed last-ditch defending to stay in front. Following a save by George Long, the ball rebounded into the path of Andrew Cannon, who looked certain to score, but Oshilaja threw his body in the way to block it. Shortly afterwards, Long was required to be at his best when he saved brilliantly to deny Ryan Delaney. Wimbledon did threaten when Taylor’s corner found Nightingale and his header was met by Meades, but he was only able to find the grateful arms of Lillis. However, Rochdale did find an equaliser in the 25th minute when Stephen Humphrys took the ball down and set-up Cannon, who tried his luck with a shot that took a deflection and looped over George Long.
As the first-half progressed, Rochdale pressure was starting to build and Wimbledon were thankful that Humphrys headed over from close range after getting to a corner first. On the stroke of half-time, Wimbledon just managed to survive when Tom Soares cleared off the line to deny Rochdale captain Ian Henderson. The hosts had another great chance before the break when Cannon sent over a dangerous cross that picked out Humphrys, but his header from close-range was over. Wimbledon had defended well to remain on level terms at half-time, but Rochdale had certainly not made the most of their opportunities.
The second-half started with Rochdale continuing to push forward, but Wimbledon held firm. When Humphrys did manage to find space for a shot, his effort was well saved by Long once again. Just before the hour, Rochdale had another good chance when good play by Callum Camps set-up an opportunity for Henderson, but he headed over the crossbar.
With an hour gone, Neal Ardley decided to make a double change. Andy Barcham and Harry Forrester were introduced with Jimmy Abdou and Pigott the men to make way. Forrester was straight into the thick of the action and he did well to meet a cross by Taylor, but his shot was deflected over and no corner kick was given. The changes certainly gave Wimbledon a greater share of possession, limiting Rochdale’s threat. Oshilaja also played a very big part, showing his steel at the back with another impressive defensive display, alongside Nightingale, who made a fine return to first-team action. There was relief for Wimbledon though in the 74th minute when Done reached a through ball before Long and flicked across goal, but Henderson was just unable to get there.
Rochdale piled on the pressure in the latter stages with Wimbledon struggling to get the ball out of the defensive third. The hosts forced a free-kick that Camps struck from 20 yards against the wall and Wimbledon just managed to scramble the ball clear. Wimbledon just managed to survive three minutes from time when Humphrys curled a free-kick against a post. That turned out to be Rochdale’s final chance and it was very much a hard earned point on the road for Wimbledon.
AFC Wimbledon: George Long, Barry Fuller, Deji Oshilaja, Will Nightingale, Jon Meades, George Francomb, Liam Trotter, Tom Soares, Jimmy Abdou (Harry Forrester), Lyle Taylor, Joe Pigott (Andy Barcham).
Pic credit: Simon Davies, Pro Sports Images.