By Chris Slavin
AFC Wimbledon let a two-goal half-time lead slip against Bury today, but the hard work had already been done by Neal Ardley's men.
The fact that Wimbledon made it seven games unbeaten with the 2-2 draw showed how strongly Wimbledon had ended the season and this final-day result was academic.
Goals from Dean Parrett and Kwesi Appiah had Wimbledon cruising at half-time at 2-0 up, but Bury battled back for a share of the spoils. Wimbledon finished the season in 18th place in League One after sealing survival in midweek at Doncaster.
Neal Ardley made four changes to his starting line-up after the midweek draw at Doncaster, which sealed League One survival with a game to spare. Paul Robinson, Tom Soares, Egli Kaja, and Kwesi Appiah were all recalled with Deji Oshilaja, Jon Meades, Andy Barcham and Joe Pigott having to settle for places on the bench.
With the pressure completely off, Wimbledon came out with plenty of attacking intent and the ultimate reward was earned in just the 12th minute. Bury failed to deal with a long throw-in from Barry Fuller and when it was only half cleared, Dean Parrett rifled home a sumptuous volley that left Bury keeper Joe Murphy with no chance. It was a goal fit for any stage and Parrett gave it the celebrations to match, jumping for joy. Though it was not as important as his dramatic winner at Walsall from the penalty spot, this was a great way get the final-day party going. In response, Bury attempted to conjure up a quick equaliser when Tsun Dai got in a cross that almost picked out George Miller, but Wimbledon just managed to clear it.
At the other end, there was almost another assist for George Long when his clearance fell nicely for Kwesi Appiah, but his powerful volley flashed just wide. At this stage, Wimbledon were dominating, but Bury posted a warning midway through the first-half when Jay O'Shea headed off target after getting on the end of a cross from Ryan Cooney. However, that did not change the flow of this match. With Appiah attempting to get in behind Bury's defence at every opportunity and Kaja showing plenty of energy down the right, Wimbledon were showing plenty of attacking threat. It was almost two when Kaja found space on the right and his fierce drive was just wide.
There was a blow for Wimbledon on the half hour when Lyle Taylor went down in agony from a challenge and he had to be stretchered off. Quite rightly he was given a standing ovation from all around the stadium, Wimbledon supporters full of appreciation for his efforts this season. Despair turned to joy for Dons fans with the advantage doubled just minutes later. Kwesi Appiah pounced on a weak defensive header to go through on goal and his finish was clinical, Murphy left with no chance. At 2-0 up, Wimbledon were cruising, but it needed George Long's intervention to maintain that advantage when he reacted well to deny Miller, who had latched onto a nice ball by Shea. The half-time whistle signalled a job well done so far from AFC Wimbledon.
Wimbledon were unable to maintain the same intensity at the start of the second-half and Bury started to create chances. O'Shea volleyed just over the crossbar, before Long stayed alert to turn away a shot by Zeli Ismail, who had showed a good turn of pace to go clean through. The game was held up by another serious injury just before the hour when a clash of heads resulted in Ryan Cooney having to be stretchered off and supporters from both clubs applauded him off. Neal Ardley made his first change during that stoppage with Andy Barcham introduced for Kwesi Appiah.
Bury halved the deficit in the 67th minute with a well-taken goal from Neil Danns. George Long was only able to half clear a ball into the box and Danns took full advantage with a superbly flighted chip that found the top corner with Tom Soares unable to stop it. Now it was a different game and Greg Leigh shot wide as Bury attempted to equalise. Wimbledon made another change to try and regain the momentum with Lloyd Sam introduced for Egli Kaja. Wimbledon almost restored the two-goal advantage when Andy Barcham struck a powerful effort from outside the box that thudded against the crossbar and away to safety.
Despite being just inches away from marching back into a two-goal lead, Wimbledon conceded a second just minutes later. George Long made a brilliant save to stop Bury equalising, but George Miller headed home the corner emphatically. Wimbledon had paid the price for a second-half display that lacked the fluency of the first 45 minutes, but the game had been played with a freedom that would have been much less so if there had been something to play for. Thankfully, the Dons had already done enough to stay up before today's game. A late winner just eluded Wimbledon when substitute Lloyd Sam's lovely lob was superbly saved by Murphy. It would have been a nice way to end the season, but the main objective of staying in League One was all that really mattered in the final reckoning.
AFC Wimbledon: George Long, Barry Fuller, Callum Kennedy, Paul Robinson, Darius Charles, Dean Parrett, Tom Soares, Jimmy Abdou, Egli Kaja (Lloyd Sam), Lyle Taylor (Joe Pigott), Kwesi Appiah.
Pic credit: Matt Redman, Pro Sports Images.