By Chris Slavin
AFC Wimbledon sealed survival in League One by extending the unbeaten run to six matches with a battling display at Doncaster Rovers tonight.
It was certainly not pretty, but no one in blue and yellow cared about the manner in which the 0-0 draw was achieved. The 482 travelling Dons celebrated with all of the players and management after the final whistle at the Keepmoat Stadium.
It was a tribute to all of the hard work put in by everyone connected with the club, in particular during the last six matches.
Neal Ardley made just one change to his starting line-up after the impressive 1-1 draw at Wigan on Saturday with fit-again Jimmy Abdou restored to the side in place of Harry Forrester. Setting out for at least a point to seal League One survival, Wimbledon started well at the Keepmoat Stadium. Lyle Taylor won a free-kick in a promising position just outside the area early on, but Callum Kennedy's shot was straight at the wall and Dean Parrett drove the rebound over the bar. In the first 25 minutes Wimbledon had a fair share of possession, but creating chances proved to be difficult. However, a good move ended with Barry Fuller beating the full-back well and sending over a cross that picked out Joe Pigott, but he headed straight at Doncaster keeper Ian Lawlor.
Doncaster offered very little threat in the first half an hour and the only time they did create anything of note was when Matty Blair and John Marquis combined to set-up Issam Ben Khemis, but he fired over the crossbar. As the first half wore on, Doncaster started to get more on the ball with Wimbledon forced to defend deeper. Deji Oshilaja showed his defensive qualities once again with a diving header to cut out a dangerous cross, but the pressure was nowhere near the levels of what Wimbledon had to withstand at Wigan on Saturday.
With four minutes left of the first-half, Wimbledon put together a lovely move that resulted in a near miss from Jon Meades. Following six or seven passes, the ball was worked to Andy Barcham on the left and his pull-back found Meades, who tried his luck with a fierce drive that flashed just wide. In a first-half of few chances, neither keeper was really tested and the first-half had been in stark contrast to the high intensity of the game at Wigan on Saturday. However, the 0-0 half-time score-line meant that Wimbledon were halfway towards sealing League One survival.
Doncaster attempted to up the tempo at the start of the second-half and Darius Charles made an impressive last-ditch block to stop a cross causing damage. However, Wimbledon came close to breaking the deadlock shortly afterwards when George Long almost claimed another assist. The goalkeeper's clearance fell nicely once again for Lyle Taylor, who had his volley deflected just wide. That was not the signal for Wimbledon to grab the game by the scruff of the neck though and Doncaster exerted a spell of pressure. First, a free-kick was swung in and Tom Anderson headed it on for Marquis, but Long reacted well to save. Then Doncaster substitute Rodney Kongolo fired just wide from an acute angle.
At this stage, Wimbledon needed to show the defensive resilience that was so important at Wigan. The Dons defence was well protected by Jon Meades and Abdou with both midfielders having effective games in the centre of the park and Parrett also doing his defensive duties. Long had to stay alert just after the hour when he got down well to a 25-yard shot from Ben Whiteman wide. With 64 minutes on the clock, Neal Ardley decided to make a change with Kwesi Appiah introduced up front in place of Joe Pigott. It failed to change the pattern of the second-half with Doncaster continuing to come forward and Wimbledon defending deep. The manager made another change 15 minutes from time with Harry Forrester on to face his former club in place of Dean Parrett.
With 14 minutes to go, substitute Appiah had a half chance to get the goal Wimbledon really wanted when he hooked just over from close-range after getting on the end of Forrester's header on. The Dons had an even better chance with six minutes left and it was Appiah again. Taylor just failed to reach Jimmy Abdou's cross, but the ball fell for Appiah, who struck it well, but it was deflected just wide.
Though there was no late winner for Wimbledon, the clean sheet was enough to earn a third season in League One. It was achieved with one game to spare and now everyone can relax for the final game of 2017/18 at home to Bury on Saturday.
AFC Wimbledon: George Long, Barry Fuller, Jon Meades, Deji Oshilaja, Jimmy Abdou, Andy Barcham, Dean Parrett (Harry Forrester), Callum Kennedy, Darius Charles, Lyle Taylor, Joe Pigott (Kwesi Appiah).
Pic credit: Simon Davies, Pro Sports Images.