AFC Wimbledon slipped to a frustrating defeat tonight against Bradford City with a first-half penalty from Jack Payne proving to be the difference between the two teams.
The visitors barely created a chance all night until the Dons were chasing the game late on and Wimbledon paid the price for missing three or four gilt-edged opportunities, the Bantams claiming a 1-0 victory at the Cherry Red Records Stadium.
It meant a fourth league defeat at home this season and it makes Saturday’s away match at Plymouth even more important.
Neal Ardley made just one change from the side that defeated Oxford United on Saturday. Andy Barcham had to settle for a place on the bench with Mitch Pinnock recalled to the line-up. Pinnock wasted no time showing his quality with a raking 40-yard pass that picked out Scott Wagstaff on the other flank. Pinnock also showed signs of linking the midfield and attack effectively with his close control and dribbling ability, as Wimbledon made a bright start. Taking on a Bradford side struggling for points, there was an early scare for Wimbledon when right winger Sean Scannell found space inside the box, but his goal-bound shot was well blocked by Ben Purrington.
Wimbledon had a half chance to break the deadlock in the 16th minute when Pinnock curled in a lovely free-kick from the right, but Joe Pigott’s header was wide of the far post. Tom Soares had earlier shot wide from just outside the box, as Wimbledon attempted to turn up the heat on Bradford. Pigott missed a great chance to open the scoring in the 30th minute after Bradford goalkeeper Richard O’Donnell misjudged a ball back to him. Pigott was quick to get on the end of it, but with the angle against him he fired into the side netting. Though it was a tight angle, Pigott had scored from a similar situation at Gillingham and in his current form it was certainly a big chance for him.
At the other end, Bradford offered little in the first half an hour and a shot from outside the area by Lewis O’Brien was comfortably wide. Pinnock threatened to break the deadlock in the 39th minute when he cut inside after receiving a pass from Pigott, but his shot was too high. Wimbledon came close to an opener on the stroke of half-time when Pinnock’s deep corner delivery picked out Tom Soares and he met it with a powerful header, but O’Donnell did well to tip it over the crossbar. With Wimbledon having dominated possession in the first-half, a goal for Bradford in first-half injury time came completely out of the blue. Deji Oshilaja was adjudged by referee Keith Stroud to have brought down George Miller in the box and Bradford substitute Jack Payne converted emphatically from the penalty spot.
A half-time deficit was tough on Wimbledon and Soares attempted to change matters early in the second-half with a well struck shot from outside the area, but it was just over the crossbar. The Dons upped the tempo in a determined effort to earn an equaliser and it almost came in the 57th minute. Pinnock sent over another fine delivery from the left that Jake Jervis met with a powerful downward header. It appeared that Jervis had scored his first Wimbledon goal, but Anthony O’Connor made a brilliant last-ditch clearance off the line. Jervis had impressed with his tireless running up front and he deserved a goal on the night.
With 65 minutes on the clock, Neal Ardley decided it was time for a change with striker Kwesi Appiah introduced for Tennai Watson. That meant a switch of position for Wagstaff, who moved to right-back, where he played for Gillingham last season. There was also a double change in the 73rd minute with Andy Barcham and Anthony Wordsworth replacing Pinnock and Trotter. The Dons had struggled to exert sustained pressure and Bradford started to look comfortable in defending the lead. The visitors threatened to strike an all-important second on the break when substitute David Ball was found in space on the left flank, but his shot was well saved by Joe McDonnell.
Barcham did make a difference when he came on and his fine wing play helped set-up a great chance with 10 minutes to go. Ben Purrington was found in space down the left and his cross picked out Wordsworth eight yards out, but he shot over the crossbar. At the other end, Ball was again denied by McDonnell with gaps opening up at the back due to Wimbledon's desperate search for an equaliser.
Wimbledon appealed that there should have been a penalty in injury-time for a foul on Barcham that he claimed was inside the area, but the referee thought otherwise, and then Appiah headed a great chance over from the subsequent free-kick. It was a difficult defeat in the circumstances and the Dons will be aiming for a quick response at Plymouth on Saturday.
AFC Wimbledon: Joe McDonnell, Tennai Watson (Kwesi Appiah), Ben Purrington, Deji Oshilaja, Scott Wagstaff, Jake Jervis, Mitch Pinnock (Andy Barcham), Liam Trotter (Anthony Wordsworth), Tom Soares, Rod McDonald, Joe Pigott.
Pic credit: Matt Redman, Pro Sports Images.