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Wimbledon's fight-back just falls short against league leaders

James Hanson's superb strike threatened a second-half turnaround

13 October 2018

James Hanson’s first Wimbledon goal was just not enough to earn a share of the spoils against table-toppers Portsmouth today.

A spirited second-half display included a fantastic goal from Hanson, but the Dons just failed to conjure up another goal with Pompey earning a 2-1 victory.

Hanson’s goal galvanised Wimbledon after his half-time introduction, the striker performing superbly on his return after injury and a repeat of the second-half display from the team certainly offered promise that there could be more points accrued in the coming weeks.

Neal Ardley made one enforced change to his starting line-up with Scott Wagstaff missing out due to a hamstring injury. That meant a recall for Kwesi Appiah with Jake Jervis switching to a deeper midfield role. Wimbledon came into this match seeking a second home victory of the season against a Portsmouth side unbeaten away from home in the league in 2018/19.

Portsmouth displayed all the confidence expected of a side top of the table in the first 10 minutes. Committing plenty of men forward, Pompey forced a corner in the fourth minute and it needed Joe McDonnell to make a fine save with his legs to stop Tom Naylor’s header finding the back of the net. The attacking momentum continued from the visitors and there was another opportunity shortly afterwards when a cross from the right by Gareth Evans picked out Oliver Hawkins, but his header was too high. Portsmouth came even closer when a long ball from Nathan Thompson caught out Wimbledon and Evans got in behind, but his low shot was once again saved by the feet of McDonnell.

Wimbledon showed signs of coming to life in an attacking sense when Appiah produced a fine run down the right, but his cross to Joe Pigott was too strong. Tom Soares had Wimbledon’s first shot at goal from a free-kick, but Pompey keeper Craig MacGillivray saved comfortably. Jervis also had a half chance after a cross into the box was only half cleared, but MacGillivray held on to his shot well. Despite glimpses of attacking play from Wimbledon, it was sustained threat from Pompey and it was no surprise when the opener came in the 24th minute. A corner was whipped in by Dion Donohue and Naylor was first to it again, but this time his header had just enough on it to find the back of the net. Far from Pompey resting on their laurels, another chance quickly followed with Hawkins set-up by a cross from Lee Brown, but the header was just wide.

It had been a testing first half an hour for Wimbledon with Portsmouth piling forward at every opportunity. The only meaningful save made by MacGillivray in the first third of the game came when Andy Barcham found space just outside the area, but his shot from the left was beaten out by the Pompey keeper. However, that failed to change the pattern of this match with only last-ditch defending stopping Portsmouth from adding to their account. A second goal followed for Pompey in the 31st minute.  Jamal Lowe fed Lee Brown down the left and his cross left Evans with the simple task of slotting home. Wimbledon needed McDonnell to stay in the game shortly afterwards when he pulled off a finger-tip save to stop Naylor’s shot finding the back of the net. Lowe shot wide with another effort, as Pompey ended the half strongly. Following a half when Portsmouth showed all of their promotion credentials, it was going to prove tough for Wimbledon to get back into the game.

Neal Ardley made three substitutions at half-time. James Hanson, Anthony Hartigan, and Will Nightingale were introduced to replace Joe Pigott, Andy Barcham and Tennai Watson. It was clear that Wimbledon were now trying a different approach with balls aimed in the direction of Hanson, who provided something different now for Portsmouth to deal with. The visitors threatened a third goal when Lowe found space in the box, but his back-heel was well saved by McDonnell.

Wimbledon fashioned a great chance to get back into it when Jervis found space on the left and crossed well for Hanson, but he headed just wide. It was tantalisingly close to a goal back and offered encouragement for Wimbledon that there still could be a route back into this match. However, just minutes later the Dons needed a timely intervention from Tom Soares to stay in it when he cleared off the line to stop Matt Clarke’s header finding the back of the net.

With 63 minutes on the clock the match was transformed by a wonderful goal by Hanson. Latching onto a loose ball 25 yards out, the target man turned smartly before striking an unstoppable shot into the top corner. It was the signal for Wimbledon to crank up the pressure and it could have been 2-2 when Jervis got on the end of a cross, but his header was saved by MacGillivray. Then Oshilaja did brilliantly to get down the right flank and send over a cross that Appiah met well, but his header was also saved by the Pompey keeper. With 15 minutes to go, Wimbledon exerted a sustained spell of pressure with Portsmouth retreating deeper and deeper. Appiah pounced on another header on from Hanson, but his powerful goal-bound effort was blocked. Hanson had caused plenty of problems with Portsmouth not really having an answer to his aerial ability and that had resulted in waves of attacks from Wimbledon.

Though Wimbledon attempted to put plenty of pressure on in the latter stages, Portsmouth managed to see out the game very professionally. They had weathered the storm to blunt Wimbledon’s revitalised second-half attack, but Neal Ardley’s men could certainly draw encouragement from the fightback and more of the same is likely to lead to more points.

AFC Wimbledon: Joe McDonnell, Tennai Watson (Will Nightingale), Ben Purrington, Deji Oshilaja, Kwesi Appiah, Jake Jervis, Liam Trotter, Andy Barcham (Anthony Hartigan), Tom Soares, Rod McDonald, Joe Pigott (James Hanson).  

Pic credit: Matt Redman, Pro Sports Images.

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