AFC Wimbledon had to settle for a third successive draw after a fantastic strike from Ollie Clarke salvaged a point for Bristol Rovers.
The Dons controlled the first-half and led thanks to a brilliant goal from Joe Pigott, but Clarke’s 25-yarder meant that it ended 1-1. It leaves Wimbledon a point off the fifth from bottom placed team in League One and battling to stay in the division. There was certainly a feeling that Wimbledon had missed a real opportunity after dominating the first-half, but it was a goal of real quality for the equaliser.
Wally Downes made just one change to his starting line-up after last Saturday’s resolute draw at Oxford United. Rod McDonald came back into the side with Terell Thomas having to settle for a place on the bench. Wimbledon headed into this match unbeaten in three matches, but two of those had been draws. The fact that The Dons moved up a place last week with a draw showed how close it was in the battle to stay in League One and Wally’s boys knew that a win would edge the club closer to another season in the third tier of English football.
Considering what was riding on the match – Bristol Rovers were not completely safe themselves – it was a nervy start from both sides. Wimbledon put together a fine move in the seventh minute, which ended with Scott Wagstaff putting over a fine cross that almost picked out Toby Sibbick. At the other end, Rovers danger-man Jonson Clarke-Harris found space on the right, but Will Nightingale did well to block his shot.
It had been a first 20 minutes of little goalmouth action, but the Wimbledon faithful started to raise the decibel levels after Pigott’s goal-bound shot was scrambled clear. Though the subsequent corner came to nothing, it was a sign that Wimbledon were starting to find an attacking edge. That was in evidence in the 22nd minute when the ultimate reward was earned in fine style. Anthony Hartigan picked out Pigott in space on the left, but there was still plenty of work to do for the in-form striker. What followed was a sumptuous strike as Pigott swept the ball over the reach of Rovers keeper Jack Bonham and into the back of the net.
Far from sitting on the 1-0 lead, Wimbledon piled on the pressure and came so close to doubling the advantage just after the half hour mark. Steve Seddon’s powerful header was well saved by Bonham, who was beaten by Wordsworth’s follow-up, but the shot was cleared off the line. As we approached half-time, Rovers had offered little as an attacking force in the first-half, but James Clarke fired a warning shot from 30 yards with his powerful effort flashing just wide. However, the 1-0 lead at half-time far from flattered Wimbledon and it could have been more.
Having surrendered half-time leads at home in recent months, it was going to be a test of Wimbledon’s character in the second-half. Rovers started after the break with a bit more attacking ambition, without really threatening, as Wimbledon held firm in defence. There had been little to trouble Wimbledon for the first 10 minutes of the second-half, but Rovers began to turn the screw as we approached the hour mark. A big chance followed when Rovers managed to get in behind the Wimbledon defence with Gavin Reilly clean through, but Aaron Ramsdale was off his line quickly and he made a superb save to retain the lead.
Wally Downes made his first change in the 64th minute with Michael Folivi entering the fray for Joe Pigott, who deservedly received a standing ovation for his all-action display. Folivi was straight into the action and he almost scored the decisive second when he turned inside and curled just wide of the far post. As the second-half progressed Rovers cranked up the pressure. Ed Upson struck a shot that Ramsdale did well to gather. However, there was absolutely nothing that Ramsdale could do about a wonder strike in the 78th minute. Ollie Clarke let fly with a 25-yard strike that left Ramsdale with no chance of saving it.
With 10 minutes to go, Wimbledon made a double change with Dylan Connolly and Tom Soares replacing Scott Wagstaff and Anthony Hartigan. The Dons responded well to the setback of conceding an equaliser. Folivi had a header well saved and then the substitute almost got on the end of a lovely cross by Seddon. Hanson also came tantalisingly close when he headed just over the crossbar after a fine cross by Rod McDonald.
AFC Wimbledon: Aaron Ramsdale, Will Nightingale, Scott Wagstaff (Dylan Connolly , Anthony Hartigan (Tom Soares), Steve Seddon, James Hanson, Toby Sibbick, Rod McDonald, Paul Kalambayi, Joe Pigott (Michael Folivi), Anthony Wordsworth.
Pic credit: Matt Redman, Pro Sports Images.