AFC Wimbledon failed to build on Kwesi Appiah's first-half opener with Fleetwood coming from behind to take all three points.
Follwing a first-half when Wimbledon produced a resilient display in stormy conditions, Fleetwood hit back in the second-half and eventually earned a 2-1 victory at Highbury Stadium. Though it was a fortuitous winner from Josh Morris, there was no luck about Fleetwood's much-improved second-half display that ended up meriting victory.
Wally Downes made two changes to his starting 11 with one of those enforced as Will Nightingale was ruled out with a knee injury. Mitch Pinnock earned a recall to the side with Kwesi Appiah preferred in attack to Michael Folivi. The Dons were aiming for a repeat of last season’s league victory at Fleetwood, which came just over a year ago. It was completely different conditions this time around in August though with the match played in heavy rain and wind at Highbury Stadium.
The Dons had to withstand early pressure with Fleetwood choosing the direct approach. Crosses and long throws were launched into the area, but Wimbledon defended resiliently. The hosts had big appeals for a penalty turned down by the referee, who adjudged that Terell Thomas had not handled Conor McAleny’s shot. At the other end, Wimbledon started to put together attacks and Appiah headed home emphatically after getting on the end of a free-kick from Luke O’Neill, but the flag was up for offside.
Goalmouth incidents had been rare in the first 20 minutes, the stormy conditions at Highbury Stadium hardly conducive to good football. However, a moment of real quality provided Wimbledon with the lead in the 25th minute. Luke O’Neill delivered a lovely cross from the right that picked out Appiah and he headed home emphatically. It was a lovely finish from a player who had scored the winner here at Highbury Stadium in the Emirates FA Cup in January. Barely a minute later, Wimbledon could have been celebrating a second. This time Appiah turned provider, setting up Paul Kalambayi, but he shot wide of the target.
It took until 10 minutes before half-time for the hosts to offer any sort of threat, McAleny’s shot over the crossbar bringing applause of encouragement from Fleetwood manager Joey Barton on the touchline, but it was comfortably off target. In a half of few chances, Wimbledon stood firm at the back and offered a combative edge in midfield to stop Fleetwood gaining any attacking momentum. Anthony Hartigan provided an example of that, going in for a challenge with Jordan Rossiter that resulted in a booking for the Fleetwood midfielder. Hartigan also had a goal-bound shot blocked as Wimbledon ended the half strongly, going in with a 1-0 lead at the break.
Fleetwood started the second-half at a much higher tempo and it needed good tracking back from Callum Reilly to stop substitute Paddy Madden from going clean through. Shortly afterwards, Madden did shoot just wide after good play by Josh Morris down Fleetwood’s right flank. However, it was just a temporary reprieve for Wimbledon as the hosts restored parity in the 55th minute. A Fleetwood move down the right ended with Wes Burns cutting the ball back for Madden, who made no mistake from close range. Chances followed at both ends, as the pace of the game increased. Just after Danny Andrew shot wide with a free-kick, Pigott had a chance 12 yards out, but his effort was wide.
Wimbledon had struggled to get possession during the second-half as Fleetwood really started to turn the screw and the hosts earned the lead in the 65th minute. A cross from Josh Morris was curled in from the right and the wind swept the ball past Nik Tzanev in the Wimbledon goal. There was no let-up from the hosts as they continued to pile forward. In a big contrast to the first-half, Wimbledon were unable to stem the tide and only last-ditch defending stopped both Burns and Madden from increasing the advantage, before McAleny shot over the crossbar.
In a second-half when Wimbledon struggled to create anything of note, Morris shot over the crossbar at the other end. Wally Downes tried to influence matters by making attacking changes with Dylan Connolly among those introduced and he almost managed to get in on goal, but he was just stopped by a last-ditch tackle. The Dons were unable to exert any real attacking pressure in the latter stages and Fleetwood held on for a narrow victory. It was achieved in a match clearly affected by the elements, but the conditions were the same for both sides and Wally Downes was certainly making no excuses afterwards.
AFC Wimbledon: Nik Tzanev, Luke O’Neill, Terell Thomas, Rod McDonald (Dylan Connolly), Paul Kalambayi, Nesta Guinness-Walker, Anthony Hartigan (Shane McLoughlin), Mitch Pinnock, Callum Reilly, Kwesi Appiah, Joe Pigott (Michael Folivi).