AFC Wimbledon paid the price for a slow start today at Prenton Park with a goal by Rushian Hepburn-Murphy enough to earn victory for Tranmere.
The hosts started strongly with a spell of pressure that yielded the only goal in a 1-0 victory that they deserved on the balance of chances created. Though Wimbledon improved after the break, chances and therefore an equalising goal turned out to be elusive and victory lifts Tranmere level on points with Wimbledon.
Glyn Hodges made just one change to his starting line-up for this important match at Prenton Park and it involved a recall at left-back for Nesta Guinness-Walker, who replaced Paul Osew. Tommy Wood was instantly involved in the squad after returning from his loan spell at Leatherhead, the striker taking the place on the bench of young Zach Robinson. Wimbledon came into the game aiming to build on a fine run of seven points from the last three games against a Tranmere side that had failed to win in the league since early November.
The Dons were put on the back foot early on with Tranmere making a fast start from the very first whistle. Nathan Trott was forced into a fine save in just the fourth minute when he reacted well to get a hand to a powerful drive from Kieron Morris after Connor Jennings had set him up. At the other end, Wimbledon had a first shot on goal in the eighth minute when Callum Reilly struck a good effort that Tranmere keeper Aaron Chapman tipped wide. As the first-half progressed, Rovers continued to press forward and Shane McLoughlin had to make a vital headed clearance, before Rushian Hepburn-Murphy headed over the crossbar.
On a very heavy pitch at Prenton Park – one side of it looking barely playable – Wimbledon struggled to gain any attacking momentum against a fired-up Tranmere side. It was clear that the hosts had targeted this game as one they really needed to win to close the gap on Wimbledon and they had the goal they deserved in the 26th minute. A cross was launched into the box and though Trott saved the initial effort, Hepburn-Murphy was first to the rebound and his effort was adjudged by the officials to have just crossed the line. With Morgan Ferrier’s all-action style leading the charge from the front, Wimbledon had to show resilience to stay in the game. Tranmere captain David Perkins did very well to set-up Neil Danns, but Trott saved well.
In the latter stages of the first-half Wimbledon could have fallen further behind. Trott saved well to deny Danns, before Hepburn-Murphy fired over from long-range. Wimbledon were perhaps fortunate at the break to be just the one goal down with Tranmere having threatened to double the advantage.
It needed to be better from Wimbledon and it certainly was at the start of the second-half. Showing much more conviction to the cause, The Dons gained a greater share of possession and forwards Marcus Forss and Joe Pigott started to see a bit more of the ball. Forss finally had a chance to shoot in the 52nd minute, but his effort was charged down and then Mitch Pinnock’s follow-up was saved by Chapman. Pigott also managed to reach Luke O’Neill’s cross first, but he was unable to get enough on his effort and Chapman saved comfortably. As Wimbledon started to come back into this game, Tranmere attempted to exploit gaps on the break and Hepburn-Murphy marched through, but he shot into the side netting. Danns was also denied by Trott as Tranmere attempted to strike the killer second goal.
As we entered the final 15 minutes of this match, Wimbledon were still in this game, but The Dons had not forced Chapman into a meaningful save in the second-half. Danns went through one-on-one again, but Trott did very well to make a fine save. At the other end, Max Sanders showed lovely skill on the right to beat two challenges, before sending over a cross that flashed across goal, but no one was able to get on the end of it. A quick Tranmere break almost resulted in the vital second when Connor Jennings struck a fine effort that bounced off the woodwork.
With eight minutes left Glyn Hodges made an attacking change with Tommy Wood replacing Nesta Guinness-Walker. Anthony Hartigan had earlier entered the fray for Mitch Pinnock. A fine move down the left ended with a fine cross from the left by Callum Reilly, but yet again no one was able to get on the end of it. Despite Wimbledon’s second-half improvement, it had been difficult to create chances and Tranmere maintained a good defensive shape in order to protect the lead. The Dons were unable to exert enough pressure to make it difficult for the hosts in the closing stages and Tranmere held on for a victory that draws them level on points in League One.
Wimbledon: Nathan Trott, Luke O’Neill, Rod McDonald, Terell Thomas, Mitch Pinnock (Anthony Hartigan), Marcus Forss, Nesta Guinness-Walker (Tommy Wood), Shane McLoughlin, Max Sanders, Callum Reilly, Joe Pigott.