AFC Wimbledon were beaten by two goals at Oxford today, but that only told half the story as goalkeeper Jack Stevens made save after save to deny the Dons.
Ultimately, Wimbledon gave themselves too much to do after falling 2-0 down inside 21 minutes, but Stevens was Oxford's Man of the Match, denying the Dons on several occasions. Certainly, his double save in the first-half to deny Ethan Chislett and Callum Reilly played a big part in stopping Wimbledon from getting back into this match.
Glyn Hodges made four changes to his line-up from the side that started the home defeat against Crewe Alexandra. Joe Pigott was a notable omission from the team sheet, our top scorer missing out due to a foot injury and he was replaced up front by Ollie Palmer. With Alex Woodyard suspended due to picking up five bookings, Ethan Chislett came into the side. Ben Heneghan came back from injury to take the captain’s armband with Will Nightingale having to settle for a place on the bench and Nesta Guinness-Walker replaced Shane McLoughlin. McLoughlin was only deemed fit enough for the bench and that meant Steve Seddon filling an unorthodox position as right wing-back.
The Dons came here aiming to get back on track after that late heartbreak against Crewe last weekend, but Oxford started this game on the front foot. An early warning came when Matty Taylor forced a good save from Connal Trueman, but the flag was up for offside. The hosts did take the lead though in the 13th minute. Josh Ruffels found space on the Oxford left and he delivered a fine cross that picked out Jordan Obita and he cracked home emphatically, Connal Trueman left with no chance.
There was a blow for Wimbledon in the 16th minute with Ben Heneghan having to go off injured and he was replaced at the heart of defence by Will Nightingale, who was handed the captain’s armband. The hosts doubled the advantage in the 21st minute through a goal that was too easy from a Wimbledon perspective. Liam Kelly delivered a fine free-kick into the path of Matty Taylor, who was allowed too much space to turn and shoot, his impressive strike finding the top corner. The Dons had a mountain to climb now at a venue where a heavy defeat was suffered last season, but Jack Rudoni almost halved the deficit with a shot that was cleared off the line.
Just after the half hour Wimbledon really came into this match. Chislett did very well to beat the offside trap to go through one-on-one with the keeper, but Jack Stevens produced a very good save, and he then made an even better stop to turn away Callum Reilly’s follow-up. The chances kept on coming for Wimbledon and Terell Thomas headed wide from close-range after getting to a corner first. Though the Dons had dominated since Oxford’s second goal with Rudoni in midfield at the heart of Wimbledon’s improvement, the hosts missed a great chance to make it three when Marcus McGuane shot wide from close-range.
A 2-0 half-time deficit was always going to be difficult for Wimbledon to come back from, but there had been enough attacking threat to suggest that this game was far from over. Glyn Hodges made a change for the second-half with Jaakko Oksanen introduced for Dan Csoka. The on-loan Brentford midfielder was making his first Dons appearance since late October after being sidelined with an ankle injury.
The second-half started with Oxford threatening to add a third when Ruffels sent over a dangerous cross from the left that no one was able to get on the end of. However, that was far from a sign of what was to come as Wimbledon continued to create chances. With Longman’s influence on the right side growing, Wimbledon continued to bang on the door. Rudoni came so close to his first goal at senior level when his shot struck a post, and then rebounded off Stevens and out for a corner. Thomas also threatened to reduce the arrears when he struck a goal-bound shot that was blocked.
With the Dons still searching for that elusive first goal, Glyn Hodges made another change with Shane McLoughlin entering the fray for Steve Seddon. The chances continued to come for Wimbledon, but Oxford keeper Stevens was proving to be a tough nut to crack. In the 72nd minute Stevens made two brilliant saves, first denying Longman and then Rudoni. Shortly afterwards and Stevens was beaten, but this time Nightingale’s shot was cleared off the line. The best chance for Wimbledon in the second-half so far came when Longman went clean through, but Stevens reacted well to tip his shot around the post for a corner.
A proud moment followed near the end for 18-year-old Dons academy product Zach Robinson when he entered the fray for his league debut, the promising striker having only previously featured at first-team level in the EFL Trophy. The Dons continued to press in the latter stages, Longman almost going through on goal once again, but Wimbledon just couldn’t hit the back of the net. The fact that Oxford keeper Jack Stevens was announced as Man of the Match summed up the difference that he made to the outcome. Next up is a home match at Plough Lane versus Lincoln City with the Dons having a full week to prepare for the first game of 2021.
AFC Wimbledon: Connal Trueman, Dan Csoka (Jaakko Oksanen), Terell Thomas, Ollie Palmer (Adam Roscrow), Ethan Chislett (Zach Robinson), Jack Rudoni, Nesta Guinness-Walker, Ben Heneghan (Will Nightingale), Ryan Longman, Callum Reilly, Steve Seddon (Shane McLoughlin).