AFC Wimbledon came so close to marking the first game back at Plough Lane with a victory tonight.
An injury-time James Coppinger strike earned a late point for Doncaster after a Joe Pigott double had looked to have won it for Wimbledon, the match ending in a 2-2 draw.
In a match that was our first in Wimbledon for 29 years, our in-form marksman Pigott wasted little time getting off the mark at our new stadium with a goal in the 18th minute. Though the Dons failed to build on that early boost, a draw against a side regarded as play-off contenders was certainly not a bad start to the new era at Plough Lane.
Glyn Hodges made two changes to his starting line-up after the 1-1 away draw on Saturday in Buckinghamshire. Dan Csoka was ruled out, so that meant a return to the starting line-up for Will Nightingale, who captained the Dons in our first match back at Plough Lane after joining us at the age of eight. On a proud night for our academy, four players who made their way through the youth system played in the club’s first match back at Plough Lane. Nightingale joined Anthony Hartigan, and Paul Kalambayi in the Wimbledon team and there was a Dons academy product in opposition too with Joe Bursik between the sticks for Doncaster.
The visitors started this match by taking a grip on possession with Wimbledon having to maintain a good defensive shape to stop Doncaster mounting decisive attacks. The Dons had shown fleeting spells of attacking threat in the opening exchanges and that landmark first goal at Plough Lane came in the 18th minute. It was certainly no surprise who scored it with Joe Pigott continuing his hot streak by netting the first goal at our new stadium. The move was started by a ball out to the left by Callum Reilly and Steve Seddon flicked the ball onto Terell Thomas in the area. Though his cross was palmed out by Bursik, that man Pigott was in the right place to steer home from close-range.
There’s an old saying in football that teams are at their most vulnerable after scoring a goal and that was certainly the case for Wimbledon again. The visitors levelled less than five minutes later and there was a touch of fortune about the equaliser. Matt Smith initially tried to square the ball across the area, but it rebounded back to him off a Dons defender and he fired home emphatically. Doncaster played fine football at times during the first-half, as Wimbledon were forced to stay patient and do good work without the ball.
The Dons had to defend well towards the end of the first-half. Steve Seddon made a superb last-ditch block to stop Jon Taylor finding the target and Connal Trueman got down well to make a good save from Josh Sims. Anthony Hartigan also showed his defensive capabilities by tracking back well to stop Doncaster’s pressure from mounting. It had been a good response to falling behind by Doncaster and Wimbledon had to show resilience to stick in this game.
The visitors attempted to keep the pressure on at the start of the second-half, but Wimbledon hung in there and restricted them to very little in terms of meaningful chances. Doncaster continued to have the better possession as the second-half progressed and Glyn Hodges made a double change with 65 minutes on the clock. Ollie Palmer and Jack Rudoni replaced Ryan Longman and Paul Kalambayi. Shortly afterwards, Joe Pigott shot over the crossbar after good play down the right flank by Shane McLoughlin. However, the Irishman took a knock in the process of making the cross and he had to go off injured shortly afterwards with Cheye Alexander taking his place.
Though Thomas had a shot saved by Bursik, Doncaster really turned the heat up on the hosts with around 20 minutes to go. Trueman reacted well to deny Brad Halliday, before Ben Whiteman was also denied by the Dons keeper. However, Wimbledon earned reward for staying strong defensively by taking the lead. Rudoni and Palmer had certainly given something different for Doncaster to think about and maybe that allowed Pigott a bit more space. Certainly, Pigott needs no second invitation this season to take his opportunities and he fired home emphatically with eight minutes to play after a good move involving Rudoni and Seddon down the left. It was Pigott's sixth goal of the season and he has also contributed four assists in 2020/21.
It looked like the Dons were heading for a fairytale victory in the first match at Plough Lane, but a deflected shot by James Coppinger earned a draw for Doncaster in stoppage time. Not the ending we all wanted to mark our return to Plough Lane, but it did extend Wimbledon's unbeaten run to four matches.
AFC Wimbledon: Connal Trueman, Alex Woodyard, Will Nightingale, Terell Thomas, Anthony Hartigan, Shane McLoughlin (Cheye Alexander), Ryan Longman (Ollie Palmer), Paul Kalambayi (Jack Rudoni), Callum Reilly, Joe Pigott, Steve Seddon.