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Dons battle back for a point

A share of the spoils for Wimbledon

1 February 2022

Robbo’s boys showcased their battling qualities once again to fight back for a well-earned point against a stubborn Cheltenham Town side.

Wimbledon threw everything they had at the visitors in the closing stages, with a winner even appearing on the cards after they got back on terms through a well-taken Aaron Cosgrave equaliser that raised the roof under the floodlights. 

That goal set up a grandstand finish at the Cherry Red Records Stadium as yet another entertaining encounter was served up at a ground that has certainly developed a reputation for the unexpected.

It certainly got the adrenaline going amongst the crowd of 6,138 who quite rightly clapped off our young side after they showed a matureness far beyond their years to stand up to the task of getting something from what was a near constant seesawing encounter.

In the end goals from Ayoub Assal and Cosgrave bookended an Alfie May double for the visitors as these sides served up yet another classic in what is an ever-growing catalogue of memorable matches between the two.

Mark Robinson made two changes to the starting 11 from the game that the Dons drew 1-1 on Saturday against Shrewsbury Town with Cheye Alexander and Anthony Hartigan coming in for Paul Osew and Ethan Chislett, who both dropped to the bench.  

A slightly milder evening greeted new signings Sam Cosgrove and Nathan Broome as the deadline day additions were presented to the supporters prior to kick off, a move that cranked the atmosphere up a gear in anticipation for the action ahead.

Our last meeting with Cheltenham Town served up a thrilling 4-3 rollercoaster of a cup tie and the opening stages of this league encounter certainly began to develop that sort of feel as the Dons hit the front early on.

And it was our very own mercurial, homegrown talent who came up with the goods, as Assal snuck in at the near post to fire home from the acutest of angles after the Cheltenham backline failed to deal with a routine delivery from Hartigan. It was a simple yet challenging finish that typified the ability that our Moroccan starlet possesses as he made it two goals in two games following his well-taken header some four days earlier.

It was a moment that settled both the men in blue on the field of play and the energetic masses in the stands as the confidence spread around the Cherry Red Records Stadium. However, complacency was obviously something that had to be guarded against as the Dons allowed Kion Etete to break in down the right-hand side. Unfortunately for the Tottenham Hotspur loanee he was then met by the hulking figure of Ben Heneghan, who dealt with the danger with the minimum of fuss.

Wimbledon weren’t let off the hook so easily the second time around though as Etete shrugged off the attentions of Will Nightingale before laying the ball on a plate for Alfie May to tap home. It brought our boys back down to earth with a thud and meant that they once again had to find their second wind.

But as we know, football is a funny old game and before anyone could catch their breath Cheltenham had taken the lead themselves. This time a long ball forward wasn’t dealt with by the backline, leading to May stealing in behind, before going down under the challenge of Nik Tzanev, who appeared to deflect the ball to safety as the two men met. Referee Sam Purkiss wasn’t convinced, despite the vociferous Wimbledon appeals and immediately pointed to the spot, before May dispatched down the centre of the goal.

A double blow for the Dons, who now had to re-summon the type of fighting spirit that we grew used to seeing earlier on in the campaign as half-time came and went. Despite being a goal down, the men in yellow and blue raced out of the traps in the second half with a point to prove as they set about looking to undo the wrongs of the first 45 minutes. Heading towards the final quarter and the ball just wasn’t falling for Wimbledon as they continued to search high and low for solutions.

The pressure was building to unbearable levels for Cheltenham, and it wasn’t long before it told as substitute Cosgrave took centre stage. A loose ball found it’s way to the number 38 at the back post, who stroked home into the far corner with all the calmness of a natural goalscorer to take the roof off the South London Movers End. It was the least Wimbledon deserved for their efforts and our boys continued to push with all they had for a winner.

Alas they were met by a rugged and determined red wall that ultimately proved to be too tough a nut to crack as the visiting Robins escaped with a point. The Dons must now regroup and go again, a South London derby at Charlton Athletic on the horizon.

AFC Wimbledon: Nik Tzanev, Will Nightingale, George Marsh, Cheye Alexander (Paul Osew), Anthony Hartigan, Ayoub Assal, Jack Rudoni, Terry Ablade (Aaron Cosgrave), Luke McCormick (Ethan Chislett), Ben Heneghan, Lee Brown.

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