Mark Robinson’s men were ultimately beaten by the more streetwise side on a night of ifs, buts and maybes for AFC Wimbledon.
Top-of-the-table Rotherham ultimately left SW19 with all three points after showing their promotion credentials in the second-half to earn a 1-0 win.
The first 45 minutes offered plenty of promise for the Dons as we more than matched our high-flying opponents with the pressing from the front and resourcefulness in possession shining through.
But yet again it was the lack of cutting edge in the final third which let our side down as we failed to make any serious inroads into the opposition half after the break, leading to frustration and inevitable punishment as the Millers took their chance through Joshua Kayode.
Of course, it was always going to be a tough ask for our young side against the league leaders, but at the same time we more than matched them in the first half and for a period it appeared that an upset could be on the cards.
Nevertheless, the visitors deserved their victory on the balance of play and left with maximum points after rarely getting out of second gear, a fact that is sure to be thrust further into the spotlight as we look ahead to our next game on Saturday.
Robbo made several changes to the side which lost 3-2 to Charlton Athletic at the weekend, with Dan Csoka, Cheye Alexander and Nesta Guinness-Walker being joined in the starting 11 by Paul Kalambayi, who made his first appearance since being injured back in October. Those changes meant that the likes of Will Nightingale, Lee Brown, Paul Osew and Ethan Chislett all dropped out.
Meanwhile, two former Dons in Michael Smith and Angus MacDonald featured in the opposing squad. Lining up with a back five, Wimbledon set about their task of nullifying the in-form league leaders with their typical youthful enthusiasm shining through in the opening stages. After holding their ground for a short period, the first meaningful attempt of the match came from the Dons.
Jack Rudoni dropped into a pocket of space before sliding in Sam Cosgrove, the latter arrowing in a powerful strike that was well held by Josh Vickers in the Rotherham goal. It was a neatly crafted move which showed a small flash of what our forward players are capable of. The snappy challenges were going in, the backing of the home crowd was being felt and Wimbledon were certainly causing our lofty opponents to become frustrated as we proved to be a tough nut to crack during the opening half an hour.
Our willingness and desire to win the ball back was typified by Ayoub Assal who tore about the pitch like a man possessed, hassling and harrying the Millers’ backline at every opportunity. However, for all their effort and endeavour Wimbledon couldn’t magic up much in terms of attacking chances despite working their way into some promising positions in the first half.
The second-half started with the same zip as the first with Nik Tzanev quickly being forced into action to deny Smith from close range after a low cross had been allowed to seep through. It was a wake-up call that certainly perked our side into life with a defensive reshuffle having taken place following the introduction of Nightingale for Csoka. However, the men in yellow and blue wouldn’t be let off the hook the second time around as another wide delivery came in with Kayode sliding home from close range after the Millers had been given far too much time to send the ball in from the right-hand side.
All of the hard work of the first hour had been undone in one fell swoop and now Robbo’s side had to respond in the same manner that they had against Cheltenham some seven days earlier. Terry Ablade and McCormick were thrown into the action as the second period continued into its final 15 minutes with Wimbledon still in with a shout of stealing something from the finely balanced clash.
Alas the red wall stood firm when it mattered most with the huffing and puffing from our side eventually coming to nothing as Rotherham left with a deserved three points. As is the case with every defeat, Wimbledon must now regroup, take stock and go again, with Sunderland being our next opponents here at the Cherry Red Records Stadium.
AFC Wimbledon: Nik Tzanev, Dan Csoka (Will Nightingale), George Marsh, Cheye Alexander, Anthony Hartigan, Sam Cosgrove, Ayoub Assal (Terry Ablade), Jack Rudoni (Luke McCormick), Nesta Guinness-Walker, Ben Heneghan, Paul Kalambayi.