A game that seesawed for much of the 90 minutes ultimately ended in a draw as Robbo’s boys fought valiantly to clinch all three points.
Wimbledon headed into this match after failing to score in each of the last five games across all competitions - a frustrating statistic that everyone was keen to put right on a cold afternoon in Burton.
And it was a task that our young side seemed to have risen to after taking the lead 20 minutes from the end, Ollie Palmer scoring a goal that saw the tension released and the shackles come off.
It was an advantage the Dons certainly deserved at that point after fighting hard to gain ground in the final third for much of the contest and underlined just what Robbo's boys are capable of when they stick to their principles. However, Daniel Jebbison’s scrambled equaliser put a dampener on what was generally a fine second half display from the Dons, who kept on pressing for a winner right up until the final whistle.
Mark Robinson made one change to the side which battled to a draw against Portsmouth on Tuesday, with the returning Ben Heneghan coming into the team in place of Dan Csoka after fighting off a bout of Covid. There was a familiar face in the home side’s starting line-up with former Dons’ captain Deji Oshilaja taking his place at the heart of the Burton defence.
The hosts had provided a physical test for our young side during their two previous visits to the Cherry Red Records Stadium and it was certainly a case of more of the same during the first five minutes as the fight for territorial domination began. Wimbledon’s defence had to stay alert in the opening stages with flighted balls from the Brewers often seeing us come under pressure in and around the penalty box - the likes of Daniel Jebbison and Gassan Ahadme seeking to get in behind. However, it was a challenge that Will Nightingale and Heneghan dealt with well, with Nik Tzanev providing great cover as a sweeper behind the back four.
The Dons stayed patient to soak up the early pressure and had the best chance of the opening quarter, breaking quickly from a corner with Luke McCormick leading the charge before threading an inch-perfect pass through to Dapo Mebude. Well into a slipstream down the flank, the winger bore down on goal before being forced wide by the Burton defence, and his eventual effort from a tight angle agonisingly just missed the far post.
It was a testing first-half on the whole for our young side but we stood up to the task strongly, and it offered the platform of going for victory if the passing was slicker in the second-half. There was certainly a positive sign of moving in the right direction shortly after the restart when McCormick, Cheye Alexander and Alex Woodyard put together a well worked combination of short-range passes, but Paul Osew was foiled as he attempted to finish the move with a shot from distance.
Burton came back into the game as they again went direct, but their early pressure failed to result in any real efforts of note on the Dons’ goal. Ayoub Assal was then introduced just after the hour, the Moroccan replacing Dapo Mebude as part of the attacking trident in support of Palmer.
The door was quickly unlocked following the former’s introduction, a floated pass finding it’s way into the penalty area to Jack Rudoni, who touched on for Assal, but his shot was high over the bar. It was much better play from the Dons, and it certainly got the away masses rocking behind the goal, as “the Dons have got super Robbo” rang out around the Pirelli Stadium.
The vocal backing was duly rewarded with a long-awaited goal soon after as Palmer took the game by the scruff of the neck. Following a smart pass by Assal, our number nine worked himself a yard of space on the angle of the area, before firing in an unstoppable effort that beat Ben Garratt in the Burton net all ends up. An eruption of joy ensued on the terrace behind the goal, with the blue and yellow faithful rushing towards the advertising hoardings to congratulate the scorer.
Joy quickly turned to dismay as the Brewers struck back soon after. A low delivery wasn’t dealt with by the Wimbledon backline, leading to Jebbison sweeping home from close range following a goalmouth scramble. Robbo was quick to respond by throwing on Aaron Cosgrave in place of Rudoni as the Dons looked to add an extra edge in the closing stages.
Tzanev – who had been on guard for the unexpected all afternoon – was then forced into a fine save as Ahadme attempted to fire home powerfully, the Kiwi showcasing great positioning and anticipation to dive to his right and then hold the strong effort firmly. There was then another blow for the Dons with Woodyard having to be withdrawn through injury after another all-action performance in the centre of the park, Ethan Chislett coming on in his place.
It was a stop-start final five minutes, but Palmer was then once again involved as he created another promising opening. The towering centre forward found space on the right side of the box once more before sliding a low ball across that resulted in an effort being hacked clear off the line as Wimbledon pressed for a late winner. Six minutes duly went up on the board as both sides went all out for the three points, but there wasn’t enough time for a winner to be found.
Wimbledon must now take stock of yet another frantic 90 minutes as the games keep on coming. Another highly-charged home match is on the horizon as Ipswich Town visit the Cherry Red Records Stadium on Tuesday night.
AFC Wimbledon: Nik Tzanev, Alex Woodyard (Ethan Chislett), Will Nightingale, George Marsh, Cheye Alexander,Ollie Palmer, Jack Rudoni (Aaron Cosgrave), Dapo Mebude(Ayoub Assal).