AFC Wimbledon were muscled out of the FA Cup by a non League team that were simply too strong for us on the day.
The Dons simply couldn't find a way through Boreham Wood’s solid and well-drilled defence. The result was a bitter disappointment for over 1,000 of our fans who came here dreaming that this could be the springboard for another memorable cup run. But it wasn't to be as we struggled to make an impact up front despite a lively start.
All the hope and expectation that had been drummed up in the build-up to this game was quickly thrust into the background as Robbo's boys struggled to find their usual free flowing rhythm.
Eager to recover from the recent league defeat at Oxford, the match at the LV Bet Stadium offered Wimbledon the perfect chance to bounce back in front of a sell-out crowd, but it was an occasion which arguably overwhelmed the men in blue with a lack of clear-cut chances in the first period.
As the rain began to pour in the second-half it became abundantly clear that there was to be no repeat of our past cup heroics – the frustrations growing both on and off the field.
Goals from Tyrone Marsh and Adrian Clifton capped a good home win for the Wood, who showed that they were more than a match for their EFL counterparts.
Mark Robinson made two changes to the side which lost 3-0 away to Oxford United with the returning Ayoub Assal and Henry Lawrence coming in for Egli Kaja and Dan Csoka. Meanwhile, there was more good news for Wimbledon on the fitness front as Will Nightingale made the bench for the first time since sustaining an injury back in October. There was a change in formation too, with the Dons going bold in attack, lining up in a fluid 3-4-3 system in an effort to cause our National League opponents problems from the off.
There was also a chance to renew acquaintances with two of our ex-players as Luke Garrard led his side from the dugout, whilst Connor Smith – one of the members of our League Two promotion winning squad of 2016 – started on the bench for the Wood.
With £82,000 in prize money up for grabs and the opportunity to create even more history in a competition that has given us so many good memories along the way, there was certainly plenty of incentives for Wimbledon to secure progress to the fourth round.
It didn’t take Robbo’s boys long for their expansive system to click into gear with Luke McCormick playing an important role in creating our first opening of the contest. Initially picking the ball up on the left-hand side, the midfielder drove at the heart of the Boreham Wood backline, before sliding a ball to Ollie Palmer, who had found space on the right side of the box. The striker’s driven cross was excellent, and McCormick was inches away from capping off the move he’d started.
Robbo and his staff had done their usual homework on our opponents with this newly acquired formation providing plenty of width and options in possession. Anthony Hartigan and Alex Woodyard took it in turns to drop into the back three to collect the ball and orchestrate attacks.
However, the momentum to Wimbledon’s start was quickly stifled as the hosts took the lead against the run of play. The ball was given away sloppily in midfield before it was recycled to Tyrone Marsh some 20 yards from goal. A quick shift and finish from the striker had Nik Tzanev beaten all ends up as his effort flew into the top corner.
Wimbledon had to respond, and it was McCormick again who was the main threat to the Wood defence. The midfielder drove into space just outside the area, before striking a low effort which skidded just wide of the right hand upright. An equaliser almost came about just past the half hour mark as a left-wing cross from Jack Rudoni was deflected on its path towards the goal, thus changing the trajectory of the ball, which in turn forced Taye Ashby-Hammond into a reflex save to keep his side ahead.
However, the Wood were once again showing that the two-division gap between the sides mattered little as they threatened to increase their lead. This time a near post cross found an attacking player, but thankfully for the Dons it drifted into the side netting.
Half-time offered the men from SW19 an opportunity to regroup and go again as the rain began to cascade down onto the field of play. Robbo sought to gain a foothold in the second period by reorganising his side into a more familiar 4-2-3-1 formation that we have become accustomed to seeing for much of the campaign so far. This gave Nightingale the chance to be bedded back into the action as part of the back four as he was brought on in the 57th minute. Applause came from the crammed but noisy away end that horseshoed its way around the far end of the ground.
As we approached the final 20 minutes of the contest Wimbledon made another throw of the dice as both Egli Kaja and Dapo Mebude were introduced for Assal and Rudoni, thus offering a further injection of pace to the side. Despite the change in approach, there was still plenty of frustration for the Dons as intricate attempts to break through the Boreham Wood brick wall were continuously repelled - the non-league side standing strong.
Kaja certainly made an impact after coming on and he was starting to take the risks that Wimbledon had desperately wanted in the first half. As we entered the final 10 minutes Boreham Wood began to sit a lot deeper in an attempt to protect their slender lead. Despite the sustained Wimbledon pressure, it was the hosts who would increase their lead as they broke well in numbers. This time a cross from the left came in after good build-up play with substitute Adrian Clifton applying the finishing touch that all but ended the game as a contest.
It was a bitter pill for the Dons to swallow, but one that was deserved on the balance of play as the men in blue and yellow failed to really force Ashby-Hammond into any notable action throughout the 90 minutes. With a fast flurry of games to come, Wimbledon must bounce back quickly to get this season back on track.
AFC Wimbledon: Nik Tzanev, Henry Lawrence (Will Nightingale), Alex Woodyard, Anthony Hartigan, Ollie Palmer, Ayoub Assal (Egli Kaja), Jack Rudoni (Dapo Mebude), Nesta Guinness-Walker, Luke McCormick (Ethan Chislett), Ben Heneghan, Paul Osew.