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Match Reports

Penalty claims denied as Robbo’s boys go down fighting

A gallant defeat with 10 men

11 January 2022

Robbo’s battlers never stopped fighting in a cruel game when everything went against them - including a strong penalty claim in the final seconds.

After falling a goal behind against the run of play, Wimbledon were then reduced to 10 men midway through the first half when Nesta Guinness-Walker was harshly sent off for a second bookable offence.

It should have been the killer blow, but the 10 men refused to surrender and threw everything they could at their opponents in a gallant 1-0 defeat.

Robbo's boys repeatedly pegged MK Dons back in their own half and the pressure continued right until the final whistle as AFC Wimbledon kept chasing and pressing relentlessly. With five minutes left it looked like we might grab a richly-deserved equaliser, but Rudoni couldn’t quite direct his header on target and it appeared that he had been hauled down in the process.

Then, two minutes into added time, Rudoni appeared to be shovelled off the ball as he surged into the area - but the referee ignored our strong appeals.

It wasn’t to be, though, the opening wouldn’t come and our opponents hung on for a victory they did little to deserve.

It was a bitter pill, especially after Robbo’s team rallied so strongly following Saturday’s disappointing FA Cup exit.

This was the sort of performance we’ve been more accustomed to and underlined the spirit and tenacity that has been our trademark for much of the season. 

Wimbledon were looking to bounce back after two difficult defeats on the road and arrived in Buckinghamshire with high hopes of getting back to their old selves.

In the end it wasn’t to be with a poor seven minutes in the first half ultimately proving to cost Wimbledon, a goal just short of the half hour mark and a red card proving to be decisive in the end.

However, there were sparks of fighting spirit on show towards the closing stages, as the away side threatened to upset the odds – coming close to levelling the scores on more than one occasion.

Mark Robinson made two changes to the side that lined up against Boreham Wood with Henry Lawrence and Paul Osew making way for Will Nightingale – returning to the starting eleven for the first time since October - and Cheye Alexander. Meanwhile, Aaron Cosgrave was named on the bench for the first time since returning from his loan spell at Dover Athletic recently.

With those changes being made Wimbledon switched back to a more familiar 4-2-3-1 formation for this away fixture. The first 10 minutes of the contest largely passed without incident, the likes of Anthony Hartigan and Alex Woodyard providing good cover in front of the defence by snuffing out any forward passes on the odd occasion when the opposition did threaten to get in between the lines.

Ben Heneghan was forced into his first notable defensive contribution of the game in the 20th minute as he threw his body in the way of a powerful shot to deny the hosts a scoring chance. Despite starting well in terms of keeping their shape, Wimbledon fell behind in the 29th minute as a misdirected pass from Luke McCormick saw Nik Tzanev caught in no man’s land. The Kiwi shot stopper's attempted clearance could only find its way to Tennai Watson on the left side of the box, and he played a slide rule pass across the area for Matt O’Riley to take a touch and finish emphatically.

Things got worse for us seven minutes later when Nesta Guinness-Walker received his second yellow card for a challenge on the far side, thus leaving Wimbledon with over half the game to play with one man less. Robbo and his staff were quick to react to the setback by introducing Paul Osew in place of McCormick, thus allowing the visitors to maintain two banks of four when out of possession with Jack Rudoni and Ayoub Assal dropping deeper on the wings.

Heneghan was again forced to come to the rescue as the half wore on, with the centre back having to remain alert after the ball broke free following Tzanev’s attempted challenge on the edge of the box. Wimbledon remained resolute as the half drew to a close with the men from SW19 staying very much in the contest despite their double setback in the first 45 minutes.

Hartigan took a shot on from distance as 10-men Wimbledon began to grow in confidence during the opening knockings of the second period, his effort whistling comfortably over the hosts’ crossbar. Progressing into the final chunk of the contest, the away side were continuing to remain solid with the aim of breaking forward with numbers when the opportunity allowed.

Robbo made his second roll of the dice just after the 70th minute mark with Egli Kaja being introduced in place of Assal, as Wimbledon sought to add fresh legs into the mix. Tzanev was then forced into action as he kept us in the game brilliantly, denying Scott Twine well from close range when it appeared as though a goal was on the cards. Osew then showed his defensive qualities at the back post as he charged down another Twine shot that seemed destined for the net.

Wimbledon’s final change was made as we entered the final 10 minutes with Cosgrave replacing Ollie Palmer as the lone striker up top. We then threatened an equaliser after Hartigan pinged an inch-perfect ball out to Kaja wide on the right. He beat his man at pace, before crossing to the back post with Rudoni appearing to go down under the challenge as he closed in. However, referee Anthony Backhouse remained unmoved.

There was yet another flash point not long after as Rudoni was once again forcefully knocked to the floor in the area, but yet again the officials waved away the Wimbledon claims when it appeared for all the world that a penalty would be given. As we entered injury-time, Alexander tried his luck with terrifically struck volley that whistled wide of the upright, and the right-back also struck just off target with the last kick of the match.

However, it all proved to be in vain as Wimbledon’s late efforts failed to earn an equaliser. The players and staff saluted the travelling fans in unison at the end of the contest, underlining that the group as a whole remains as together as ever. Next up is a battle against Morecambe and a flurry of January fixtures with vital points up for grabs.

AFC Wimbledon: Nik Tzanev, Alex Woodyard, Will Nightingale, Cheye Alexander, Anthony Hartigan, Ollie Palmer (Aaron Cosgrave), Ayoub Assal (Egli Kaja), Jack Rudoni, Nesta Guinness-Walker, Luke McCormick (Paul Osew), Ben Heneghan.


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