The Dons chalked up their 11th win in 12 games with this hard-fought victory over a Bath City side who could justifiably lay claim to deserving all three points themselves.
Terry Brown made just one change from the side that had seen off Hayes & Yeading four days earlier, with Michael Haswell replacing the suspended Chris Hussey. But Bath City boss Adie Britton had sprung a few surprises by starting with his first-choice attack on the bench. And his presumed plan of coming for a point very nearly paid off.
In a quiet opening period it was Bath who started the stronger, and while their keeper Steve Perrin had a relaxing first 20 minutes at one end, James Pullen was having his busiest afternoon since reclaiming the No.1 shirt. First he had to be watchful as Connolly’s 30-yard effort whistled just over the bar, and then he had to tip over a fizzing cross from the left. Five minutes of inaction later he was called upon to make a superb diving save from a header, although the referee had already blown for an infringement. The Dons just couldn’t get going and were reduced to aiming long balls towards Jon Main and Danny Kedwell in the hope of finding a gap or two.
Bath were defending as though their lives, rather than a late-season playoff spot, depended on it, and the nearest the Dons came in the opening 45 minutes was a looping Elliott Godfrey header that sailed over Perrin and into the Bath supporters behind the goal at the Kingston Road End. Fortunately for the Dons, the first half was 47 minutes long. When Hogg played the ball back into his own penalty area there seemed to be no danger at all, but Main reacted before Rollo, and the Dons striker was nudged off the ball by the City defender, unaware of Main’s presence. The linesman’s flag across his chest indicated a penalty and the referee duly obliged, much to Bath’s amazement. Main’s 28th goal of the season saw the home side head for the tunnel in the lead but looking a touch sheepish.
AFC Wimbledon began the second half in slightly more strident fashion, but their up-tempo beginning was matched by Bath’s. Clearly still angered by what they saw as a soft penalty, the visitors set about equalising in more ways than one. But they had reckoned without the performances of Ben Judge and Jason Goodliffe, who not for the first time in the Dons’ unbeaten run held the back line superbly and looked, for the most part, impenetrable. Thankfully the same couldn’t be said of Bath. With an hour gone, Godfrey’s teasing cross from the left was met together by Main and by City’s Holland, and whoever got the last touch wrong-footed Perrin and the Dons were 2-0 up without having played overly well.
City raised their game again. Some sides have come to Kingsmeadow and visibly wilted at a two-goal defecit, but Bath seemed inspired by it. Edwards began buzzing around Judge and Goodliffe like a miffed bee, and the midfield pairing of Connolly and Coupe, who had forced Tom Davis to come out wide far too often for Terry Brown’s liking, were starting to seize control as the game entered a crucial period. Indeed it was Connolly whose long ball over the top saw substitute Gilroy race on to it, hold off Goodliffe and fire towards Pullen. The Dons keeper got his body in the way, but the ball looped into the air and Gilroy smartly headed in the rebound from a narrowing angle.
Within 60 seconds the Dons had their two-goal lead back. Sam Hatton’s chipped pass was expertly controlled by Godfrey with his chest, and, as Holland slipped, the former Hampton midfielder lofted the ball over Perrin with the deftest of Rooney-like touches. In recent weeks, this would have been game over, but far from it. First Antony Finn, on for Main, contrived to completely miss his kick from six yards when Kedwell’s 88th-minute burst of energy had presented the chance on a plate for him, and 60 seconds later Kedwell himself engineered a great chance but shot straight at the advancing Perrin.
Bath had one last rally in them. Gilroy made a mess of two gilt-edged chances in the final two minutes, but thanks to some calamitous defending Bath were rewarded with a second consolation goal. Haswell’s back-pass fell short of Pullen, but although the keeper got there before Gilroy he scuffed the clearance straight to the grateful Edwards, who kept his composure and rolled the ball into the unguarded net from 30 yards. There was still time for substitute Simpson to set up fellow replacement Evans, but the striker’s cross was woeful and found a steward rather than his three team-mates in the six-yard box.
The Dons will surely play better than that and lose between now and the end of the season … but let’s hope not.