Wimbledon continued their fine start to the season with a hard-fought and well-deserved point against much-fancied Cambridge United. The visitors sprang the first surprise of the day by deciding that their amber and black kit clashed with the Dons’ blue, and wore their change kit… of sky blue, forcing Seb Brown, in for the injured James Pullen, and Jack Turner to hastily change into their green goalkeeping strips.
United had put seven past Forest Green Rovers last week, and in Chris Holroyd they had the division’s top scorer, so Paul Lorraine and Brett Johnson knew that they would be in for a tough afternoon – and the opening exchanges confirmed that. Holroyd and Danny Crow both had shots blocked by Johnson in the first 15 minutes as United put their hosts under pressure, but rarely forced Brown into anything more than routine gathering of the ball. The pace of United’s wide men, Andy Parkinson and Robbie Willmott, was causing Jay Conroy in particular to look uncomfortable, but whenever the wingers got past the full-backs they found AFC Wimbledon’s defensive lynchpins Lorraine and Johnson coming to their colleagues’ rescue.
With 20 minutes on the clock, an elementary error by the Dons keeper should have given Cambridge the lead. Brown misjudged a huge clearance, letting the ball bounce over his head, and it was only poor control by Holroyd that denied the striker a tap-in into an empty net. His heavy touch allowed Lorraine to get back and thwart his effort, the ball rebounding off the striker and out for a goal-kick.
That lucky let-off seemed to spur the Dons into action. Ricky Wellard shot wide with two long-range efforts, Johnson headed a Chris Hussey corner over from six yards, and five Wimbledon players had attempts on goal in one mad goalmouth scramble. Luke Moore and Danny Kedwell started to offer a more potent threat, with Moore’s pacy trickery twice seeing him get into great positions on the left. First he slipped past Wayne Hatswell, and only Brian Saah’s timely intervention denied Sam Hatton a six-yard tap-in; then Gleeson’s perfectly timed tackle prevented the former Ebbsfleet man from making more of the situation.
But Cambridge were by no means lying down and letting the Dons walk all over them, and shortly before half-time they had two shouts for penalties turned down in the space of five seconds. From Dan Gleeson’s foul throw (the ball slipped sideways out of his hands but the referee saw nothing wrong with it), Parkinson’s low cross was missed by Holroyd and Johnson, but the striker threw himself to the ground, and then as Willmott collected the loose ball he went crashing down under Steven Gregory’s tackle – but these theatrics didn’t fool the officials.
An entertaining if goalless first half ended with Parkinson whipping two dangerous-looking crosses into the box, only to find, on both occasions, his team-mates waiting outside.
United, however, almost took the lead with the second kick of the second half. Holroyd tapped the ball to Crow, whose shot from the half-way line almost caught Brown napping, but the keeper managed to get back and tip the shot over the bar. Parkinson then had a shot blocked, and Brown made a fine save from Holroyd as Cambridge had much the better of the play after the restart.
Terry Brown sensed that the Dons were losing the midfield battle and made a change. Lewis Taylor replaced Wellard, Hatton moved into the middle, and Wimbledon instantly looked stronger. Gregory was now able to use his range of passing to better effect, and Derek Duncan and Taylor found themselves with ample space down the flanks. But the industrious Kedwell, unsurprisingly, was starting to tire, and Saah was getting the better of him for the first time in the game. Kedwell was soon trudging dejectedly off to rapturous applause to make way for debutant striker Ross Montague, and the former Brentford man was soon involved in the move that led to the clearest chance Wimbledon had all afternoon.
Fellow sub Jon Main intercepted a throw on the half-way line and fed Montague, who turned and threaded an inch-perfect pass into the path of Moore, who had a clear run on goal, some 40 yards out. Sadly, Moore’s touch deserted him and he knocked the ball five yards too far ahead, allowing Cambridge keeper Danny Potter to rush out and bravely block his effort from point-blank range.
There was still time for Hatton to head another Hussey corner wide, but the spoils were quite fairly and squarely shared. The Dons have now faced Luton, Oxford and Cambridge in their first four home games, and have been beaten only once. Such resilience should stand them in good stead for the rest of the season.