AFC Wimbledon stole an unlikely point from this long trip to Cumbria after going two goals down. Strikes from Elliott Godfrey and Jon Main cancelled out a goal by Jason Walker and an own goal by Paul Lorraine, in a game that saw two contrasting sides to the Dons’ play.
Visiting Holker Street is like taking a step back in time. A once proud stadium of Football League standard is now looking rather sorry for itself, with cover on just two sides of the ground. The once large terrace behind one goal has been replaced by club offices and function suites – and the suites were sold out for AFC Wimbledon’s visit, with over 150 business people enjoying the corporate surroundings.
Barrow AFC are a very welcoming club and work very hard on this element – and rightly so. There is no competition locally with former League side Workington, who now ply their trade lower down the pyramid, and League Two side Carlisle are quite a distance away and have no direct impact.
In the week before the game the Dons lost the services of James Pullen, Danny Kedwell and Luis Cumbers to injury and illness following the FA Cup tie at Millwall. The team took a little time to adjust, not least because of the windy conditions that had caused havoc across much of the country and led to a number of games being postponed.
Sam Hatton did well to tackle loanee Craig Nelthorpe just seven minutes into the game, and Alan Inns showed equally astute defending as he cleared Nelthorpe’s cross from the left three minutes later under Barrow pressure. Deputising goalkeeper Seb Brown made a fine save from Jason Walker’s header after a quarter of an hour.
The Dons’ task became harder on 21 minutes, when Alan Inns left the field with a knee injury following a strong challenge in which he appeared to get his studs stuck in the mud. Ben Judge replaced him and was soon in the thick of the action, as the enforced changes seemed to unsettle the Wimbledon back four still further.
However, the lively and in-form Jon Main created a clear-cut opportunity for the Dons on 29 minutes, when his first-time volley from Lewis Taylor’s lob forced keeper Stuart Tomlinson into a fine save down to his left.
But it was Barrow who took the lead, just after the half-hour mark. The ever impressive Nelthorpe sprinted down the left, breezing past Hatton, and his cross was agonisingly deflected off Paul Lorraine for his second own goal in as many league games. Even more galling for Wimbledon was that the breakaway came as a result of a miscommunication at the other end that left the visitors flat-footed.
Although the Dons managed to prevent further damage in the half, they would have felt that they should have given the hosts more to think about, having spent the first 45 minutes kicking with the wind.
Any immediate hope the visitors had of getting a foothold in the second half were dashed almost immediately following a disappointing display of defending. The strengthening wind played a major part in Barrow’s second goal. Newly introduced home striker Jon Shaw should have done better with Jason Walker’s low cross, but then Walker himself made it 2-0 from the resulting corner with a 12-yard strike, as two Dons defenders failed to clear the loose ball as headers came back into the box.
Jon Main could have pulled one back on 54 minutes with a strong run into the box, but he was foiled by a good block by keeper Tomlinson. Steven Gregory’s 25-yard screamer a minute later had an element of frustration about it, but it did appear now that the Wimbledon players’ pride had been wounded, for there was now more resolve in their play.
Terry Brown introduced Jay Conroy on 57 minutes, replacing the somewhat subdued Luke Moore, who appeared to have picked up a knock. This substitution saw Sam Hatton move into midfield with Lewis Taylor switching to wide right, and the changes soon brought rewards.
The Dons picked up an unlikely lifeline just after the hour, courtesy of a mistake this time by the home side. When Main’s low cross-shot was parried by Tomlinson, Elliott Godfrey followed up from close range and for once the Barrow defenders failed to block a shot.
Hatton maybe should have levelled up on 68 minutes after his run eluded two defenders, but his shot went just past the post. However, with 15 minutes left the Dons got an equaliser that would have seemed almost impossible earlier in the game. An inswinging corner won by Main from a pass by Lewis Taylor found the home defence flat-footed, and Main pounced from just four yards to bring the scores level.
The Dons clearly now had their tails up, and were using the wind to hold up passes. The introduction of Ricky Wellard for the tiring Godfrey soon brought a new element to the game as the visitors started to dominate. Passes played from midfield to the wings set up a host of chances via the imagination of Lewis Taylor and Brett Johnson on either flank. But the breakthrough would not come, and the Dons’ efforts were thwarted by some last-ditch defending and by good goalkeeping as Tomlinson made up for earlier errors.
However, the Dons were given a timely reminder with ten minutes remaining, as the impressive Brown tipped over a thunderbolt of a shot by Andy Bond which had the assembled media in the press box purring. And Brown saved the game for the Dons with a fantastic save with just two minutes remaining, when he tipped Nelthorpe’s left-footed free-kick from the edge of the box onto the post.
With Barrow piling on late pressure, this draw for the Dons was hard fought – and maybe barely deserved. It did, however, end a run of defeats, and it remained to be seen whether an ever-growing injury list would prevent Wimbledon from resuming their assault on the playoff places.