Wimbledon lost their 100% start to the season thanks to a stunning finish from a player who arguably shouldn’t have been on the pitch. A stuttering performance and some highly questionable refereeing contributed to a disappointing night in Northamptonshire for the Dons.
The game had started quite brightly for Wimbledon. With less than three minutes gone on the electronic scoreboard, Ismail Yakubu’s header from a Rashid Yussuff free-kick was acrobatically saved by Diamonds keeper Dale Roberts, only for Luke Moore to tamely head the rebound over an unguarded net from six yards. That that was the Dons’ best chance of the night says all you need to know about the 87 minutes that followed.
Had Moore converted his simple chance, the game could well have turned out completely differently, but Rushden – who were bottom of the table going into this game – weren’t in the mood to offer Wimbledon such a prize opportunity again and set about proving that their lowly league position was entirely false.
And so it proved. Rushden were looking by far the best side the Dons have faced this season. Strikers Rene Howe and Ryan Charles caused Yakubu and Brett Johnson problems with their movement, and Alan Power and Max Porter at the heart of the midfield were getting the better of Steven Gregory, Sammy Moore and Yussuff, who was making his first start in place of the injured Ricky Wellard. Thankfully for the visitors, Diamonds’ shooting was pretty woeful and wayward, and Seb Brown had little to do of any significance.
With half of the first half played, Terry Brown’s evening took its first turn for the worse when Sam Hatton hobbled off. Hatton had been largely untroubled by one of the home side’s three Peterborough loanees, Dominic Green, but the winger began to play on substitute Ryan Jackson’s inexperience, and became more and more influential as the game wore on.
Not helping the Dons’ cause was the fact that the free-flowing football that had lit up their two home games had dried up. Passes out wide, either to the full-backs or to Jon Main and Luke Moore, were being underhit and easily intercepted. Main was especially quiet, and even Danny Kedwell seemed to have met his match in the highly rated Curtis Osano. Rushden were missing their combative skipper Jamie Stuart through suspension, but the combination of the powerful Osano and his fellow central defender Shane Huke meant that Stuart, a target for Terry Brown over the summer, was hardly missed.
Rushden’s passing game was starting to come together, even though their finishing showed no sign of improvement. As a disappointing half drew to a close, the home side were clearly in the ascendancy, with Brown by far the busier of the two keepers.
Terry Brown is not known for his half-time substitutions, but Christian Jolley’s appearance on the touchline at the start of the second period was a sign of the manager’s frustration with his side’s showing. Jon Main had got the hook during the break in a bid to change the pattern of the game.
Unfortunately, despite Jolley’s tricky wing play, the change didn’t work. If anything, the Dons were even more sloppy in possession than they had been in the first half, with Andre Blackman twice guilty of running into defenders after promising runs when a simple pass out wide to Jolley would have been the more sensible option. Gregory, Yussuff and both Moores looked out of sorts, and Rushden’s midfield pairing were clearly having the best of the play.
The home side were now looking more likely to score. Howe and Power came close, but a smart save from Brown kept out the former and a block by Yakubu kept out the latter. When the ball did find its way to Kedwell, the Dons talisman found himself crowded out and invariably a Rushden defender was on hand to tidy up.
With 62 minutes gone the game’s first flashpoint saw Howe, another of the Peterborough players, jab his forearm into Blackman’s face after he’d fouled the Dons defender. Referee Martin, who had been exceptionally pernickety and fussy all night – especially where the Dons were concerned – decided that the offence warranted only a quick word when a yellow card was the least it deserved, and a red would not have been out of the question. Two minutes later, almost inevitably, Howe’s 15-yard shot curled over Seb Brown and in off the underside of the bar to give Diamonds the lead as the Dons backed off and the striker made good use of the space he was given on the edge of the box.
Howe and Johnson came close to extending the home side’s lead as Wimbledon came under increasing pressure, but the Dons defence held firm, and with only one goal in it there was always the chance that they could get back into the game. But that chance never came, and despite two goalmouth scrambles that followed Jolley crosses, both somehow ending up in keeper Dale Roberts’ arms, an equaliser never really looked on the cards.
It wasn’t as though the Dons were profligate in front of goal, rather that more often than not they didn’t get as far as that, with overhit or underhit passes tamely ending any attack of promise. Even the most ardent Dons fan would have to admit that their side was second-best on the night.