Returning to a ground where there have been glorious wins and ignominious defeats is quite a novel experience for most AFC Wimbledon fans, especially those who have followed the Dons only in fairly recent seasons. Was this to be a day when success beckoned in a cold wind on the Lincolnshire coast?
Regretfully it proved otherwise. The Dons slipped to their eighth defeat of the season as Grimsby came from behind to grab all three points. Despite some patches of sumptuous passing football, a generally lacklustre display, particularly in defence, almost certainly put paid to any hopes of automatic promotion.
Drewe Broughton kept his starting place as Christian Jolley replaced Kirk Hudson in the only change from Tuesday’s disappointing draw at Hayes & Yeading. Fit-again Sammy Moore and Lee Minshull both returned to the bench, and both came on in the second half.
The home side got off to a flyer, and Seb Brown was forced to make a smart save from a header following a corner in the first minute of the match. Michael Coulson, who would prove to be the Dons, undoing, should have opened his account just two minutes later, but his first touch was poor and Brown was able to gather the ball.
A Danny Kedwell free-kick brought a fine save low to his right from Grimsby’s second-choice keeper, Steve Croudson. At the other end, first Coulson and then top scorer Alan Connell forced good saves in quick succession from the all too busy Brown; the Dons midfield were finding it hard to keep the ball for any length of time, which put pressure on the defence.
Despite their obvious defensive frailties, it was the Dons who drew first blood in the 24th minute when Rashid Yussuff eluded Rob Atkinson, burst from midfield into the penalty box and drove the ball firmly past Croudson from 18 yards. The goal seemed to settle Wimbledon, and there followed ten minutes of dominance with some of the best football the team has played all season. A three-man move set up Jolley, in acres of space inside the penalty box and just 12 yards out, but he shot tamely at Croudson. Then Kedwell’s glorious cross-field pass found James Mulley alone on the right wing, and the Dons man closed in on goal before bringing a fine finger-tip save from Croudson.
For all their attractive passing, the Dons could not double their lead, and for that they were made to pay on 37 minutes, when Coulson was allowed far too much space by Gwillim and gave Brown no chance with a drive into the far corner. The Dons nearly restored their lead just three minutes later, but Croudson denied Steven Gregory before Jolley’s follow-up shot was deflected up and over the crossbar.
If the 300 travelling Dons fans had hoped for more fine flowing football in the second half, they were to be sorely disappointed. The only consistency the away side found was in their abject defending. Having parted to allow Coulson through on goal just after the restart, forcing Brown to save yet again, the Wimbledon defence gave him even more space in the 53rd minute, and this time he made no mistake. It was to be Grimsby’s only effort on target in the entire second half, and they made full use of it.
Terry Brown brought on Minshull for Broughton and Ryan Jackson for the concussed Jolley to try to fire up his side, but the Dons’ second-half display was listless, possession being all too often gifted to their hosts. Fraser Franks was fortunate to see only yellow after an ugly challenge on Connell. Ironically, the Grimsby striker’s delayed and theatrical response to the tackle may have influenced the referee towards leniency.
There was no such leniency for Grimsby’s Mark Hudson when he lashed out at Minshull – he earned himself a red card and gave the Dons almost 20 minutes to score against ten men. But they failed to capitalise on their numerical advantage, despite Jackson beating players for fun down the right.
With 15 minutes left, Jackson set up Kedwell for a glorious chance only for the Dons skipper to blast his shot at the scoreboard on top of the stand. Five minutes later Moore had a chance identical to the one Broughton put away at Tamworth, but he shot wide of the empty goal. After a succession of crosses went unconverted, with Yussuff’s off-target shot the best effort, Jackson decided to go for goal himself, but his shot was well off-target.
Wimbledon could and probably should have picked up some or all of the points from this encounter, and would need to improve if they were to ensure a play-off spot.