AFC Wimbledon gained their first ever victory over Barrow, with Brett Johnson and Rashid Yussuff, the game’s outstanding individuals, scoring the vital goals that edged Terry Brown’s side further towards cementing a play-off place.
With both sides desperate for the points, albeit for different reasons, this could very well have turned out to be a dour, nervy affair, with neither side willing to attack with gusto for fear of making a mistake that could prove horribly costly in four weeks’ time. As it was, this was perhaps the most entertaining game at Kingsmeadow this season, with AFC Wimbledon playing free-flowing football that oozed class and belied the importance of the game, while Barrow certainly played their part with a refreshing approach that suggested they wanted more from this game than the hard-earned single-point they accrued from Tuesday night’s visit to third-placed Luton.
Brown elected to start with the same back four as had admirably coped with Rushden pressure last week, meaning the now eligible Jamie Stuart had to be content with a place on the bench, and with Luke Moore and Ryan Jackson swapping last week’s sub and starter roles, it meant no place for on-loan Kirk Hudson (absent on a family matter), with Drewe Broughton having returned whence he came to injury-ravaged Lincoln City.
With Barrow in third place in the form table, following a run of five unbeaten away games, it was perhaps a bit of a surprise that AFC Wimbledon tore at them from the off but three times in the first 10 minutes Kaid Mohamed should have opened his Dons account and Steven Gregory and Ricky Wellard were dictating the play with some aplomb, despite Barrow’s twin terrier-like midfield pairing of on-loan Andy Ferrell and 42-year old joint manager Darren Sheridan. Mohamed’s first attempt flew wildly over when Wellard’s perfectly weighted throughball found him in space on the left of the area and the former Bath striker’s aim was no better when the same player set him up again shortly after. More enterprising play from the ever-willing Yussuff then set Luke Moore up with a shooting opportunity and although his effort was blocked Danny Kedwell couldn’t get the loose ball back into the danger area.
The Dons were in the ascendancy and but for a highly controversial refereeing decision, would have turned that dominance into a goal. Barrow keeper Clark Masters came out to clear a bouncing ball on the edge of his box with Mohamed battling with Mike Pearson for possession but the Hastings-based stopper only succeeded in punching his own defender in the back of the head; the ball ran loose to Kedwell who sidefooted it into the empty net but referee Robinson inexplicably blew for a foul on the Barrow defender and chalked Kedwell’s effort off.
The Dons were still somewhat peeved by the decision when Louis Almond’s long-range effort deflected off Brett Johnson’s heel and spun perilously close to Seb Brown’s left hand post. Barrow looked comfortable in possession and left back Dave Edwards was the catalyst of much of their good work but they had the misfortune to find Johnson and Ismail Yakubu in peerless form. With 32 minutes gone Johnson intercepted a Ferrell pass 10 yards inside his half. Barrow could have been forgiven for thinking that he’d look to find Gregory or Wellard and retreat back inside his own half, but the skilful defender evaded two challenges, advanced at pace towards the Barrow box, played a one-two with Moore and struck a sweetly timed low effort into the bottom corner of the net from 20 yards to give the Dons a lead that their enterprising display thoroughly deserved. It was a goal fit for the Barclays Premier League, never mind the Blue Square Bet Premier.
The Dons were not about to take their foot off the gas either – Moore’s effort from inside the D was well saved by Masters, Mohamed didn’t quite react quickly enough when the one-time Don spilled a 25-yard Gregory grubber and Johnson couldn’t apply the finish when a Sam Hatton corner, one of 16 won by the Dons, caused the Barrow back line all sorts of problems.
Barrow were not out of it by any means but despite playing a huge part in a very enjoyable first 45 minutes, were probably relieved to go in at half time only one goal down.
How they stayed only one goal down for the next 37 minutes only Kaid Mohamed and Luke Moore know. As the Dons started to turn the screw and try and inflict on Barrow their first away defeat since early February, it was the wide men that spurned the chances to finish off the visitors, who were backed by an impressive 129 vociferous flag-bearing supporters.
First Kedwell’s chip to the far post was screaming out to be headed in by Mohamed by the Welshman elected to try and reach it with his boot, only to see his effort drift wide. When the Dons skipper saw Moore racing into the box his pass into the number 11’s path was perfect - all Moore had to do was sidefoot it past Masters for 2-0 but he somehow got too much elevation on his effort and it flew out of the stadium and into the athletics ground.
Fortunately for Wimbledon, Barrow had failed to muster an attempt on target and they didn’t manage to improve that statistic and make the Dons pay for their profligacy in front of goal. A shot ratio of 18 to 5 in Wimbledon’s favour, when they only edged possession by 51-49%, would suggest that the Dons made far more of the ball, but they really did need that second goal just to calm any end-of-season nerves. Another Mohamed effort, this time an overhead kick from 10 yards, only succeeded in dislodging one of the flags at the back of the Tempest End and it seemed that for the second week running Wimbledon would have to hold on to a first half lead for far longer than they wanted to do.
However, with 8 minutes to go, Edwards brought down Yussuff on the edge of the box. Hatton played the free kick back to him and the former Gillingham midfielder’s 20 yard shot took a slight deflection off a Barrow boot and arrowed past Masters to double the lead. Substitute Lee Minshull then came agonisingly close with a whipped, first time effort as Barrow failed to clear yet another corner and fellow sub Mark Nwokeji’s cute pass to Kedwell was brilliantly intercepted by Phil Bolland as the Dons skipper seemed certain to latch on to it and score his 22nd of the season.
A last minute Hatton free kick was well saved by Masters and there was still time for Almond to find space in the box and bring the best out of Gareth Gwillim to preserve the Dons clean sheet and ensure their 15th home win of the season. The fixture list has given Terry Brown visits to Cambridgeshire on the next two Saturdays so by the time the Dons next run out at Kingsmeadow against Mansfield Town on Good Friday, that play-off place could be all-but cemented. More performances like this, and it will be.