AFC Wimbledon slipped out of the League 2 playoff places after this 5–2 defeat to table-topping Crawley Town – a team that had never previously recorded a victory in a competitive game at The Cherry Red Records Stadium.
Terry Brown made two changes from the side beaten by Crewe the previous Saturday, Max Porter and Ricky Wellard coming in for the suspended Luke Moore and the injured Rashid Yussuff.
A lively crowd in a packed stadium had barely settled down before the first goal came. The away team forced a corner in the 3rd minute, and from the resulting set piece Chris Bush sliced his front-post clearance into the Wimbledon net. It was an unfortunate start after what had been a scrappy opening few minutes.
The home side faced an almighty task after Crawley doubled their advantage in the 9th minute, again through a corner. This time it was the away side’s centre-back, Claude Davis, who powered a header past Seb Brown.
Just two minutes later, the Dons gained a foothold in the game. Max Porter, fiery and determined, won the ball in the Crawley box and smashed it across the face of goal. One touch and it was 2–1 – another own goal as Davis turned the ball into his own net for his second of the game.
Both sides continued to place the emphasis on attack, with shots being fired in at both goalkeepers. The Dons, facing taller opposition, looked uncomfortable in the air, coming under threat most of all at set pieces.
Crawley were forced into making a substitution in the 26th minute, John Akinde replacing the injured forward Tyrone Barnett. By this time the first half had settled down into an even contest between two teams playing attractive, passing football.
Chris Bush whipped a free-kick dangerously into the Crawley box in the 28th minute to further threaten the away team’s lead. Christian Jolley was lucky not to be booked after kicking the ball away after committing a foul on Crawley right-back David Hunt. Passion and enthusiasm were, as expected, continually on display.
Seeking to make amends for his own goal, Chris Bush was a determined character in the first half, linking up well with the midfield on the left and defending well against the lively Matt Tubbs.
Crawley midfielder Sergio Torres was booked for a late tackle on Sammy Moore in the 43rd minute, two minutes before the Dons got a well-deserved equaliser through Jack Midson – his tenth goal of the season. He cut across from the right side of the box and fired a low shot past Scott Shearer’s outstretched left hand. The Dons fans erupted and delight was also clear to see on the faces of the Wimbledon players.
The home side had once again shown their fighting character and deservedly went into the break on level terms. But the second half would prove to be a rather different story.
The first opportunity in the second period came in the 50th minute when Matt Tubbs, unmarked at the back post, floated a header wide of the target. It was a let-off for Wimbledon and a reminder that the league leaders were determined to leave with all three points.
Crawley continued to pile on the pressure and three minutes after making their final two substitutions they were given the opportunity to retake the lead from the penalty spot after Callum McNaughton was judged to have handled in the area. Matt Tubbs stepped up and emphatically put the ball in the top left corner to make the score 3–2.
Just before the hour mark, an error by Seb Brown gifted Crawley a fourth goal. Dannie Bulman put pressure on Brown, the Dons keeper spilled the ball seven yards out, and the midfielder had the simple task of tapping into an open net to make the score 4–2.
Wimbledon had just not come out of the blocks in the second half, and it took them 20 minutes to fashion a half-chance. Lee Minshull floated a header form a deep cross agonisingly over the bar as the Dons searched for a spark to reignite their performance.
Christian Jolley, working hard with little reward thus far, had a similar effort watched over the bar by Scott Shearer as the home side began to turn the heat up on their London rivals, but in the 84th minute it was Crawley who added to their goal tally. After a series of passes on the edge of the area, Dannie Bulman headed in from close range for his second of the game.
As the game fizzled out, the majority of the 4,549 crowd – the fourth sell-out of the season – stayed to applaud the Wimbledon players in what had been very much a game of two halves.