AFC Wimbledon slumped to their tenth league game without a win after yet another calamitous first half in which they gifted Oxford two worryingly soft goals. Any comeback the Dons might have mounted in the second half failed to materialise, due largely to some bad luck in front of goal and two or three penalty decisions which could, on another day, have gone the team’s way.
After the promising though ultimately fruitless display at the Don Valley Stadium nine days before, Wimbledon would have gone into this game against playoff hopefuls Oxford in slightly more buoyant mood than of late. With the influential Sammy Moore restored to the starting line-up after his one-match suspension, the onus was on the Dons to stamp their authority on Chris Wilder’s improving side.
After their side had conceded two early sloppy goals against both Bradford and Accrington in recent weeks, the home debut of Mat Mitchel-King gave the Dons fans hope that the defence would be noticeably tighter and make their opponents work for their goals. But after a lacklustre opening quarter of an hour in which only two Tom Craddock efforts that ballooned over the Tempest End roof could qualify as an attempt on goal, United took the lead – and yet again it was largely avoidable.
The ball was lost in the centre circle after Jamie Stuart misheaded a ball and didn’t see where it was landing. Potter quickly picked it up and ran at the home defence and unfortunately Lee Minshull’s sliding tackle only diverted the ball into the path of James Constable whose turn and run was matched by a tidy finish inside Seb Brown’s near post. United then almost doubled their lead, but Mitchel-King’s fine intervention prevented Potter from getting his shot before Peter Leven fired wide from 15 yards.
The Dons were making precious little headway at the other end, save for two goalmouth scrambles in which United skipper Jake Wright cleared the ball on both occasions. Apart from a Jack Midson 20-yarder that smacked against the calves of his former United team-mate Simon Heslop, the home side had to wait until the 33rd minute for a shot on target, but Luke Moore’s effort lacked any fizz.
The main problem for Terry Brown’s side appeared to be how to get the ball in behind United left-back Liam Davis for the pacy Jackson to run onto; in 45 minutes they managed it just twice, and on both occasions Jackson’s cross left a lot to be desired.
If the Dons had managed to keep the deficit to one goal, a change of tactics in the second half would have given them a fighting chance of not only drawing level but winning their first home game since 1 October, but another error-strewn minute again proved costly.
Potter found Constable in acres of space inside the box, but Jamie Stuart reacted well to block the shot and give the Dons the chance to defend the corner. However, United midfielder Asa Hall was left completely unmarked at the back post, and from just six yards out he didn’t even need to jump and calmly nodded past Brown with ease. For the third time in four games Wimbledon went in at the break trailing by two goals to nil.
Jackson was withdrawn at the break in favour of Ricky Wellard, and a shift from the vulnerability of 4–3–3 to the solidity of 4–4–2 was evident within seconds. Wellard did brilliantly on the left and fed Rashid Yussuff, who timed his run into the box perfectly and got a toe to the ball only for United’s Andy Whing to bring him down for what seemed like a stonewall penalty. But referee D’Urso, despite being perfectly positioned, pointed for a goal-kick.
One suspected that all the Dons needed to get a foothold in a game that had threatened to pass them by completely was a bit of luck. But three incidents in the space of 10 minutes proved that relying on fortune was not going to be enough.
First, more good interplay between Wellard and Yussuff saw the former feed the latter in the box, only for Yussuff’s shot to crash back off the underside of the bar and bounce over the waiting Minshull’s head. Then Yussuff collected the rebound after Wright blocked Wellard’s stinging 20-yarder, but as the former Gillingham man tried to dance around Whing in the D, the defender did enough to put him off.
And then the Dons fans were howling for another penalty. When Midson and Davis both went for a Sammy Moore through-ball, their legs tangled and both players tumbled to the ground. A penalty seemed unlikely, but D’Urso was convinced that Midson was trying to win one and booked the Dons striker, much to the surprise of the vast majority of the 4,547 packed inside The Cherry Red Records Stadium.
One more chance fell to the Dons when Yussuff beat keeper Clarke to a Hatton through-ball, but Clarke recovered well and prevented the Dons midfielder from getting his shot away and forced him back – Yussuff’s pass to Luke Moore was the best option available to him, but Moore was tackled as he received the ball – unfairly in the view of Moore and the Dons fans – but referee D’Urso, again well-placed, saw it differently.
Any head of steam the Dons had built up now evaporated, and if either side were likely to further modify the scoreline, it was the visitors. Craddock followed up his two misses in the first half with a third from 12 yards out after Hall set him up; Davis headed over from 10 yards; and Constable saw two decent efforts saved by Seb Brown, who also did extremely well to cut out two dangerous near-post Potter crosses.
Terry Brown left it late to make any further changes, with James Mulley and Chris Bush replacing Gareth Gwillim and Lee Minshull, fresh from a 44-minute stint as a wide right midfield player. But neither substitute had time to make any kind of impression on proceedings, and at the final whistle the Dons were left to rue their luck and reflect on not only their fourth straight league defeat, but their third without scoring and their sixth home defeat in 12.
With Dagenham & Redbridge, Plymouth and Bradford all winning and all scoring three in the process, the Dons are going to have to turn this run of form around before they get dragged into a relegation dogfight with games against Southend (who lie 3rd), Swindon (7th), Port Vale (9th) and Gillingham (6th) to come next.