AFC Wimbledon failed to trouble the leakiest defence in League 2 as they lost by a single goal to the division’s bottom side. The Dons could only muster two shots on target as Northampton collected only their second home victory of the season, the last being ten games previously.
This was also the first time Northampton had kept a clean sheet since they won 3-0 in the reverse fixture at Kingsmeadow last September. And this deserved victory at the Sixfields Stadium made the Cobblers the first team to complete a league double over Wimbledon since the South London side’s return to the Football League.
Despite their inability to score, Wimbledon looked set for a clean sheet having seemingly snuffed out their hosts’ attacking threat. But they were undone ten minutes from time after a mistake by left-back Gareth Gwillim. His poor clearance put his side on the back foot, and Northampton substitute Toni Silva – signed on loan from Liverpool just a few hours before kick-off – skipped past three challenges as he pressed towards the Dons’ goal. Silva’s shot was well parried by Seb Brown, but the ball fell perfectly for midfielder Luke Guttridge to nod home.
The goal capped a fine display from Guttridge, who bossed the midfield as the Dons – who lost Billy Knott to a knee injury after 38 minutes – struggled to impose themselves on the game. Their first-half performance was uninspired. They could not get their passing game going and found it hard to cope with Northampton’s forward pair of Adebayo Akinfenwa and Brett Williams, while winger Michael Jacobs – who scored twice at Kingsmeadow earlier in the season – was allowed space down the right-hand side.
In the opening minute, Jacobs created a chance for Guttridge, who saw his shot palmed wide by Brown. From the resulting corner, Jacobs’ delivery was headed just over by Akinfenwa. Then, in the last minute of the half, having seen his own effort turned away by Brown, Jacobs’ corner was met by the head of Clarke Carlisle and the ball seemed destined for the net. But Rashid Yussuff’s block on the goal-line kept the Dons on level terms at the break.
Carlisle too was making his debut for the Cobblers, having signed from Burnley on loan until the end of the season. His influence was evident as he not only superbly marshalled his backline, but won every challenge against the Dons’ forwards. However despite his performance and his side’s dominance it was the Dons who spurned the best opportunity to open the scoring.
Ten minutes into the second half, Jack Midson latched onto a long pass from Sammy Moore and broke into the box. His left-foot cross-cum-shot beat goalkeeper Chris Weale and found Jason Euell two yards from goal. Incredibly, the Charlton loanee turned the ball over the bar and immediately collapsed, presumably in shock at how he had managed to miss the target.
That was the Dons’ last real chance until the closing stages when, searching for an equaliser after Guttridge’s goal, captain Jamie Stuart nodded wide of the post from a Sam Hatton free-kick. Other than that, Wimbledon were reduced to long-range efforts, most notably from Moore and Gavin Hoyte, but they could not trouble Weale.
In fact, Weale’s one real problem of the evening came during a bizarre incident in stoppage time. Having watched Moore’s shot bounce wide, he fell to the ground with an apparent ankle injury that necessitated his substitution, adding further minutes to the five already allowed by referee Andy D’Urso.
Despite the home fans’ understandable nervousness, Wimbledon could not dig out one final chance and left their travelling 400 heading sharply for the exits and pondering the following Saturday’s home clash with Morecambe.
There would be doubts about the fitness of Knott, and also of Gwillim, who had to be replaced after a collision in the build-up to the goal. There would be fears too for Sammy Moore, who limped off after the game having been the victim of several strong challenges.
The manager would also be looking for more potency from his forwards who, despite strong second-half performances, seemed to lose their nerve in the penalty area. Both Midson and Byron Harrison looked dangerous with their intelligent wide runs, but the killer instinct was lacking and Harrison will want to start adding goals to his encouraging performances.
Wimbledon now find themselves truly a mid-table side, 11 points from the last playoff spot and 11 points above the team in 23rd place. With the kind of performance they put in against Northampton, they seem unlikely to move much further in either direction.