A first-half full of promise came to nothing for Wimbledon tonight with a 57th minute strike from Dean Morgan winning it for Oxford.
The Dons produced an opening 45 minutes of attractive football on a bowling green of a pitch at the Kassam Stadium, but Luke Moore was twice denied by home goalkeeper Ryan Clarke and it was a different game after the break as play-off chasers Oxford proved too strong.
Terry Brown made just one change to his starting line-up with Luke Moore given the nod to replace Jason Euell after the end of his loan spell. And Moore was almost celebrating a goal in his first start for the Dons since January 28 with a powerful 20-yard strike after just 70 seconds that Clarke palmed away at his near post. However, Oxford’s fluid 4-3-3 formation caused the Dons problems with right-sided attacker Scott Rendell leading the charge. Rendell came so close to setting up the opening goal in the 12th minute with a teasing cross that only needed a touch from Morgan, but he completely missed it when it looked easier to score. The opening quarter of the match saw both sides playing good football on a superb playing surface and a fine pass from Pim Balkestein provided Billy Knott with a shooting chance from 25 yards that he struck sweetly, but just too high.
The first half hour was particularly pleasing on the eye from the visitors as they worked a series of promising attacking moves, the only criticism perhaps being a reluctance to shoot. However, the Dons appeared to have a decent shout for a penalty in the 28th minute when Sammy Moore was sent sprawling in the box by Oxford skipper Jake Wright, but referee Keith Stroud waved Wimbledon appeals away. Another encouraging move ended with Sammy Moore picking out Jack Midson, but his header was too close to Clarke. The Dons had their best chance of the first-half in the 37th minute when George Moncur put Luke Moore through on goal, but his shot was well saved by Clarke. However, the visitors were almost hit with a sucker punch a minute later when an Oli Johnson shot was cleared off the line by Wimbledon skipper Gareth Gwillim and the Oxford striker’s follow-up was saved by the legs of Seb Brown, who also had to turn away a 35-yard Dean Morgan free-kick. The hosts finished the half as the stronger side and they were almost rewarded for their pressure when Andy Whing rose highest in the box and headed just wide of the near post. In a first-half that included several chances, the Dons almost fashioned a goal with the last action before the break when Rashid Yussuff played a one-two with George Moncur and curled a 20-yarder just wide of the far post.
Oxford started in determined mood to put the visitors on the back foot and Wimbledon came under considerable pressure for the first time in the match. Wimbledon had Seb Brown to thank for keeping them level when he reacted superbly to beat out a fierce shot from Asa Hall. However, Oxford’s increased second-half tempo paid off in the 57th minute with another goal conceded from a Wimbledon perspective that could have been avoided. Yussuff failed to clear a loose ball on the edge of the area and the ball eventually found Morgan, who struck a powerful drive from an acute angle that Brown could only help into the net. It was so nearly game over 18 minutes from time when Johnson beat Brown with a dipping header, but the ball thundered off the crossbar. Wimbledon did weather the storm though and they had their best chance of the second-half so far when a Sam Hatton cross was only half cleared and the ball fell nicely for Sammy Moore, but he fired the shot high and wide. Terry Brown handed Christian Jolley a chance to rescue a point for the Dons with 13 minutes to play as he replaced Billy Knott. Kieran Djilali and Byron Harrison were also thrown into the mix in a desperate search for the equaliser. The changes resulted in a frantic finale as the visitors piled everything forward, but their last chance came and went in injury-time when Moncur's shot was saved by Clarke and Oxford scrambled the ball clear.