AFC Wimbledon’s good fortune in penalty shoot-outs came to a shuddering halt on Tuesday at the County Ground against Paulo Di Canio’s Swindon Town.
In a year that saw the Dons qualify for the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy via spot-kicks in the Conference playoff final, Stuart Cash’s charges could not repeat the penalty success that had seen them through in the last round against Stevenage.
Three saved place-kicks out of four were enough to end the run after Rashid Yussuff had cancelled out Oliver Risser’s powerful shot in the second half. In truth, the visitors were fortunate to take the game to spot-kicks after losing their shape and attacking prowess following Christian Jolley’s withdrawal at half time.
Cash made five changes from the draw against Barnet, which included the return of Fraser Franks for his first start in a Dons shirt this season. However, there was no room for keeper Jack Turner, as Seb Brown kept his place.
It was Brown who was the busier of the two keepers, and Wimbledon summer target Alan Connell gave an early warning after seven minutes with a shot over the bar.
Wimbledon’s play was more scrappy than cultured, although they kept the ball and started to put some of their passing game together. They created their first good chance after 20 minutes, but James Mulley skied his shot.
Swindon gave the Dons another scare on 25 minutes when Paul Caddis’s slotted through-ball found an unmarked Connell – however, the former Grimsby striker was at full stretch and couldn’t control the ball, leaving Brown to collect safely.
Wimbledon were now struggling to find their earlier rhythm, and had to rely on Brown’s fingertip save on 37 minutes after Connell’s superb back-header looked as if would brake the deadlock.
However, Jack Midson reminded Swindon that the Dons were still in the game with five minutes of the half remaining. His first-time strike was aimed straight at keeper Phil Smith, following some great play by James Mulley.
With Jolley replaced by Charles Ademeno at half-time, the Dons looked to continue the attacking verve they had shown at the beginning and end of the first half. However, Connell again gave the visitors an early warning by shooting just wide four minutes after the restart.
Swindon put on Etienne Esajas, and he almost made an immediate impact when he forced Brown to save from a shot outside the box twice in the space of two minutes.
With half an eye on the forthcoming FA Cup clash against Scunthorpe, both Kieran Djilali and Midson were substituted on the hour mark, to be replaced by Lee Minshull and Max Porter. Perhaps inevitably, Swindon then took the lead after 68 minutes when Risser unleashed a thunderbolt of a drive that Brown could do little about. It was as much as the home side deserved.
To their credit, Wimbledon tried to pull back level, although Esajas could have put the game beyond reach when yet another thunderous effort from outside the box ricocheted off the crossbar.
With nine minutes left, the Dons gave themselves an unlikely second wind when Minshull found himself free in the area, and looped the ball over Smith for Yussuff to poke home from two yards out. But there was no late winner, just a quick exit after firing blanks in the shoot-out