AFC Wimbledon were reasonably happy in the end with a point against Croydon Athletic. They dominated the first-half but it took a late MacDowall effort to ensure honours were even.
Steve Butler and Antony Howard were restored to the back three with the rested Richard Butler partnering Martin Randall up front. And Randall and Butler were instrumental as Wimbledon took the game to the opposition from the off. The blue shirts were first to every ball, chasing and harrying Croydon and carving out chance after chance in a rampant opening spell, but their reward was just a solitary goal.
First Randall headed wide from a near-post Ryan Gray corner, before setting up the first goal on eight minutes. His slide rule through pass sent both Chris Gell and Richard Butler free. Gell sent a square pass across the keeper for Butler to fire into the empty net.
Then Steve Gibson hared down the right wing to whip in a low cross. Butler knocked the ball past Hyatt but Randall couldn?t quite turn to get his shot in. He sent it back to Prigent, who won a corner which was curled out for a goal kick. As Gray sent a long ball bouncing into the area, Richard Butler muscled two defenders out of the way to squeeze a snapshot in, which Hyatt palmed away.
Croydon mounted a rare attack and the Dons broke at pace, with Gareth Graham curling a Hoddle-esque pass over the left back for Prigent to collect, but his low cross was blocked. Another half-cleared corner fell to Gibson and his cross was headed over by Howard.
Graham won the ball well on the halfway line and chipped an exquisite through ball into the path of Richard Butler. Hyatt came off his line well to make a great block from Butler?s first time shot.
After 26 minutes of total dominance, the Dons suddenly found themselves pegged back to 1-1. An innocuous long ball was just ignored by Antony Howard and as confusion reigned among the static defence, Stevens nipped in to trickle a shot into the bottom corner from his side?s first real chance.
It took the Dons a couple of minutes to find their feet again after such a soft goal, but they came back by carving out another good chance. Prigent chipped a great through-ball for Randall to collect and he was unceremoniously dumped to the ground by a Wilson body-check on the edge of the area. Wilson was booked for the challenge but Prigent?s free-kick was blocked a defensive wall no more than four yards away.
Another promising Dons attack was halted by an inexplicable linesman?s flag and an equally unfathomable booking for Randall. Gell then sent a shot from distance into Hyatt?s midriff.
To concede one soft goal while dominating the match was unfortunate, but to concede a second looked remarkably like carelessness. Croydon created their second chance of the match with a long ball. Once more its bounce beat the back three and Matt Fowler seemed to have the freedom of the penalty to plan a low shot beyond Naisbitt and into the bottom corner, giving the keeper no chance.
Only a last ditch header by Waite prevented a Gray cross being turned in by one of three waiting Dons players as the home side continued to press. But Croydon were buoyed by the surprise lead and enjoyed a five minute spell of pressure in the approach to half-time. In injury-time Hyatt did well to cling on to a dangerous fizzing Randall cross. Prigent was knocked to the ground on the edge of the box and Hyatt capped a good first-half display by saving the free-kick well to preserve his side's advantage.
Wes Goggin replaced Martin Randall at half-time, with Ryan Gray pushed forward to join Prigent and Richard Butler up-front. Some early half-chances came to nothing for the Dons, while Croydon?s best chances saw Gibson head an Evans free-kick over and Greenaway head over from a cross. The visitors then enjoyed a spell of pressure as they grew in confidence, with the Dons unable to find their first-half rhythmn.
Goggin sprinted to keep a crossfield ball from Gibson in play and his first time pass found Gray, but his cross was knocked away from the lurking Prigent. It proved to be his last involvement as he was replaced by Leon McDowall.
As Wimbledon were forced to commit men forward, they looked increasingly susceptible to being caught on the break. Stevens beat Sills and Goggin after a misplaced pass from Howard but Naisbitt came out to block well with his legs. At the other end, a corner was headed over from just under the bar by Steve Butler.
With seven minutes remaining, the Dons finally drew level. And it was the ex-Athletic man MacDowell who did the honours, collecting a knockdown from Steve Butler and delicately chipping it over Hyatt for 2-2.
Greenaway was lucky to escape with just a yellow card for a horrific late lunge on Gibson on the touchline as both sides looked for a late winner. Naisbitt then did very well to claw an inswinging corner out from underneath his bar. Two more corners followed and were cleared, before Stassinos shot well over. The late pressure all came from the visitors deep into injury time, but the Dons held firm to emerge with honours even after a tense encounter against industrious and impressive opponents.