AFC Wimbledon suffered more frustration at the hands of Tonbridge Angels, as the side from Kent stole another point from the Dons just as they did in November. The game was the classic tale of two halves, Wimbledon’s 2-0 lead at half time admirably pulled back by the visitors in the second half. Play was severely hampered by a fierce wind resulting in all four goals being scored at the end with the wind aiding the attackers.
Wimbledon lined up in their customary 4-4-2 formation, with the iconic Marcus Gayle returning to the starting line up for the first time in 2008. There was a full league debut for Chris Hussey at left back replacing the injured, previously ever-present, Michael Haswell and Mark De Bolla also returned to the starting line-up in central midfield.
From kick off it became clear just how influential the wind would be, as headers were proving hard to control and judge. Tonbridge struggled to clear their lines while through balls from the Dons rocketed off the players’ boots. The game began at a high tempo and Tonbridge’s Scott Kinch tested Lee Butcher in the early stages. However it was not long before Wimbledon were attacking, as Tony Finn hit a rasping shot that forced a fine save from Matt Reed in the Angels goal. Moments later and Wimbledon were in front early. Finn, not satisfied with his previous effort, again tried a long range effort. Reed’s save ballooned up in the air and Ferguson, following up, won the ball when those around him hesitated. He headed the ball into the path of Jon Main, who tucked the ball home.
Tonbridge rallied well, a free kick from Anthony Storey was parried by Butcher and Tonbridge skipper, John Beales, crashed the rebound into the side netting. Conditions prevented too many clear cut chances, although just after the half hour, Wimbledon managed to double their lead. De Bolla took a free kick promptly, found Hussey bursting forward on the left, and after exchanging passes with Finn, the left back whipped a ball towards goal. Main managed to get the slightest of touches and the ball ended up in the back of the net.
Frustrated at the scoreline, Tonbridge’s attacks lacked their previous concise construction and Storey was twice guilty of failing with his final effort. The irritation continued to mount and eventually boiled over, when Carl Rook attempted a wild and dangerous tackle on De Bolla, who collapsed in a heap. To the crowd’s surprise and annoyance, referee, Mr McLaughlin only showed the Tonbridge front man a yellow card. The half time whistle greeted the players’ ears shortly after, but not before Tonbridge had ended the half with a goal mouth scramble in the AFC Wimbledon area, with the ball pin-balling its way over the bar.
2,733 Dons fans would have been content with what was on display in the first half and confident the Dons would go on to record their fourth home league win in a row. However, Tonbridge’s manager Tommy Warrilow obviously grilled his troops well, as his men came out for the second half intent on changing the game’s direction. Barely a couple of minutes in and Wimbledon’s lead was reduced. Hesitant defending allowed Tonbridge to break and pour forward. Kirk Watts eventually crossed and Rook endeared himself to the Wimbledon faithful further by converting his chance well. Instantly Tonbridge were back in the match. This time it was Wimbledon’s turn to show their frustrations as Beard dangerously lunged at his opponent, although a red card would have been highly inappropriate following the referee’s leniency in the first half.
Wimbledon took a while adjusting to the contradictory conditions and the high ball outlet to Gayle was getting held up in the wind. However, Wimbledon were still able to construct some decent attacks. Good link up play between Gayle and Ferguson ended with Gayle testing Reed. The game’s tempo was certainly raised, as end-to-end football ensued. A worrying sight for Wimbledon occurred just before the hour mark, as Main had to be withdrawn with what looked like a painful foot injury. The front man has been in lethal form since signing and today’s goals put his tally to 7 goals in 10 starts. His withdrawal brought Jolly on and Leberl also entered the fray for Finn, with De Bolla now playing out wide. Despite this temporary pause to the game, the pace did not subside once the game restarted. Jason Goodliffe and Hussey defended a set piece heroically for Wimbledon, putting their bodies on the line, before unleashing Ferguson on the break. Wimbledon’s wide man showed impressive pace, not for the first time in the match, and again he fed Gayle, but Wimbledon’s target man could not find the net.
With goal mouth action occurring at each end mere moments apart, a goal was surely looming. Unfortunately for the Dons it was again Rook that managed to convert a chance and bring Tonbridge level. He climbed highest and judged the aerial ball the best, beating Butcher for the second time.
As Wimbledon began mounting more attacks, Tonbridge sat back more. Hatton sliced a shot narrowly wide and Gayle again found Reed equal to his efforts. Hussey, De Bolla and Ferguson out wide seemed the most likely to create some reward, yet that final goal was not coming. As the match drew to a close, it was Tonbridge who ended proceedings the better side, much to Terry Brown’s frustration. Wimbledon sat too deep, lost their midfield, and the referee became over fussy, contradicting his earlier image.
The final whistle brought disappointment to Terry Brown’s men. The league’s previous best defence is looking slightly shaky at present, although the mounting injury list is surely a painful factor in this. The plus point must be the impressive full debut of Hussey, who gave a passionate display that will encourage the Wimbledon faithful. On another day Rook would have been dismissed for his tackle at a time when the Dons had their two goal advantage, Main would have avoided injury, and completed his hat-trick against his former team-mates. Unfortunately, on this day, Wimbledon had to settle for a point.