Defeat at Wrexham came after a highly controversial goal midway through the first half, halting an impressive two-game winning run and leaving boss Terry Brown downbeat. After an innocuous, half-hearted cross by Gareth Taylor was gathered by Seb Brown, the assistant referee -- with sun in his eyes -- judged the ball to have crossed the line and flagged enthusiastically for a goal.
AFC Wimbledon supporters in line with the assistant referee were adamant that Brown had not carried the ball over the line. The assembled press were left wondering how a goal could have been awarded when, as club photographer Paul Wllatts’ photo clearly showed, Wrexham forward Lamine Sakho was heavily challenging Brown, if not actually fouling him, as the Dons keeper caught the cross, and for good measure handled the ball as well.
Terry Brown made four changes to the eleven who began the FA Trophy win against Altrincham four days previously. Cup-tied Danny Blanchett and Will Hendry were back in place of Jay Conroy and Ross Montague, who both dropped to the bench, and Nathan Edler started up front instead of the injured Jon Main. Lewis Taylor, recovered from injury, started ahead of Ben Judge, as Blanchett’s return allowed Brett Johnson to move from full-back into midfield.
Within two minutes of the start the AFC Wimbledon defence were on the alert, and Paul Lorraine had to make a brave and perfectly timed last-ditch tackle on recent signing from Forest Green Rovers, Andy Mangan, in the penalty area. The chance was set up by the impressive Mansour Assoumani, who proved a handful all afternoon, making rampaging runs down the right and putting pressure on Blanchett.
The Dons’ four-man midfield were playing in a very fluid formation. This gave the team as an offensive unit a lot of space, but defensively it seemed to allow the opposition, Assoumani in particular, too much room. In one Wimbledon attack from a breakaway, a neat pass by Elder would have left Danny Kedwell bearing down on goal, but Elder chose the wrong option, instead picking out Hendry, whose effort was skied high and wide of goal.
Terry Brown’s head in hands summed up the frustration, which was soon compounded by the only goal of the game, in the 29th minute, after a period of end-to-end skirmishing. Despite understandably fierce protestations by the Dons, the referee allowed the goal, bizarrely awarded to Gareth Taylor, to stand. seven minutes later things could have got worse when Sakho thought he’d tapped in the Red Dragons’ second goal – but the referee, perhaps atoning for the earlier error, ruled that Taylor had fouled Sam Hatton
A few minutes later, Lorraine fouled a Wrexham player on the edge of the box, and Wes Baynes’ free-kick hit Seb Brown’s crossbar and bounced to safety; inches lower, and a goal would have been just reward. In truth, Wimbledon made it to half-time lucky to be down by just the solitary goal.
The second half started with the Dons midfield in better shape, and the team looking more composed and effective as an attacking force. For Wrexham, Sakho, who had been a threat in the first half, was replaced by the diminutive Jamie McCluskey, who ran his socks off for a full 45 minutes. The home side should have snuffed out the resurgent Dons ten minutes after the restart. Taylor’s fine header from a great cross by Assoumani was seemingly destined for the net, but somehow Seb Brown denied him with a superb one-handed save, which was given the applause it deserved.
That kept the Dons in the hunt for an equaliser. There was the odd spark of inspiration in the Wimbledon attack, though Kedwell and Elder appeared to be too similar in their styles – often going for the same ball or not at all, and neither leading the line nor playing off the other. Jon Main was sorely missed.
Just after the hour mark, Ricky Wellard swung a delivery into the box and Elder just failed to connect. A few minutes later Ben Judge replaced Brett Johnson, and with just over a quarter of an hour left, Lewis Taylor and Will Hendry made way for Jay Conroy and Ross Montague. Things were now looking up for the visitors at last. For the next ten minutes, wave after wave of Dons attacks bore down on the Wrexham goal.
Elder almost capitalised on a mistake by home keeper Sam Russell. In trying to clear the ball upfield, Russell instead found a charging Elder, who poked the loose ball first time goalwards – but he was foiled by a desperate scramble back by Russell. From the resulting corner, a header from Elder flashed over the bar. More pressure yielded two more corners, the second of which saw Lorraine’s towering header cleared off the line by Wrexham’s Taylor.
The game ended on another sour note when Montague picked up a serious knee injury in stoppage time after a challenge by Frank Sinclair. This one the linesman failed to see. It seemed to sum up the day.
Quite why the most prolific away strike force in the Conference should dry up for three games in a row was anyone’s guess. A solution would have to be found before the next away forays in the League, on 13 and 16 February, when AFC Wimbledon visit Cambridge United and Luton Town.