The Dons handed the Blue Square Bet Premier initiative firmly back to Crawley Town after slumping to a disappointing defeat at the hands of Dean Saunders’ Wrexham.
Between them, Wrexham’s game and AFC Wimbledon’s game the previous Saturday had yielded a total of 16 goals – anyone expecting a repeat of those goal fests would have been sorely disappointed, as there weren’t even 16 shots on goal.
Terry Brown understandably named an unchanged side from the XI that started the 5-2 win at Tamworth, but it was evident from the opening exchanges that this was not going to be a repeat of that affair – and neither were Wrexham in the mood to capitulate again following, their stunning 7-2 home defeat at the hands of what appear to be a now-rampant Gateshead.
The attacking panache that Terry’s boys had shown pretty much throughout Saturday’s game was almost entirely lacking, with Wrexham’s combative midfield of Lee Fowler, Jay Harris and Mark Creighton ably supported by the hard-working front three of Mathias Pogba, Gareth Taylor and Andy Mangan. The Dons’ midfield trio of Steven Gregory, Rashid Yussuff and James Mulley all began tentatively, with Mulley in particular looking below par, and Wrexham gave the three of them very little time on the ball.
The Dons were frustrating the home fans by repeatedly trying to play the ball out from the back, when it was clear that Wrexham were going to come at them every time they did this. At one point Wimbledon conceded a corner from Seb Brown’s throw-out after Sam Hatton, Gregory and Brett Johnson all failed to deal with simple passes. Mangan then almost capitalised on another spell of Dons’ defensive dithering, but his angled drive after Hatton had uncharacteristically given the ball away hit the side netting.
Wimbledon were looking second best in most departments, with Kirk Hudson and Christian Jolley largely anonymous, Jolley struggling to make any sort of impression even when the two wide men swapped wings. But despite their lack of cutting edge, the Dons came the closest to breaking the first-half deadlock. Danny Kedwell’s 25-yard drive was only parried by Wrexham keeper Chris Maxwell, but Hudson couldn’t find the net as he dived to head the rebound, Maxwell blocking his spectacular follow-up.
That was as close as the Dons would come to scoring – despite a Hatton howitzer of a free-kick that smashed into the Kingston Road End roof before Maxwell could even move – and there was still the best part of 70 minutes left. Wrexham were undoubtedly the better side in a first half that was short on quality but high on endeavour.
Terry Brown’s rousing team talks have changed the course of games on several occasions this season, but whatever the Dons boss said in the changing room during the interval had precious little effect this time. If anything, Wrexham looked stronger than they had in the first half, and Pogba and Harris both came close to giving Saunders’ men the lead. Pogba’s header rattled a post and fell kindly for Seb Brown just after the hour, and then Harris’s cross-shot bamboozled Brown, who watched the ball sail over his head and strike the bar before bouncing to safety.
With 15 minutes to go, Wimbledon fans sensed that a goal was coming when Gareth Gwillim stepped up to take a free kick in a promising position some 30 yards from goal, wide on the Dons right. The fans were right, but within 12 seconds of Gwillim smashing the ball low and hard towards the crowded penalty area, Seb Brown was picking the ball out of his net. Harris cleared the free-kick up field, Mangan touched it on, Pogba knocked it past Stuart, sped past Johnson, rounded Brown and slipped the ball into the net.
Wimbledon were offering precious little going forward, but within a minute of Drewe Broughton coming off the bench to replace Mulley, the tall striker’s flick-on set up a chance for Kedwell, but as he looked to round the keeper the 17-goal striker could only find the side netting as a goalward shot from the narrowing angle proved to be impossible.
There was still plenty of time for the Dons to fashion an equaliser – indeed, in last season’s fixture there were three goals in time added on – but it was Wrexham who looked the more likely to score again in the closing minutes, with Pogba coming agonisingly close to doubling his tally. Wimbledon didn’t create another clear-cut chance, and despite a succession of corners they didn’t threaten Wrexham’s goal with any purpose.
Referee Handley added six minutes to the 90, allowing for six substitutions, some injury time and Wrexham’s time-wasting, but instead of one last push and a huge effort to get the much-needed equaliser, the half-dozen minutes passed just as the previous 90 had, with the Dons giving the ball away and – to the irritation of Terry Brown – not getting it forward quickly enough as time ticked on. Wrexham held out under far less pressure than they might have expected, and the Dons were beaten at home for only the second time this season and for the first time since October.
This disappointing performance and even more disappointing result left the Dons only three points clear of Crawley Town and having played five games more.