AFC Wimbledon suffered another defeat, this time at the hands of Rotherham, despite a much improved performance at the Don Valley Stadium and being roared on by 293 cold but enthusiastic travelling fans.
It could all have been so different had the Dons taken their chances. While opportunities were infrequent, they were gilt-edged. As early as the first minute Luke Moore contrived to blast over from eight yards out after a fine run and a pinpoint pass from Ryan Jackson left him free in the area. Sadly, it was the shape of things to come: though Wimbledon’s defence looked solid for the first time in a long while, their finishing was much less convincing, with a number of glaring misses.
After illness and injury, Mat Mitchel-King finally made his long-awaited league debut, and his presence certainly brought the best out of Jamie Stuart. Jackson’s presence helped Sam Hatton down the right, while the recalled Rashid Yussuff did much the same for fit-again Gareth Gwillim and brought much-needed stability to the left.
When the defence were caught out in the first half, Seb Brown was in top form with two stunning saves. During a brief flurry of pressure from the home side the Dons keeper first diverted a shot from Rotherham captain Danny Harrison before somehow turning the same player’s header round the post a couple of minutes later. It brought warm applause from both sets of supporters.
In the 33rd minute another golden opportunity for the Dons went begging when Lee Minshull could only head Hatton’s inviting cross wide at the near post. The first half ended with honours and the balance of play even and the visitors hoping that their improved defensive play might be supplemented with more cutting edge in their opponents’ half after the break.
A cautious start saw very few chances early in the second half, but then with 18 minutes gone Jack Midson had a shot parried by Rotherham keeper Conrad Logan (though the assistant referee had already flagged for offside). Minshull had a shot deflected and then saw a goal-bound effort headed off the line.
In 71st minute Hatton's perfectly weighted ball over the defence found Moore, whose cushioned header beat Logan but drifted agonisingly wide of the keeper’s left post – a whisper away from a deserved lead. But moments later the Dons were lucky to survive a goalmouth scramble in which the ball ricocheted around the six-yard box before being cleared by Mitchel-King.
A minute or two later, Jackson’s inch-perfect cross was met by Midson’s head but the ball flew just over, and within 90 seconds the sucker punch arrived. The excellent Lewis Grabban found Sam Wood, whose shot on the turn beat Brown and flew in off the post.
It was very hard on Wimbledon, whose second-half display probably merited three points and certainly one. But Rotherham closed the game out, and the Dons’ league run without a win stretched to nine games. At least there was enough in this performance to suggest that a profitable Christmas might not be an impossibility.