The Dons came into their 15th home game of 2011/12 having failed to keep a clean sheet at Kingsmeadow in their first season back in the Football League, while visitors Aldershot were on a run of six games without a goal – so something had to give. Unfortunately for AFC Wimbledon, what gave was the Shots’ scoreless run, and the Dons tumbled to their eighth home defeat of the season.
One of football’s most-used sayings is that you should never change a winning side. But Terry Brown has rarely been an upholder of tradition, and for the visit of his much-loved former club the Wimbledon boss replaced half of the defence that had stood him in good stead for the recent three-game winning run, albeit with some hairy moments. Jamie Stuart returned to the starting line-up in place of Callum McNaughton, while appearance record-holder Sam Hatton didn’t even have the cold comfort of a place on the bench – his right-back berth went to the Dons’ new loan signing from Arsenal, Gavin Hoyte.
In the previous Tuesday’s game against Macclesfield, Wimbledon had started the two halves in wildly differing styles – all guns blazing at the opening of the first, cautious and reserved in the early stages of the second. It was clear from first few minutes of this encounter that, deliberately or otherwise, the Dons had this time adopted the latter approach, and the shot-shy Shots had much the better of the opening exchanges.
From an early corner, Seb Brown leapt high to tip defender Sonny Bradley’s header over the bar as Dean Holdsworth’s men strove to end their run of nine hours without a goal. The Dons looked weary and second to every ball, as if the strains of Tuesday’s late victory had taken a lot out of them. Somewhat surprisingly, the two loanee teenagers in midfield looked as off the pace as anyone.
With Wimbledon struggling to make any sort of impact in the attacking third, and the Shots looking lively and creative, it was no real surprise that it was the visitors who took the lead – although the source of the goal may well have been. Left-back Anthony Straker collected a loose ball 40 yards out, strode purposefully forward unchallenged, exchange a one-two with striker Guy Madjo, held off Hoyte’s challenge and comfortably planted a 12-yard effort past Brown. It was simplicity itself, but boss Brown was yet again aghast at how an opposition player was allowed to waltz through the Dons’ back line.
Less than a minute later, referee Tierney denied the Shots the chance to immediately double their score. A long ball to the far post was collected by one-time Dons target Danny Hylton, who flicked the ball cleverly past Gareth Gwillim’s challenge inside the area. But his theatrical dive over Gwillim’s leg, amid screams for a penalty from the 600-plus visiting supporters, didn’t fool the official. He waved play on but generously decided not to book the striker, whose tendency to fall over had angered the Dons back in September, when the clubs met at the Recreation Ground.
What was troubling the home supporters more was their side’s lack of cutting edge. George Moncur and Billy Knott were finding life a lot more challenging than in their previous outings, as the Shots sought to cut off Wimbledon’s supply lines by closely marking the two bright sparks. The Dons’ best chance in a first half in which they rarely tested Shots keeper Ross Worner came when Hoyte’s searching pass down the right was latched onto by Byron Harrison, who burst into the box. With Midson unmarked in the middle, Harrison really should have squared the ball for a simple tap-in, but he delayed his pass too long and allowed Darren Jones to get back at him and clear for a corner.
Harrison’s poor judgement didn’t cost the Dons for long, though. With 30 minutes not yet gone and the Shots still having the better of the play, Knott and Gwillim combined to find Luke Moore on the edge of the Aldershot box. As Moore shot he was clipped by Jones, and although Moncur controlled the loose ball and fired over, referee Tierney brought play back and awarded the Dons a free-kick some 20 yards out. Sammy Moore stepped up, blasted the ball goalwards and watched in delight as his shot struck Ben Herd on the back and wrong-footed Worner for a fortunate equaliser.
That should have spurred Wimbledon to at last exert some pressure on their lower-placed visitors, but, for the rest of the half neither side looked likely to go into the break ahead. Bradley and Jones were dealing comfortably with Jack Midson and Harrison, while Stuart and Mat Mitchel-King weren’t looking too troubled by the Shots’ lone striker, Madjo. A long-range Peter Vincenti effort, after Seb Brown’s muffed clearance fell to him just in front of the centre-circle, was the closest the visitors came to taking the lead in what was proving to be a frustrating half for Terry Brown but a promising one for his counterpart.
Perhaps it was too much to expect after three thrilling victories that the Dons could make it four in a row, coming from behind in them all, and so it proved. Wimbledon’s energy levels, so notable in the Port Vale, Gillingham and Macclesfield games, just didn’t match their visitors’.
The equaliser may have been fortunate, but it proved to be anything but for Luke Moore, who wasn’t able to recover from Jones’s whack to the ankle and was replaced at the break by Rashid Yussuff. But try as he might, the former Gillingham midfielder didn’t fare any better. The Shots had rumbled the Dons’ diamond formation early on, and the new man in the hole behind the strikers saw as little of the ball as his departed predecessor.
Chances for either side were now few and far between, although Hylton should have done better when Adam Mekki’s low cross evaded Mitchel-King and Stuart, but with just over an hour gone Wimbledon should have taken the lead. Sammy Moore’s long ball forward was miscontrolled by Bradley, and as Midson won possession on the edge of the box, League 2’s second-top scorer seemed destined to score as he cut inside and shot. But the wrong-footed Worner stuck out his left leg, in hope more than anything, and hacked clear Midson’s 12-yard left-footed effort.
That miss proved costly for the Dons. Minutes, after Christian Jolley replaced the tiring Harrison, Aldershot retook the lead – and again it was a goal that will cause Terry Brown sleepless nights.
Straker and Vincenti exchanged passes some 35 yards from goal, and as the former Stevenage man turned and played his full-back in with a pass behind Hoyte, Straker himself looked as surprised as anyone that his marker, Moncur, was standing still instead of tracking him. Realising that he now had an unchallenged run into the penalty area, the Shots No.3 sped towards the goal-line and unleashed a powerful angled drive that clipped off Sammy Moore’s head and rocketed past Brown into the far top corner of the net. It wasn’t that Aldershot didn’t deserve it, on the balance of play, but it was yet another goal were fingers could justifiably pointed at an individual error.
Moncur was withdrawn shortly afterwards to be replaced by the Dons’ new signing from Bognor Regis Town, striker Jason Prior, fresh from his lengthy trial at Newcastle United. Prior’s prowess in the air now gave Wimbledon a different option, with Midson and Jolley looking to benefit from the spring-heeled former scaffolder’s knock-ons.
With eight minutes to go, the Dons missed a golden opportunity to earn themselves a point. When Sammy Moore hoisted a high cross into the box, Worner – for the first time – mishandled. As the ball fell into the six-yard box, Jolley beat Prior to the chance – but he spooned it horribly over from just four yards out. It was the Dons’ last chance of the game, and only Madjo’s deflected effort threatened Seb Brown’s goal at the other end as a disappointing game drew to a disappointing close.
If a total 50 points really is enough to stay up, the Dons are just five wins short. But they had understandably seen this game as a decent chance of making that four … and if the BBC’s Football League show is to be believed, this defeat severely dented Wimbledon’s playoff hopes. Whichever way you look at it, the Dons really deserved no more than a draw from this game, so it was more a case of one point lost than three