AFC Wimbledon struggle to find recent fluidity as unbeaten run comes to an end at the New York Stadium

AFC Wimbledon manager Neal Ardley gestures on the touchline during the Emirates FA Cup, Third Round match at Wembley Stadium, London.

Rotherham United 2 

Smith 14 Ball 90

AFC Wimbledon 0

By Dave Hunt-Jackson at New York Stadium 

AFC Wimbledon’s recent unbeaten run in League One came to a disappointing end at Rotherham’s New York Stadium on Saturday. As boss Neal Ardley had admitted in the run up to the game this was always going to be a tough test and an indication of how far his team have come.

It certainly was a test and one that the Dons ultimately failed against the promotion seeking South Yorkshire side.

Ardley made just one change to the side that thrashed Bradford a week earlier with Paul Robinson taking the captain’s armband and replacing Barry Fuller, the victim of a calf strain. 

Despite a visit to lowly Bury on Tuesday looming this was very much a first choice team but they were no match for an eager Rotherham outfit who came out of the traps flying and were dominant for the first twenty minutes or so.

By the time the visitors began to get into the game former Wimbledon loanee Michael Smith had pounced on a defensive lapse to fire the Millers in front. The journeyman’s goal was no less than Rotherham deserved and they continued to have the better of the chances and the lion’s share of the possession for the rest of the game. Although to the Don’s credit it was not until David Ball doubled the lead in second half injury time that Rotherham were allowed to feel secure.

Although the they were well beaten their performance was nowhere as bad as some from earlier in the season and they at least had the excuse that they were up against one of the better teams in the division. They will and indeed have played worse than this and won but nevertheless this performance was way below that in the reverse fixture when Lyle Taylor’s hat-trick secured all three points at Kingsmeadow. 

It was certainly way below the performance at Valley Parade albeit against an out of sorts Bradford side. This time the Dons looked less fluid and despite another fine performance from Liam Trotter could not get service to the front pair.

Defensively Wimbledon looked vulnerable with Deji Oshilaja less effective playing on the right of a back three and Robinson looking very much like a 36 year old short on recent first team action, but remaining good in the air, dealing with the many crosses that came in. 

Although Ardley was right to identify this as a stern test the 415 travelling fans might think that actually it will be the next two games that the give the true indication as to where the South Londoners are.

Failing to conjure a shot on target against an in form Rotherham side is worrying but does not mean the Don’s excellent January form was a flash in the pan.

It will be how they respond against a Bury side lacking in both quality and confidence and against fellow strugglers Northampton that will show how far this AFC Wimbledon side have progressed and whether the remainder of the season holds a chance to build further towards next year’s campaign or the pain of a relegation dogfight.

It will also be a chance to assess the strength in depth of a squad still a striker light after the late collapse of a transfer deadline deal with the fixtures coming think and fast.

Whilst Ardley and his charges can surely be forgiven an off day in South Yorkshire they can and must respond and get back to winning ways.

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