AFC Wimbledon 2
Burton Albion 2
BY RAY ARMFIELD AT KINGSMEADOW
A share of the spoils was a fair outcome for this game of honest endeavour and no little skill from both teams.
But the talking point of the evening was undoubtedly the decision by match referee John Busby not to penalise Kieran O’Hara.
The Burton keeper flew off out of his area to deny the onrushing Joe Pigott a clear goalscoring opportunity with a handball that just about everyone apart from the four match officials seemed to spot.
Even Nigel Clough was candid enough to admit afterwards: “Kieran has come out of his box and he might have handled it, but the ref has given a corner so maybe we got away with one there.”
It was a night when both keepers took centre stage, with Cardiff City’s Joe Day making his debut between the posts for AFC Wimbledon, just hours after being announced as arriving on loan for the remainder of the season.
The experienced 30-year-old will be best known for rushing from the pitch after Newport County’s memorable FA Cup victory over Middlesbrough last season to be at the bedside of his wife who had gone into labour with twins.
But the Eastbourne stopper’s first duty for the Dons was to pick the ball out of his net after Joe Powell drilled home Jamie Murphy’s cut-back to give the visitors a shock seventh-minute lead.
But Day had little time to dwell – he endeared himself to the home faithful moments later to smartly fingertip away another low Powell effort. His new team-mates didn’t drop their heads either. On 16 minutes parity was restored as Pigott slipped strike partner Mitch Pinnock in with a cleverly-weighted pass. Though O’Hara forced him wide, he produced an exquisite finish from an acute angle.
Just as the sides looked set to go into the break level, a calamitous spot of defending by the Dons failed to clear their lines three times and when Conor Shaughnessy’s scuffed shot spiralled into the air it was allowed to bounce nicely for Jamie Murphy to nod a looping header home over a stranded Day.
Whether or not Glyn Hodges chose the break to rouse his players from their torpor, they came out on the front foot and, prompted by the introduction of Anthony Wordsworth in midfield, looked a different side.
They got their reward on the hour when Callum Reilly levelled against his former club for his fourth goal of the season.
With Burton pinned back, Pinnock nearly brought the house down with an audacious overhead kick.
Homegrown prospects Jack Rudoni and Anthony Hartigan showed real character against opponents second in the divisional current form table and possessing the dangerous Lucas Akins – they were battling for every ball and both picked up cautions.
Then the potentially game-changing moment as Pigott was controversially thwarted by the advancing O’Hara. Alas for the Dons, the resultant corner came to nothing.
The Wimbledon striker also saw a late drive go close as both sides pressed for a winner right up to the whistle.
Nevertheless, a valuable point that put the Dons six points clear of the relegation place.
Hodges was encouraged by the overall performance, following the win over Peterborough United 10 days earlier.
He said: “We showed them too much respect in the first half because they’ve got good players. But we’ve more than deserved what we got out of two tough games against teams flying high to try and get in the Championship. The commitment and never-say-die attitude shown was a credit to the boys. “
AFC Wimbledon (3-5-2): Day 6, O’Neill 6, Thomas 6, Sorenson 6, Wagstaff 7, Hartigan 7, Rudoni 7 (McLoughlin 87, 6), Reilly 7, Osew 6 (Wordsworth 46, 7), Pinnock 8, Pigott 7. Not used: McDonnell, Guinness-Walker, Biler, Roscrow, Wood.