The ups and Downes of a League One relegation battle

AFC WIMBLEDON 1
Pigott 21
ACCRINGTON 1
Clark 34
BY DANIEL MARSH AT THE CHERRY RED RECORDS STADIUM

AFC Wimbledon boss Wally Downes felt his side deserved no more than a draw as they stayed in the League One relegation zone on goal difference.

The Dons made a flying start against fellow strugglers Accrington Stanley and were rewarded with a clinical low drive from Joe Pigott midway through the first half – his 14th goal of the campaign.

A defensive lapse from centre-back Paul Kalambayi allowed the visitors to level against the run of play through Jordan Clark.

Just over five minutes later, the hosts conceded a penalty which could have seen the game completely turned on its head in a nightmare spell.

Fortunately for the Dons, Billy Kee sent his low penalty wide.

Wimbledon never seemed to recover from the brief lapse which allowed Stanley back into the game after such a strong start, and Downes produced a fair post-match summary.

“We started well,” he said. “We controlled the first half an hour, but we’ve got to be more professional and see it out, not make errors and get punished for them.

“We were comfortably in control of the game and the whole scenario changed from their goal, which was a gift from us to them.

“We need to get complete performances, as I’ve said before. If you make mistakes at the back, you’re going to get punished. It’s important after making a mistake that we compose ourselves and get back in the game and we didn’t do that.

“We had a poor five minutes where we lost our composure, lost our shape and lost our discipline that [then] culminated in a penalty, where we were fortunate for them not to score.”

The hosts set the tone early on with some relentless pressing and probing, and deservedly took the lead in the 21st minute through Pigott. A Steve Seddon cross was headed to the edge of the area, where the striker sent a clinical left-footed volley into the bottom right corner, giving Dimitar Evtimov no chance.

The visitors had brought little to the table and could have no complaints. But they were handed a “gift” to level proceedings 15 minutes after falling behind.

A clearance was skewed into the air, and Kalambayi tried to guide the ball back to Aaron Ramsdale. But Clark surged up on the outside of Kalambayi and gracefully swept home from close range, capitalising fully on the defensive error.

Five minutes later, the Dons were struggling to compose themselves and could have been trailing. Scott Wagstaff caught Paul Smyth in the box. Kee skewed his effort wide.

A victory could have seen the hosts escape the bottom four for the first time since mid-October. But results were relatively kind with the Dons only staying in the drop-zone due to an inferior goal difference.

With so few points picked up in the bottom half of the table at the weekend, Downes felt the draw could still end up being a vital one.

“Three points would have been great but you’ve got to respect the point,” he said. “There’s five games to go and come the last day at Bradford, we could look back and that could be a critical point for us.

“We should have won the game, with the way we started, the way we played and the way we approached it. But I also think that we were fragile for five minutes and it takes us quite a while to get that back.

“We didn’t really get our composure back after we gave them the goal, and we weren’t strong enough as a collective to go out and win the second half, so that was disappointing. But on the first half hour’s performance, we should have gone out and won the game.

“We just sort of huffed and puffed in the second half. It was a tense sort of affair. A draw was probably the right result.”

After the interval, the Dons initially tried to build up a head of steam without ever really over-exerting Evtimov in the visiting goal. But in truth, they struggled to recreate the fluidity of the attacking play they crafted in the opening period.

A slip from Will Nightingale almost allowed Sean McConville a chance to steal the points for Stanley in the final stage of proceedings, but he drove his effort from eight yards wide in the game’s last real chance.

AFC Wimbledon (3-5-2): Ramsdale 6, Kalambayi 5 (Connolly 62, 6), Nightingale 7, McDonald 6, Sibbick 7, Seddon 7 (Thomas 80), Wordsworth 6, Wagstaff 6, Hartigan 6, Pigott 7 (Appiah 69, 6), Hanson 6. Not used: McDonnell, Pinnock, McLaughlin, Folivi.

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