AFC WIMBLEDON 1
BY PAUL JEATER AT THE CHERRY RED RECORDS STADIUM
The last time Wally Downes and Glyn Hodges were together representing Wimbledon was on March 24 1987 in the old Division One at Plough Lane. Mel & Kim were number one in the music charts with ‘Respectable’, not a term that at the time was widely used for the Crazy Gang.
Over 30 years later, Downes and Hodges walked down the tunnel at the Cherry Red Records Stadium as AFC Wimbledon’s new management team faced with the task of motivating a side who over the previous three months had slid deep into the League One relegation zone.
It seemed that the football gods were against them when prior to kick-off influential defender Deji Oshilaja was seen on the sidelines suffering from an ankle problem. Minutes later Joe Pigott succumbed to an injury during the pre-match warm-up and had to be replaced by loanee Jake Jervis.
The Dons faced a Rochdale team who went into the game nine points better off, and relatively safe in mid-table. Would the new manager be able to get his players to “release the handbrake” and “get on the front foot” as was suggested in pre-game interviews?
The Dons started brightly and the pace of Jervis led to him tumbling over in the visitors’ penalty area, however the referee waved away appeals for a spot-kick. Gradually, Rochdale asserted authority in midfield and were content to maintain possession; meanwhile the Dons defence, well-marshalled by stand-in captain Will Nightingale, stood firm. Joe McDonnell in the Dons goal was rarely troubled.
Wimbledon started to push forward and on 24 minutes a cross from the right by Scott Wagstaff was met first time by James Hanson, but unfortunately his effort went over the crossbar. The Dons continued to use the wide areas effectively and a cross from Ben Purrington was headed wide by Hanson.
It was somewhat against the run of play when Rochdale took the lead after 35 minutes. A long pass found right back Joe Rafferty in space and his low cross was turned into the goal at the far post by former Crystal Palace striker Calvin Andrew.
The half-time interval seemed to revitalise the Dons, and they came out for the second half prepared to battle. Anthony Wordsworth replaced Tom Soares in midfield, and almost immediately the hosts carved out a golden chance to equalise. Jervis crossed from the right, Hanson rose unmarked but his header failed to hit the target, going over the bar.
Nevertheless, Wimbledon continued to press forward with Mitch Pinnock heavily involved from set-pieces, which at the time looked the most likely source of a goal. On the hour, as playing conditions worsened with rain sweeping across the pitch, Jervis was replaced by Andy Barcham.
It was the substitute, the Dons’ long-serving player, who brought Wimbledon back into the game. A long throw into the Rochdale penalty area from Purrington was brought under control by Pinnock who laid the ball back into the path of Barcham. He curled his shot into the visitors’ net from 20 yards for his first goal of the season.
Now the crowd of 3,988 were buzzing and a ball from Pinnock was threaded through to Hanson and the Dale keeper Josh Lillis did well to save with his legs.
Both sides went looking for a winner in the closing minutes. It was the visitors who came the closest when Andrew’s header seemed destined for the net, but an excellent save by McDonnell pushed it away as both sides had to settle for a point.
The second-half display from the Dons showed the effort and commitment necessary if this group of players are to claw their way out of the relegation zone this winter, and that will have certainly encouraged the new manager.
AFC Wimbledon (4-4-2): McDonnell 8, Watson7, Purrington 7, McDonald 6, Nightingale 8, Wagstaff 7, Hartigan 7, Soares 5 (Wordsworth 46, 7), Hanson 6, Jervis 5 (Barcham 70, 7). Not used: King, Thomas, Trotter, Sibbick, Pigott.
Pics by Paul Edwards