AFC Wimbledon 0
UNITED got back on the winning wagon in emphatic fashion with a dominant display at struggling Wimbledon.
The 1-0 score suggests a narrow victory but the balance of play was entirely in favour of the Gulls, and the margin of success should have been a lot more than the bizarre winner from Rene Howe, who
ricocheted a clearance into the net on 34 minutes.
Chances were created throughout by the boys in Yellow and though they were spurned, Wimbledon’s frustration was summed by a late dismissal for Christian Jolley.
United manager Martin Ling opted for just one change to the side that surrendered meekly to a 1-0 loss at Rotherham on Saturday, and it was a move to bolster the midfield, with Craig Easton preferred to Danny Stevens, thus pushing Ian Morris into a more advanced role.
Wimbledon boss Terry Brown brought in four new faces in his desperate bid for consistency after a 2-1 home loss to Rochdale on the weekend. Curtis Haynes-Brown, George Francomb, Stacy Long and the suspended Jack Midson all came out, to be replaced by Dale Bennett, Warren Cummings, Louis Harris and Byron Harrison.
The Dons started with a purpose, forcing an early save from Michael Poke after Christian Jolley found space behind the Yellow defence with less than 30 seconds on the clock. The Gulls immediately responded with a break down the right and Joe Oastler’s cross just evaded the head of Howe.
United maintained the impetus with terrific work from skipper Lee Mansell, lashing an instant left-foot shot that was tipped wide by Seb Brown. The subsequent corner from the captain somehow missed everyone as it flashed across goal.
The next half-chance fell to Howe, who had his drive blocked after neat work from Ian Morris. The next phase of the attack was a sweet passing move, culminating in a shot from Billy Bodin being dragged inches wide.
Wimbledon were under the pump and a drifted cross from Nathan Craig picked out Howe, who was caught between a nod back across goal and an effort on target. Seb Brown was the beneficiary of the indecision, comfortably gathering the eventual tame header.
Howe was clear again just moments later, muscling past a beleaguered defence for a shot on goal that forced a far better save from Brown. From the corner, Howe misjudged the flight of the ball with the Dons ‘keeper exposed.
Brown continued his heroics on the halfway point of a first period dominated by the Gulls, flying through the sky to divert a sizzling volley from Mansell, who was looking fired up to make amends for the weekend disappointment.
The cruel hand of fate then pointed a finger at Brown, who took a slight liberty with a clearance but was still very unfortunate to see the ball ricochet back off Howe and into the home net.
You will go a long way to see a stranger or luckier goal, although United will argue that the relentless siege on Wimbledon’s goal was enough to earn the good fortune. Either way, the Gulls had a vital lead in the capital.
The next step for United was to heap further misery on the Dons, who were playing like a side devoid of confidence. Bizarrely, though, Wimbledon were almost given a lifeline when Michael Poke did his Seb Brown impression, firing a clearance against Christian Jolley, but United’s goalkeeper escaped with the ball deflecting to safety.
Half-time arrived with the Gulls deservedly in front and Terry Brown understandably made two changes in attempt to invigorate his side, and one of the introductions was Rashid Yussuff, scorer of the first goal in Wimbledon’s 2-0 win over United back in April.
Howe had a glorious chance to notch up his second after a lovely pass from the Morris but the big striker just hesitated at the crucial moment and Francomb, the other replacement, was able to make an excellent last-ditch challenge.
United continued to boss the game and the lively Bodin came within a whisker of deservedly doubling the Yellow advantage, whistling a fabulous drive a fraction wide of Brown’s far corner.
The danger for the Gulls was a slender lead would always give the Dons hope and a deep cross from Francomb needed calm defending by Brian Saah to ensure the ball was shepherded away from danger.
Mansell then returned to the fore with another blockbuster from distance and once again with the left-foot. Seb Brown was beaten but so was the crossbar, and the skipper’s wait for a first goal of the season would continue.
Despite the dire situation for the Dons, United continued to peg back the home side and Bodin was released again for a clear shot on goal, but Seb Brown once again rescued his team from certain defeat.
The first Yellow change of the evening arrived with six minutes remaining on the clock, as the fresh and speedy legs of Niall Thompson were introduced for Bodin.
The youngster soon had an impact, flying past the exposed Jolley, who cynically hauled down United’s lightening winger and subsequently received his second caution of the evening and the inevitable red card followed.
Enjoyment would be the wrong word to describe United’s closing minutes at Kingsmeadow but the Gulls were in cruise control, and Thompson was denied his first professional goal by a superb block from Brown.
No matter, all three points rightly returned to the Riviera.
AFC Wimbledon (4-4-2): 1 Seb Brown; 25 Dale Bennett, 29 Will Antwi, 5 Pim Balkestein (24 George Francomb H-T), 3 Warren Cummings (21 Charlie Stratton 67); 4 Louis Harris (23 Rashid Yussuff H-T), 8 Sammy Moore, 28 Steven Gregory, 12 Christian Jolley; 9 Byron Harrison, 11 Luke Moore. Substitutes (not used): 7 Stacy Long, 15 Jim Fenlon, 20 Frankie Merrifield, 33 Mikhael Jaimez-Ruiz (GK).
Booked: Jolley 72
Sent-off: Jolley 88
United (4-3-3): 1 Michael Poke; 2 Joe Oastler, 5 Brian Saah, 4 Aaron Downes, 3 Kevin Nicholson; 7 Lee Mansell (capt), 18 Craig Easton, 20 Nathan Craig; 11 Ian Morris, 9 Rene Howe, 15 Billy Bodin (29 Niall Thompson 84). Substitutes (not used): 8 Ryan Jarvis, 12 Daniel Leadbitter, 13 Martin Rice (GK), 19 Danny Stevens, 21 Thomas Cruise, 30 Kirtys MacKenzie.
Booked: Mansell 74, Oastler 90
Referee: David Coote
Attendance: 3,350 (234 away).