AFC Wimbledon’ struggle for a cutting edge returns in Kent as back-to-back wins eludes them again

Dempsey 3 Samuel 57
Heneghan 28

Traditionally, Gillingham has been a happy hunting ground for AFC Wimbledon, who rolled into Kent on their longest unbeaten run in 18 months and fresh off the back of Saturday’s last gasp triumph at Rochdale.

The Dons have secured the majority of their points on the road so far this term, and they even managed to complete the double over their hosts last term with a 2-1 win in Kent back in March.

Unfortunately, hope of repeating that feat was dashed after just three minutes. Gillingham captain Kyle Dempsey finished a slick team move after bombing into the box late from midfield to punish Wimbledon’s slack start to proceedings.

The addition of Ben Heneghan to the Dons backline adds much-needed experience to a young defence, and he made his first start at the heart of a back three. Although he’s primarily been signed to stop goals going in, he does have a bit of a reputation for being useful in terms of scoring them too. However, few would probably have backed him opening his account so early after the Dons finally settled into the game.

The former Blackpool man’s glancing header from Callum Reilly’s excellent whipped delivery was probably the only real quality moment that Wimbledon produced on a frustrating night to level the scores with half an hour gone.

The Dons have struggled for goals in seasons past, but it hasn’t seemed to be a problem so far this term. Unfortunately, on Tuesday night, they seemed to revert back to those past struggles in front of goal after Heneghan’s leveller.

The introduction of Jack Rudoni and Ollie Palmer just minutes after Dominic Samuel slammed home Gillingham’s second goal, sparked an improvement in the visitors second-half display, with both of them thwarted in quick succession from close-range by Jack Bonham.

Rudoni, in particular, was proving to be a real problem for the Gills defence, and his teasing ball across the face of goal was begging for someone to gamble and apply the finishing touch. Criminally, it never got one.

Perhaps Wimbledon’s night in front of goal was best summed up by Will Nightingale just a couple of minutes from time.

The Dons skipper spurned a glorious chance from six yards, as his header seemed to take an age to trickle past the far post with Bonham rooted to the spot. It did appear as though he was having his shirt pulled as he met the ball – something which was bemoaned by Glyn Hodges after the game’s conclusion.

Hodges shared more of his frustrations after the game, and he’s right in saying that the Dons have picked up results with worse performances so far this term.

Regardless of the result, it’s still been an excellent start to the season for Hodges and company, with the club’s Plough Lane homecoming the feather in the cap.

In fact, this is Wimbledon’s best-ever start to a season in the third tier.

It’s even harder to criticise when you consider the side has recently been self-isolating for two weeks and forced to train remotely after a number of positive Covid-19 tests with minimal team training.

But, there will be an air of frustration that they’ve once again failed to grasp the chance to record back-to-back victories. It’s a feat which has rarely been achieved by the Dons since their promotion to League One – just nine occasions over the past three years to be precise. You can’t help but feel that for the Dons to really kick on, they have to turn that into a more frequent habit.

But for now, focus will turn to soldiering through a gruelling run of fixtures which have piled up during the teams enforced absence over the past few weeks. The prospect of a cross-country trip to Barrow barely 48 hours from Tuesday night’s draining clash with the Gills comes across as absurd at best and criminal at worst.

But with the games coming thick and fast, Thursday night’s cup tie could prove to be the perfect tonic for Hodges’ men to bounce back from their disappointing evening in Kent.

Ben Heneghan. Marked his first Dons start with an impressive goal, and showed his aerial ability to handle the Gills aerial barrage for the most part.

Ben Heneghan didn’t have to wait long for his first Dons goal – his glancing header from Callum Reilly’s superb ball in left Jack Bonham with no chance.


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