BY DANIEL MARSH AT CHERRY RED RECORDS STADIUM
There are just four games remaining at the Cherry Red Records Stadium for AFC Wimbledon before they embark on their triumphant homecoming to Plough Lane -hopefully there will be none as dour as this stalemate with rock bottom Bolton Wanderers.
After the heroics in Kent last week, this felt like somewhat of an anti-climax in a clash of great significance for both sides. Perhaps that’s partly the reason these two cancelled each other out – it’s doubtful that keepers Joe Day or Remi Matthews will have a more relaxed afternoon in what remains of the campaign.
For the Dons, a third consecutive goalless draw at home saw them pass up the opportunity to record back-to-back wins for the first time since October.
Consecutive league victories have been hard to come by for Wimbledon since they returned to the third tier – it’s a feat they’ve managed just nine times in the previous three years.
The previous two home outings have yielded the same scoreline, and in truth there was little danger of that trend being bucked on Saturday.
There was plenty of effort and commitment on show, but little in the way of quality.
The final statistics of just one shot on target in the entire game – Callum Reilly’s whipped free-kick midway through the opening period was the only shot officially registered on target – paints a rather blunt picture of proceedings.
A trio of consecutive home blanks should be a concern for Wimbledon, whose top scorer is still the departed Finnish hotshot Marcus Forss. His return of 11 strikes is three ahead of Joe Pigott, who has carried the majority of the goalscoring burden since the Brentford loanee’s season was ended by injury in January.
In the 10 games since Forss’ injury, the Dons have netted just nine times – a return they’ll be eager to improve upon during their run-in.
After Pigott’s tally of eight, next up on the chart of scorers are Kwesi Appiah and Reilly with four apiece. The onus is on the rest of the Dons squad to step up and help find the goals to secure a fourth consecutive campaign of League One football.
To his credit, it did seem as though Appiah had netted his fifth of the season to end Kingsmeadow’s thirst for goals – only to be denied by the linesman’s flag. Post-match interviews and a fresh viewing in the highlights appear to hint that Appiah may have been hard done by.
The upside of the last three home fixtures is that the Dons look back to their best defensively. The menacing runs of Dennis Politic aside, the hosts didn’t look overly troubled by Bolton. Terrell Thomas has gone under the radar for the Dons this season, but his performance was colossal.
An imposing, resolute force in defence, the centre-half was just as impressive on the ball with some neat touches as he marshalled the Dons backline superbly – the visitors veteran skipper Daryl Murphy couldn’t keep his header down from six yards on the one occasion he did find himself free.
There was no lack of effort from the Dons, who pressed enthusiastically and had a sense of urgency alongside their play throughout, even if it did ultimately fail to come to any type of fruition. The introduction of Adam Roscrow and Jack Rudoni saw Wimbledon up the ante in the final third of the match, but a winner continued to elude them.
Shane McLoughlin and Luke O’Neill have combined smartly to good effect in recent games, and they collaborated to provide Reilly with the Dons best chance after the interval – his low, goalbound shot couldn’t evade a packed Wanderers penalty area.
But ultimately, it was the all too familiar feeling of frustration that resonated around the ground as the game ebbed out.
Positive results for Tranmere and Rochdale have amped up the pressure on the Dons, who face their relegation rivals in two of their next three games in a crunch month for Wimbledon’s safety battle.
AFC Wimbledon (3-5-2): Day 7, Guinness-Walker 6, Thomas 8, Sorensen 7, O’Neill 7, McLoughlin 8, Reilly 7 (Rudoni 73), Wagstaff 6, Hartigan 6, Pigott 6, Appiah 6 (Roscrow 66, 6). Not used: Trott, McDonald, Lamy, Sanders, Pinnock.
PICTURES BY KEITH GILLARD