BY DANIEL MARSH
AFC Wimbledon’s EFL Trophy win at Bristol Rovers in midweek may have overshadowed the fact that they slipped into the relegation places after teams around them continued with League One action.
It’s been a particularly tough time in the league for Glyn Hodges’ men. It’s now just two wins in the last 11 matches – including a winless run which stands at seven games.
There’s no need for panic at this stage. It was only a couple of months ago that the Dons had made their best-ever start at this level. They’ve shown what they are capable of competing at this level, but they desperately need a break at the moment to halt this torrid run of form.
Wimbledon’s defence has been their achilles heel all season, with numerous individual errors and lapses in concentration proving costly time and time again.
The last thing you need when you’re struggling defensively is a lack of options too, which is the current issue for Hodges.
The return of the versatile Luke O’Neill on Saturday was at least one positive from a grim afternoon in SW19.
But Hodges is still missing key personnel. Terell Thomas was the Dons’ Player of the Year last term and the experienced Ben Heneghan was brought in with high expectations following two solid years in League One with Blackpool. Players of that calibre would surely help at the moment, even if both have been a part of that leaky defensive unit on occasions this term.
It took just seven minutes for Wimbledon’s backline to be breached on Saturday.
A long ball forward was flicked into the path of Aiden O’Brien. The former Millwall man managed to smuggle the ball across the six-yard box for Wyke to tap home. It was all a little bit easy for the visitors and ultimately gave the Dons a mountain to climb very early on.
Wyke spent a short spell at the Dons on loan back in 2014, netting twice in 17 appearances. He bettered that tally in 90 minutes at the weekend.
The way that the big striker drifted away from his marker to volley home the simplest of finishes for his second again had an air of ease about it. His third goal was a neat finish after a good break as the hosts pressed for a late miracle. That can perhaps be excused.
What is more disappointing, and Hodges said as much in his press duties after the game, is that Wimbledon failed to match the performance they put in a few weeks ago at the Stadium of Light. The Dons just didn’t get going in terms of creating anything fluent. Jack Rudoni stung the palms of Lee Burge midway through the first period and Joe Pigott struck a post late in the day, but the damage had already been done.
When you struggle to keep goals out, it heaps more pressure on those at the other end of the pitch. More often than not, it’s the likes of Pigott, Rudoni and Ryan Longman who are all leant on heavily when it comes to goals and creativity. Unfortunately, the trio had an off day at the weekend. Wimbledon will also be hoping that Ollie Palmer won’t be a long-term casualty after missing out at the weekend.
The current run of form in the league is bleak. No matter how you dress it up, a return of one point from a possible 21 isn’t up to scratch. They may have slipped into the relegation zone in midweek due to results elsewhere, but due to the chaotic nature of this season, there’s still two games before the midway point of the campaign. There’s plenty of time for the tide to turn, and the club have been in much worse positions during their spell at this level.
Hodges will know that better than most. This is the first time during his spell in charge that he’s overseen a run like this – but he has got the club out of a similar slump before.
Hodges said after the Sunderland encounter that the Dons “can win anywhere”, even if Tuesday’s trip to the South Coast is a daunting one on paper.
Wimbledon have already completed coupon-busting results this term. Few would have backed them to shut out Fleetwood on the road earlier in the season, and they’ve given good accounts of themselves against other teams at the top such as Lincoln and Doncaster. How they could do with another one on Tuesday night.
Jack Rudoni. Tried to drag his side back into it after the Sunderland opener and early in the second half but to no real avail.
Charlie Wyke’s third was probably the best moment in a game low on chances and real quality.
PICTURES: PAUL EDWARDS
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