Deja vu for Dons as 0-0 with Portsmouth underlines lack of final third finish – and keeps nerves jangling over drop threat

BY DAN MARSH

It was a case of deja vu for AFC Wimbledon after they recorded their second 0-0 draw in four days.

Given that results elsewhere were kind, the point they banked on Tuesday night against Portsmouth helped preserve the Dons’ cushion over the drop-zone.

Wimbledon still have two games in hand after a flurry of cancelled games over the festive period, but any team would much rather have points in the bank. The original fixture against Pompey, along with Christmas clashes against Charlton and Plymouth, was set to take place at a time when Wimbledon appeared to be in rude health.

But that’s not the case any more with Robinson’s men now without a win in six games after starting 2022 with a whimper.

On paper, a point at home to Portsmouth, who are likely to be involved in the shake-up for promotion in May, is a good result.

But Tuesday night’s stalemate means the Dons have now blanked in their last five games. In fact, it’s been more than seven hours since they last found the back of the net.

Perhaps Wimbledon’s struggles in front of goal shouldn’t be the biggest surprise. It was always going to be a big ask replacing the 20 league goals that Joe Pigott plundered last year after the prolific striker left to join Ipswich in the summer.

Ollie Palmer has stepped up in Pigott’s absence this season but he hasn’t managed to have quite the same impact in terms of goals.

With that being said, while Palmer may not be as prolific as Pigott, he is proving to be just as vital to the Dons all-around play as the former Charlton man.

Everything that was good about Wimbledon in an attacking sense in midweek had Palmer right at the heart of it. It’s imperative that the Dons cling on to their experienced number nine – who was recently the subject of an ambitious six-figure bid from Wrexham.

The goals have also dried up for academy graduates Jack Rudoni and Ayoub Assal. They sit just behind Palmer in the scoring charts with seven and six goals respectively. But they and the rest of Robbo’s young guns are firing blanks just now.

You get the feeling that Wimbledon need a goal from somewhere – anywhere – just to help kick-start their form.

Ironically, they almost broke their duck after just 30 seconds when Rudoni ghosted into the box, only for Gavin Buzunu to thwart him with a fine save. But that was about as good as it got for Wimbledon. The Irish shotstopper didn’t have to make another save for the rest of the night with the Dons hitting the target just once from 12 attempts.

In contrast, Nik Tzanev had to be at his best after the break to prevent the visitors from breaking the deadlock.

Mahlon Romeo clipped the crossbar with a ferocious 30-yard drive before Tzanev somehow kept out efforts from George Hirst and Sean Raggett.

Perhaps Dons fans can be reassured by the fact that their side were stuck in a similar rut last season.

When Robinson took over at the end of January 2021, the Dons were pretty much at their lowest ebb and looked destined to slide back into the EFL’s basement division.

Both goals and points were at a premium when Robbo took the reins.

But a glut of goals and points soon followed as Wimbledon stormed their way to survival.

Robinson is adamant that his young guns can rediscover their scoring touch and go from toothless to ruthless once again.

Wimbledon fans will be hoping he’s right, because further additions in the January transfer window have already been ruled out.

The Dons chief has stressed that his aim is to establish the South Londoners as a comfortable League One side – something that they’ve not managed since they were promoted to the third tier back in 2016.

Relegation dogfights have followed every year since then.

But the position they find themselves in is a million miles away from where the Dons were when Robinson walked in almost 12 months ago.

The improvements made since then have been drastic and undeniable – even if they have been offset by losing their main source of goals this season.

However, it’s not implausible that Robinson could still get his wish for Wimbledon to finally swerve a scrap for survival.

But he’ll need lightning to strike twice to help bring the Dons current barren run to an end for that to happen. And it needs to happen sooner rather than later.

STAR MAN
Ollie Palmer. The Dons striker was instrumental in all of their attacking play despite being manhandled by more than one man on numerous occasions. It’s absolutely vital that the Dons don’t lose him this month.

BEST MOMENT
Dan Csoka’s unbelievable goal-line clearance in the first half. The Hungarian defender seemed to defy the laws of gravity to prevent a certain goal and cap an accomplished performance.

PICTURES: LUCY DIXON

 


 

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