BY DANIEL MARSH
It was mission accomplished for AFC Wimbledon and Mark Robinson on Saturday – even if it didn’t quite feel like it.
Defeats for Northampton and Rochdale were enough to overshadow the Dons’ 3-1 home reverse to Portsmouth, as their League One status was finally rubber-stamped.
In recent weeks, survival has gone from a tall task to pretty much a foregone conclusion under Robinson – a welcome relief for a fanbase who have grown accustomed to late, late rescue missions to remain at this level.
They deserved to seal that feat in a better fashion though after their sparkling form over the past month or so. Unfortunately, an impressive Portsmouth side were in town to spoil the party and prevent Wimbledon from picking up the solitary point they needed to survive regardless of happenings elsewhere.
The last time these two sides met, the Dons were ripped apart on a wet, miserable night on the South Coast. A repeat didn’t seem to be on the cards this weekend though, with Robinson’s men impressing in the opening 20 minutes.
It was no surprise they took the lead in the 24th minute, and it was even less of a surprise that Joe Pigott was once again the man to find the net – in some style too. He bent a sumptuous strike into the far corner from an acute angle after the Pompey defence stood and watched, waiting for an offside flag which did come, but was overruled. It was no less than the hosts deserved.
However, it was a surprise just how quickly the Dons surrendered that lead. The game had barely restarted and Nik Tzanev was fishing Ronan Curtis’ strike out from the back of his net.
It was a similarly bizarre few minutes which effectively killed the game off before the interval.
Lee Brown, the Pompey full-back who’d only scored once all year, trebled that tally in quick succession with a pair of thumping finishes. This wasn’t quite a repeat of the capitulation at Fratton Park, but it was a terminal spell in terms of getting any sort of positive result.
Unfortunately, Wimbledon’s defensive woes have begun to subtly rear their head again in the last couple of weeks. They’ve not turned out to be fatal for the Dons, as it looked like they would be for the majority of the campaign, but it is a problem which will need solving over the summer.
Even though results away from SW19 at the weekend ultimately sealed Wimbledon’s survival, it’s perhaps a bit unjust to say they relied on others to get them over the line. It may not have felt like it on Saturday, but it’s been the Dons’ impressive resurgence over the past couple of months which has kept them in the division – nothing else.
Prior to Saturday’s game, and as Robinson pointed out, Wimbledon were eighth in the League One table for results since he took charge.
April’s thumping run of results have proved more than enough to put the Dons out of reach. In truth, safety felt more of a formality for the past few games because of that run – even with the form of some of their relegation rivals. There were question marks after the 3-3 epic with Rochdale over whether 50 points would be enough for safety. It’s turned out to be a figure which was more than comfortably enough.
Achieving that tally back at the start of February when Robinson first took charge of a team in freefall seemed a hell of a way off, to put it mildly. He’s achieved it in some style.
But he was far from satisfied with the afternoon’s work.
The Dons boss said: “What are you celebrating? You’re celebrating being just above going down. So there’s going to be no celebrations. That’s a small club mentality.”
It’s that mentality which should bode well for Wimbledon next year and beyond. You get the impression that when Robinson was selected for the role, it was to build a team which isn’t living year-to-year for survival in the third tier – even if that meant going down this year to come back stronger in the long run. Appointing him is a move which continues to look shrewder and shrewder each week. It’s abundantly clear to everyone that he has been the main driving force who has steered the Dons to safety.
He’s already spoken of changing the mindset of a club which doesn’t really feel as though it’s settled as a League One team since arriving in the league a few years ago.
If the Dons can build on the form they’ve shown over the past couple of months, along with the return of fans to Plough Lane and the possibility of a boost to their modest budget through the London Broncos groundshare deal, then there’s no reason they can’t begin to begin to change that trend next year.
Robinson declared the other week that it’s time for the club to start “looking forward” rather than back. This now feels like the perfect opportunity for Wimbledon to start doing exactly that.
Joe Pigott. Got another goal to make it 22 for the season and kept battling until the end.
Pigott’s super strike to break the deadlock in the first half. But will it prove to be his last in a Dons shirt?
PICTURES: KEITH GILLARD
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