AFC Wimbledon 1
By Dave Hunt-Jackson at Crown Oil Arena
AFC Wimbledon battled against both dreadful weather conditions and a rejuvenated Rochdale side to grab a vital point in their fight for League One survival on Saturday.
It was an afternoon as cold as when the Dons had their fixture against nearby Bury postponed – and on a pitch arguably less playable with players often losing their footing on a partially frozen surface. Add to that the South Londoners were facing the most in-form side in the League One relegation battle plus a biting and swirling wind with occasional snow flurries, Neal Ardley’s men really had their work cut out in a fixture that would surely not have survived had the snowstorm that hit the area almost on the final whistle arrived a couple of hours earlier.
With Darius Charles ruled out with a hip injury Will Nightingale returned to the starting line up alongside Barry Fuller with George Francomb and Deji Oshilaja at right-back and left-back respectively.
Ardley sensibly reverted to playing Oshilaja in the centre with Fuller and Jon Meades on the flanks before any damage was done however.
Oshilja put in a man-of-the-match performance at both ends of the park giving the Dons an early lead with a clever run to capitalise on a deflected Lyle Taylor free-kick before preserving it with a stunning clearance off the line from Dale skipper Ian Henderson.
That was as good as it got for Wimbledon, although their only two fit strikers almost combined to double the lead with Joe Piggott just unable to reach Taylor’s cross.
That aside it was backs-to-the-wall stuff with the home side opening their visitors up with all too frequent ease – the return to a more defensive midfield trio, with Tom Soares preferred instead of Harry Forrester, backfired. Soares’ one meaningful contribution was another goal-line clearance.
Despite bypassing the AFC Wimbledon midfield, Bury found the defence a tougher nut to crack with Oshilaja and the game-rusty Nightingale impenetrable at the back. Time and again Rochdale created chances only for poor finishing, great last-ditch defending or top-class goalkeeping from George Long to keep them at bay.
Dons boss Ardley readily admitted that Rochdale deserved the win but must have been proud of the commitment his players showed, as must the 238 hardy souls that braved the freezing conditions to cheer the away side on.
Rochdale’s dominance is perhaps best summed up by the fact that they deserved all three points, despite only equalising through outrageous good fortune as a tame low shot from Andrew Cannon struck Barry Fuller’s foot and deflected into the top of the net leaving Long no chance.
Rochdale deserved that bit of good fortune but the Dons fought like wounded tigers for the point that keeps them just ahead of the chasing pack in the League One basement battle.
Make no mistake, they will need more of those qualities – and an improved performance too – if they are to take anything from their visit to second-placed Shrewsbury on Saturday as the battle for survival intensifies.
AFC Wimbledon (4-3-3): Long 8, Meades 6, Fuller 7, Oshilaja 9, Francomb 7, Abdou 7 (Forrester 63, 7), Nightingale 7, Trotter 7, Soares 6, Taylor, 7 Pigott 7 (Barcham 63, 6). Not used: McDonnell, Robinson, Parrett, Sibbick, Kaja.
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