By Daniel Marsh at the Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium
Maybe it’s a bit harsh to say that the Dons have struggled at ‘home’ this season, as technically they’ve been playing at a venue which isn’t home at all.
But then again, you could go even further and argue that Wimbledon haven’t actually had a real home game in almost 30 years. It’ll probably feel like another 30 have passed for Dons fans by the time Tuesday comes around.
It wasn’t overly convincing, but Glyn Hodges’ men finally put an end to their ‘home’ hoodoo in West London at their fourth and final attempt. Wimbledon haven’t enjoyed the most fruitful tenancy in W12, but Blackpool hadn’t won on the road in a staggering 21 attempts. You got the feeling something would have to give.
Hodges quite rightly pointed out after the game that games sometimes become harder when opponents have players dismissed, even if it should mean the opposite. It definitely seemed that way for the Dons, as they failed to make their numerical advantage count, as Blackpool finished with nine men.
Fortunately for Wimbledon, the game’s defining moment had already taken place by the time referee Sam Purkiss’ back pocket was called into action to dismiss Ethan Robson and Daniel Ballard.
Callum Reilly chipped in with some vital strikes last season, but goals have been harder to come by so far this term. He broke his duck in some style. Shane McLoughlin has been a revelation in the wing-back role for the Dons, and he nudged the ball on to Reilly down the right flank. Reilly still had a fair bit of work to do, but he made it look effortless, cutting inside his marker before drilling a low left-foot strike into the net.
Ironically, scoring goals for Wimbledon hasn’t been the problem this term, it’s been keeping them out. But on this occasion, they couldn’t find that elusive second goal which would have settled everyone’s nerves. Joe Pigott has probably been one of the standout players in League One so far, but he was thwarted by the impressive Chris Maxwell in the visiting goal.
Blackpool were no pushovers despite their horrific away record and numerical disadvantage; on the night they weren’t too far from leaving West London with something from the game. Set-pieces have proven time and time again to be the Dons’ Achilles heel this season – how ironic that it was Pigott, so deadly at the other end, who made two timely headers in his own penalty area to keep the Seasiders at bay after the interval.
Wimbledon did have their moments to find a second, but Hodges was fair in his assessment after the game that his men could and should have done more. The Dons didn’t so much as gallop home, but rather stumble over the line. But you could argue that justice was done, after an excellent performance at Hull failed to yield any points.
The importance of a clean sheet shouldn’t be overlooked. It wasn’t exactly a convincing defensive display, but it is just the second shutout they’ve managed this term. It came at a price though, with Luke O’Neill withdrawn mid-way through the opening period. Losing his versatility for an extended period would be a blow for Wimbledon as they seek to improve their defensive record.
The challenge for Hodges’ charges will be to build on this result at the weekend when they collide with Milton Keynes.
The Dons have only recorded back-to-back victories in League One on nine occasions over the past three years, which is a number they’ll be desperate to improve.
They’ve managed some impressive victories on the road so far this term – repeating that feat in Milton Keynes would be a sweet way to mark their final league game before returning to their spiritual home.
Hodges mentioned, after the 4-4 thriller with Plymouth last month, that he had higher aspirations for the Dons than just surviving in League One each year. Their fine start has given them the perfect opportunity to ensure that this time around, they aren’t left looking over their shoulder as they have become so accustomed to towards the season’s end.
Callum Reilly. Fine goal topped off a battling performance from the Dons midfield man.
Callum Reilly’s classy solo strike made sure the Dons signed off at Loftus Road in style.
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