AFC WIMBLEDON 0
FLEETWOOD TOWN 1
BY SAM SMITH
For AFC Wimbledon, this was a familiar tale. At one end of the pitch, there is an increasingly common failure to convert chances. At the other, mistakes are costing them crucial points.
On Monday, it was Nik Tzanev who gifted Fleetwood Town victory and all but secured their League One safety, while hammering another dent into Wimbledon’s. The goalkeeper received Will Nightingale’s back pass and tried to dribble around Barrie McKay, only to run straight into the Cod Army attacker. The ball ricocheted agonisingly into the net.
The error came three days after the on-loan Crystal Palace defender Sam Woods was allowed too much space inside Wimbledon’s penalty area to earn Plymouth Argyle a victory by the same scoreline.
Tzanev was the hero only a week earlier. His excellent last-minute penalty save preserved the Dons’ victory against Northampton Town. The New Zealander’s error against Fleetwood was evidence of the cut-throat nature of fighting for survival in a division as tight as League One.
That success over Northampton remains the only victory Mark Robinson’s side have managed in their last 10 matches. Ultimately, their season will now be defined by how quickly they can start scoring again and whether they can stop gifting points to their relegation rivals.
This result took Fleetwood 16 points away from the South Londoners, thus becoming yet another side allowed to steer clear of relegation. Plymouth moved 15 ahead thanks to Woods’ goal on Good Friday.
This was largely a positive performance. Wimbledon were the better side, created better chances and could have won.
Ryan Longman went close three times. He headed just off target in the first half, then curled wide and had another effort blocked in the second period.
Joe Pigott appeared to have put Wimbledon ahead midway through the second half but play had already been called back for a foul by Jack Rudoni in the build-up. Those fine margins and examples of bad luck are often difficult to overcome.
Those positive performances now need to be positive results. The Dons are running out of time. Six of their last seven matches have been against sides below 14th and they earned seven points.
Four of their next five fixtures are against teams in the top half of League One. This recent run presented an excellent chance to move away from the bottom four, but Wimbledon never truly took advantage at any stage.
Since Rudoni’s goal defeated Gillingham on February 23, there have been four defeats, five draws and just one win. That run includes just six goals. In fact, the Dons have scored more than once in a match in just eight of their 38 games this season.
It does not help that the usually reliable Joe Pigott has scored only once since his brace in the 3-2 win over Wigan Athletic on February 6. The former Charlton Athletic forward rekindling his scoring touch would be a welcome boost.
There remain several positive things that Wimbledon can take into the final eight matches of the season. they still have two games in hand over Bristol Rovers, who are 22nd, and 19th-placed Northampton. They have also played one match fewer than Swindon Town, who are 20th and visit Plough Lane later this month.
The performances of the Dons’ young players point towards a bright future, although they would certainly prefer to remain in League One next season. the 19-year-old Rudoni has impressed in midfield and the on-loan Brighton forward Longman has contributed goals and assists.
Ayoub Assal, another 19-year-old who is the latest academy graduate to feature in the first team, started successive matches for the first time. The tricky winger caused Fleetwood plenty of issues and Callum Connolly was fortunate to only be booked when he prevented the Maidstone-born attacker from bursting through on goal.
Robinson was effusive in his praise for Assal. “Ayoub was brilliant. I got told by many people that the young man probably wouldn’t be able to play at this level,” the Dons boss told the club’s media channels.
“He was fantastic. His energy is great, his detail is very good, and I am pleased with him. All the fans are interested in is points, and all we are interested in is points, but the average age of our team was just over 22 [against Fleetwood]. Although we are not where we need to be, we’ve lost games in the past with an average age of 28, 29, or 30, so there are positives.”
Of course, those positives now need to turn into points. Mistakes such as the ones that led to winning goals for Plymouth and Fleetwood can only be anomalies if Wimbledon are to avoid the drop once again.
STAR MAN: Ayoub Assal. The pacey teenager was a bright spark for the Dons.
BEST MOMENT: Pigott received a flick-on and finished well, only to have his strike ruled out by an earlier foul.
Image by Keith Gillard
Please support your local paper by making a donation
Please make cheques payable to “MSI Media Limited” and send by post to South London Press, Unit 112, 160 Bromley Road, Catford, London SE6 2NZ
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has encouraged everyone in the country who can afford to do so to buy a newspaper, and told the Downing Street press briefing recently: “A free country needs a free press, and the newspapers of our country are under significant financial pressure”.
So if you have enjoyed reading this story, and if you can afford to do so, we would be so grateful if you can buy our newspaper or make a donation, which will allow us to continue to bring stories like this one to you both in print and online.