Laurence Lowne’s big-match verdict on Dons 2 Bristol Rovers 4 – history suggests this bad day at the office is a one-off

A bad day at the office, and yet December has seen quite a number of strange performances from AFC Wimbledon down the years to suggest this is a one-off that was bound to happen.

Dons manager Glyn Hodges stuck with the same 11 that defeated Peterborough United on Wednesday evening, and they started brightly as a Ryan Longman cross was met within the penalty box by Joe Pigott, whose legs were taken out by a Bristol Rovers defender with the referee pointing to the spot.

Pigott duly obliged to make it 1-0 to the hosts.

What followed in the next 20 minutes would be on the one hand shocking, but on the other expected and unexplained by those who have seen the Dons this season on TV.

Game management is often cited and perhaps this Wimbledon team lacks the experience to take a game by the scruff of the neck, but that also presumes the opposition are prepared to let a team control and dominate.

Rovers were never going to let that happen – newly-installed manager Paul Tisdale knows how to motivate his team and with Ehun Oztumer being his usual pain in the proverbial – toying with the ball, and finding passes of quality, that would pull the best organised defence to shreds – you knew 1-0 would never be enough.

Ten minutes after taking the lead the Dons were pegged back as Sam Nicholson equalised, following a mazy run shrugging off challenges. Five minutes later Brandon Hanlan glanced home a header after a swiftly taken free-kick. It was a strange one, as the referee was still giving a lecture to a couple of Dons players but let Bristol get on with it.

Cue shaking heads up and down the country as Wimbledon fans sitting at home watching the game on the stream could not believe how once again some individual skill and pace – plus quick thinking – undid a defence which had been pretty strong since the Plymouth game earlier in the season.

Then an Anthony Hartigan free-kick on 30 minutes found Ben Heneghan running in, to head home an equaliser.

This was more like a cup tie, an open game swinging from one end to the other.

However with three minutes added time on the board, Rovers stuck again. Hanlan beat Will Nightingale for pace and slotted home at the near post to give the visitors the lead going into half time.

The second half saw a stung Wimbledon come out and dominate, creating half and full chances but not securing another equaliser.

Hodges decided to mix it up, and in the 62nd minute he brought on three players after five minutes of annoying keep ball by Rovers, orchestrated by Oztumer.

Two minutes after entering the fray Steve Seddon, Shane McLoughlin and Ethan Chislett were chasing a 4-2 deficit as Nicholson took advantage of a massively deflected cross to score his second.

That was rough on the Dons defence.

Later Ollie Palmer and Callum Reilly added experience, but too late to change the outcome.

A strange game and a strange result, so the team regroup again before heading to the Valley on Saturday to play Charlton Athletic.

Star Man: Joe Pigott. Trod a lone furrow up front as those behind him left the striker isolated for long periods.

Best moment: The bright start, which saw a Dons penalty awarded in the opening five minutes of the game. Pigott did the necessary.

PICTURES: KEITH GILLARD


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