Set-piece vulnerability rears its head again as AFC Wimbledon can’t secure League One safety in style

BY DANIEL MARSH AT PLOUGH LANE

Doing things simply just isn’t the Wimbledon way. Especially against Rochdale.

This fixture has produced fireworks in recent meetings – and Joe Pigott’s late heroics ensured that proceedings between these two sides would once again end with a bang in midweek.

Even with the elation following Pigott’s late heroics, there was still an air of disappointment in SW19 at the final whistle. That’s understandable – Tuesday night was a massive missed opportunity for a side who have been relentless over the past month. A win would have mathematically secured the Dons’ League One status for another year.

You’d have backed them to snatch that opportunity with both hands too.

Since Mark Robinson’s arrival, the Dons have shown the form of a top-10 team over the past 19 games to ascend to the brink of safety with a high-octane brand of attractive, pressing football.

Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s remarkable turnaround at Burton has been rightly heralded by many – but surely Robinson’s impact since being handed the reins at the beginning of February can’t be far off matching that in terms of achievements.

But this performance struggled to hit the heights of recent weeks – even if Wimbledon did show character to finish with a flourish and leave their visitors down and almost out.

The arrival of Andy Parslow as restarts coach has seen them make marked improvements in their set-plays. Prior to Parslow’s arrival they had been woefully poor in that area.

Unfortunately Tuesday night’s showing was reminiscent of earlier in the season, and proved that there’s still a lot of work to be done with all three of the visitors’ goals coming from set-pieces.

Jake Beesley, Gabriel Osho and Jimmy Keohane all found the net in South London, but sloppy Wimbledon defending provided the assist for all three of them. Beesley’s strike in particular seemed to trickle in almost apologetically from a scuffed Rochdale corner which the Dons failed to deal with.

Despite Wimbledon’s upturn in form, their defensive efforts will still be a cause for concern.

Fortunately the goals have started to flow at the other end, but it’s now just two clean sheets in eight games, with both of those coming in quick succession against a pitiful Ipswich side.

It was the manner of the goals which would have hurt more than anything else though, something Robinson alluded to himself in his post-match comments.

The Dons could hardly have picked a worse time to give themselves a mountain to climb on such a pivotal night – but this is a team which has dug itself out of much, much deeper holes in the past.

Jack Rudoni and Ayoub Assal were key once again to Wimbledon clawing their way back into the game just past the hour mark. The youthful duo combined to great effect with Rudoni heading home clinically after some persistent work by Assal on the right-hand side. Ollie Palmer bundled home the leveller in a chaotic penalty area five minutes later to set up a dramatic finale.

It would be very, very cruel if the they were to pay the ultimate price in the coming weeks for Pigott’s mishaps from 12 yards over the past few days. For someone who’s contributed so much to the club’s cause in the past few years, and this season in particular, that would be a major injustice.

You dread to think what would have been going through his head five minutes from time as he missed from the spot for the second time in four days.

But fortunately for Pigott, inset, he very quickly made amends. The way he swivelled and swept his volley into the far corner in the seventh and final minute of additional time was a thing of beauty – it certainly felt like a season-defining moment as his team-mates, including Nik Tzanev, all rushed forward to mob him on the touchline.

It was a sterling show of character from Wimbledon’s leading scorer too. He didn’t go missing as some would after missing a second penalty in successive games. He kept going and got his just rewards by firing home his 53rd goal for the club – few will have been as important as this one.

STAR MAN
Joe Pigott. It takes some character to step up for a penalty four days after missing one…and even more to bag a late winner after missing that second penalty.

BEST MOMENT
Pigott’s late equaliser was as impressive as it was dramatic – a cool half-volley swept into the far corner.

 


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