AFC WimbledonSport

Accrington Stanley defeat underlines how AFC Wimbledon have found it a major struggle to bank points at Plough Lane

If AFC Wimbledon want to be considered as serious contenders for a shot at reaching the play-offs this year, they will have to dramatically change their fortunes at home.

It has been a sorry state of affairs at Plough Lane in 2023 for the South Londoners with Johnnie Jackson’s side picking up just two League Two wins in SW19.

Jackson rotated aspects of his squad, with Conor Lemonheigh-Evans and Harry Pell coming into the starting 11, for Tuesday’s 4-2 defeat to Accrington Stanley at Plough Lane.

But the same back five who have been the bedrock of Wimbledon’s good start to the campaign – and saw out the 90 minutes at Barrow on Saturday – started against John Coleman’s side.

And their start against Stanley on Tuesday night highlighted how much of an unhappy hunting ground home soil has been for the Dons this calendar year.

It took only five minutes for the Dons defence to be breached. Tommy Leigh’s shot was well saved by Sunderland loanee Alex Bass but he could only palm the effort into the path of Joe Pritchard, who tapped into the empty net.

Wimbledon – shell shocked by Accrington’s fast start – went further behind four minutes later when Leigh took aim from 25 yards out with a stunning half-volley that sailed in off the crossbar.

Jackson’s side had only conceded as many as two in their opening 14 League Two outings but found themselves 2-0 down after nine minutes on Tuesday and the visitors looked like scoring with every attack.

The Dons had chances to halve the deficit in the first half – James Tilley and Lemonheigh-Evans both delivering crosses that created havoc in the Accrington penalty area.

But whenever star striker Ali Al-Hamadi received the ball in the opposition’s half, he either had the ball snatched away from him or was left searching for an attacking partner to support him.

Jackson rang the changes at half-time, pulling Pell, Lemonheigh-Evan and Issac Ogundere off, with Huseyin Biler, Omar Bugiel and Josh Neufville coming on.

But Accrington killed the game off 29 seconds into the start of the second half.

Pritchard doubled his tally and grabbed his side’s third when he reacted quickest inside the area to turn Rosaire Longelo’s saved shot into the net in front of the jubilant 130 away fans.

Bugiel pulled two back for Wimbledon to set up a grandstand finish but more poor Wimbledon defending allowed tall centre-back Brad Hills to be left unmarked at the back post to head Pritchard’s free-kick past Bass.

Wimbledon’s home form at the start of this campaign makes for grim reading.

Only Forest Green Rovers – 23rd in the table – and Harrogate, who find themselves in the midfield pack, have a worse home record so far.

They have picked up just six points at Plough Lane – the one win coming in the 4-1 victory over strugglers Tranmere.

Bottom of the table Sutton, who have played one more game at home than Wimbledon, have one more point in the form table.

Colchester, 21st in the table, have also picked up a point more at home this season.

The lowest number of home points any side recorded who reached the play-offs last season was Salford on 38. And to finish in the top seven in the 2021-22 campaign, it was Swindon on 37 points who were the lowest side.

With 15 home games left of the remaining campaign – and the Dons having picked up six home points so far – on average over the last two seasons, they would need to win 10 of those to make the top seven.

It is a tough ask for a side that has struggled with consistency at Plough Lane.

It is a stark contrast away, with Wimbledon collecting 16 points on the road – the best in the division – four points more than  league leaders Stockport and six points more than big-spending Wrexham.

Another spanner in the works is that Al-Hamadi and Bugiel, who recently opened himself back up for international recognition, could be missing for a large chunk of January, with the Asia Cup in Qatar coming up and Iraq and Lebanon both qualifying.

Both of Wimbledon’s defeats before the Accrington loss came when Al-Hamadi was away with Iraq.

There is a strong squad at Jackson’s disposal, with options and players who have the ability to take the club out of this division.

But they have to make sure they find a quick remedy to the appalling home form if they are to fully maximise the potential of it.

Omar Bugiel. Two well-taken goals and showed with his impact why he is the key starter alongside Al-Hamadi.

A stunning strike from Tommy Leigh.


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