AFC WimbledonSport

League Two play-off chase is wide open for so many clubs…but AFC Wimbledon showing signs of faltering


AFC Wimbledon have shown over the course of the season they can mix it against anyone in the division – but they have to pick up a level of consistency if they are to turn their strong first half of the season into a shot at promotion to League One.

Johnnie Jackson’s Dons found themselves 17th in the form table heading into Tuesday night’s fixture at home to Crawley and looking to end a run of two games without a win.

After dropping two points at home to Morecambe last time out, the hosts came out firing against the Red Devils.

Josh Kelly is still searching for his first goal since arriving from Solihull Moors and caused Crawley defender Harry Ransom a torrid time in the opening stages.

The 25-year-old was brought in as a like-for-like replacement for Ali Al-Hamadi after he made his club-record switch to Ipswich and showed the same channel-running prowess of the Iraqi international early on.

Kelly chased a ball over the top from Armani Little and fizzed a cross across the face of goal for Josh Davison in the sixth minute.

Kelly produced a carbon copy of the same move midway through the first half when he burst past Ransom and whipped a pass to the back post for Davison, who just mistimed his header and saw the ball cleared away from Corey Addai’s goal.

Picture: Lucy Dixon

Ex-Crawley playmaker James Tilley, who hit the ground running in SW19 but has not scored a league goal since September 16, almost forced Dion Conroy to turn a cross into his own net in the 30th minute, but the ball sneaked past the wrong side of the post.

Despite having the lion’s share of the chances and creating numerous chances in the first half, the Dons were unable to break the deadlock and nearly allowed Crawley to take the lead before half-time when Liam Kelly’s corner skimmed the crossbar and substitute Alex Pearce stopped Conroy’s follow up on the line.

The real chance of the game fell to Davison in the 60th minute when Jack Currie looped a cross at the back post for Omar Bugiel to head back across goal, but the former Charlton forward slid in on the volley and hit his effort straight at Addai.

Crawley grew in confidence after Davison’s miss and took control of the game.

They capitalised on their one dominant spell in the game with 12 minutes of normal time remaining when a long throw caused confusion between Alex Bass and Bugiel, allowing Danilo Orsi to nip in and score his 15th goal of the season.

There is no getting away from the injury crisis Jackson has had to contend with.

Losing centre-back duo Ryan Johnson and Joe Lewis to injury, and now Kofi Balmer is set for a spell on the sidelines with a hamstring problem, the former Addicks boss has had to patch up his back four with Lee Brown, a left-back by trade, and the experienced Alex Pearce.

Josh Neufville and Jake Reeves have also been sidelined with separate problems in recent weeks.

And despite there being a steadfast stance that Al-Hamadi was not for sale going into January, the Dons pocketed the initial £1.75million from Ipswich.

The highlights this season have been strong – with wins against Barrow, Notts County and Tranmere all standing out.

But with the race to land the final play-off spot stretching from Gillingham in eighth to Walsall in 16th – a gap of just three points – Wimbledon have to navigate this gelling period without dropping out of the hunt.

Jackson’s side have only completed the double over Colchester this season, who were a basket case before Danny Cowley took over. They have to bounce back against Doncaster on Saturday in Jackson’s 100th game in charge of the club to ensure they’re not swallowed up by the chasing pack.

Josh Kelly. Looked to create chances in the first half but faded after that.

Bugiel heading back across goal for Davison. The forward had to score.

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