Mark Robinson’s AFC Wimbledon showed glimmers of their previous energetic best despite playing over 60 minutes at Stadium MK on Tuesday night with 10 men.
It was a difficult evening in Milton Keynes. While Wimbledon started the game with a tempo that resonated with the professional performances they produced against Accrington and Wycombe, it all began to unravel in the 28th minute.
Nik Tzanev and Ben Heneghan exchanged passes around their own penalty area, but the Kiwi goalkeeper played the ball into the feet of Mohamed Eisa. Milton Keynes punished the careless mistake – Matt O’Riley firing in the opener after Scott Twine unselfishly found him inside the area.
It was a split second that killed Wimbledon’s momentum, saw their heads drop and made their efforts to get past a stubborn promotion-chasing side an even more arduous task.
Seven minutes after the unnecessary opener, Nesta Guinness-Walker was sent off by referee Anthony Backhouse after picking up his second yellow card in the space of 13 minutes. The first half had spiralled out of control from the visitors’ perspective.
Wimbledon missed a central creative spark after Luke McCormick was sacrificed for full-back Paul Osew following the dismissal.
Rather than shrinking into their shells for the second half, the Dons re-emerged from the tunnel and remained resolute and compact to keep out Liam Manning’s potent side.
A significant factor in them staying impenetrable at the back was down to Will Nightingale – making his first start since the 1-1 draw with Burton in October – and Ben Heneghan at the heart of the Wimbledon defence.
The duo made nine clearances, completed five blocks and won seven aerial battles over the 90 minutes.
The Dons’ work ethic to stay in the game until the last minute nearly reaped rewards but they were denied a stonewall penalty in added time after Warren O’Hora dragged down Jack Rudoni.
There is a season-defining run of games coming up for Wimbledon. But the defensive organisation that they craved in their previous outings against Oxford and Boreham Wood was evident on Tuesday night.
With Robinson’s side set to play nine games in a chaotic 28-day period, their first task tomorrow is to overcome fellow League One relegation rivals Morecambe and create some distance between themselves and the bottom four.
Will Nightingale. A fantastic return to the starting line up.
The first 25 minutes, when the Dons showcased their natural style of play again.
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