AFC Wimbledon 1
The Town’s return to the Football League at Kenilworth Road ended in defeat as a first-half Matt Tubbs strike gave AFC Wimbledon the points.
It was a result harsh on the Hatters who saw plenty of the ball throughout the 90 minutes but couldn’t find a way past the Dons’ defence and goalkeeper James Shea, despite creating a number of chances.
Starting brightly from the off, and backed by over 9,000 supporters, the Town thought they should have had a penalty in the 10th minute when Fraser Franks’s header from a Luke Guttridge corner hit what seemed a hand in the box but referee Oliver Langford remained unmoved.
The Hatters were playing some neat, patient football, happy to wait to pick their pass, and three minutes later an intricate move down the left flank saw Guttridge’s shot blocked after the midfielder – making his first start for the Town since 1st March – was found by Jake Howells. Matt Robinson then saw his follow-up effort charged down.
With the Town well on top, John Still’s side went mighty close to breaking the deadlock on 35 minutes when Robinson’s eye-of-the-needle pass forward found Franks. The defender, playing at right-back against his former employers, was clattered in the box, but, playing on, Guttridge was first onto the loose ball, and his firm shot was beaten away well by the hands of Shea.
The Hatters had kept the visiting strikeforce of debayo Akinfenwa and Tubbs quiet up until the 41st minute – when the visitors took the lead. Akinfenwa’s flick-on found the feet of his strike-partner and Tubbs made no mistake with an unerring finish across Mark Tyler. It was the Dons’ first real chance of the game.
After the break the visitors started the best. And Neal Ardley’s side should have doubled their lead four minutes after the restart. George Francomb’s deep right-wing free-kick found Akinfenwa unmarked inside the six-yard box but the striker somehow missed from a yard out, poking a shot wide.
Back came the Town, and on 52 minutes half of the Kenilworth Road crowd celebrated what they thought was a leveller when Guttridge leapt highest at the back-post to meet Paul Benson’s cross only for the midfielder’s header to find the side-netting.
As the hour-mark ticked round, the Hatters upped the ante – not before Tubbs tested Tyler with a snap-shot inside the penalty area.
Cullen came close with a drive from the edge of the box that kissed the outside of the post before Guttridge and Andy Drury combined to tee-up the latter on 62 minutes but his shot was deflected into the arms of Shea.
Still introduced Alex Wall and Pelly Ruddock Mpaznu in an attempt to find an equaliser. Benson volleyed over following Howells’ centre on 74 minutes, before a lovely move again involving Howells with 12 minutes left saw Benson set-up Wall to shoot over.
As time ticked down into the final 10, Wall shot straight at Shea and Luke Wilkinson glanced a header wide from a dangerous inswinging free-kick from Howells.
Still the Town pushed and probed in the final moments but the Dons held firm. Howells’ shot bobbled into Shea’s arms before the same player almost teed up Benson for an equaliser with a minute left – the striker’s touch rolling agonisingly wide of the target inside the six-yard box.
In added time Mark Cullen’s hooked shot again found Shea, before Wilkinson thumped an effort into the side-netting with the final chance. And that was that.
TOWN: Tyler; Franks (sub Stevenson), Griffiths, McNulty, Wilkinson; Robinson, Drury (sub Ruddock Mpanzu); Guttridge (sub Wall); Howells, Cullen, Benson.
Subs not used: Lacey, Lafayette, Williams, Justham.
Attendance: 9,101, including 640 from AFC Wimbledon.