Wimbledon 2 v Bristol Rovers 3
A late penalty denied Wimbledon a draw as they made an emotional return to the Football League on Saturday (6 August) at a packed Kingsmeadow.
The Dons found themselves 0-2 down early on but pulled it back to equalise through goals by Jamie Stuart and Charles Ademeno, only for Brett Johnson's late handball to undo the hard work.
After a week of intense media pressure and in front of the Sky TV cameras, the Dons stepped out wearing a one-off commemorative kit that mimicked the one worn in 1977 when the club made their first Football League debut against Halifax Town.
But initially the Dons seemed affected by the big occasion and after 20 minutes they found themselves 0-2 down against a Rovers side that is strongly tipped to do well this season.
After 17 minutes, Ricky Wellard was caught in possession by Matt Gill after receiving a throw from Seb Brown. Gill played in veteran striker Scott McGleish who steadied himself before firing a shot past Brown and into the far corner.
And, three minutes later, Johnson played the ball straight to McGleish on the halfway line. Again McGleish surged forward but this time Brown blocked his initial shot. But the ball fell back to McGleish's feet and, after two attempted crosses were blocked, he successfully dinked a ball onto the head of Matt Harrold for a close-range headed goal.
At this stage the Dons were struggling and looking uncomfy as Rovers pressed them at every opportunity. But slowly the Dons started to settle and create chances of their own.
Even before Rovers took the lead, Jolley had hesitated when perfectly placed and ended up ballooning his effort high over Scott Bevan's goal. And just after the half hour Luke Moore was played in by Jack Midson for a one-on-one with Bevan, but he failed to dig the ball out from underneath his feet and the chance was gone.
Brown had to be alert on 38 minutes, turning around Adam Virgo's fiercely hit 30-yard free-kick. Being three goals behind would surely have ended the Dons' hopes, but moments later they had pulled it back to 1-2.
Virgo was booked for hacking down Rashid Yussuff as the midfielder surged down the left and, from the resultant free-kick, Sam Hatton delivered a ball that Stuart powerfully headed home past Bevan's despairing dive.
Rovers nearly restored their two-goal lead just before the break, when McGleish's header hit the bar and Johnson somehow deflected Harrold's follow-up over the bar, but it was the Dons who come out after the interval looking the more purposeful.
Brown still had to be alert at the other end, in particular pulling off a fine save when Gill received the ball back after taking a corner; rather than crossing again, Gill fired in a piledriver effort from an acute angle that Brown did well to palm away.
The equalising goal came in the 69th minute. Stuart's hopeful long-ball into the Rovers area was only partially cleared and, when Lee Minshull headed it back into the mix, substitute Charles Ademeno was on hand to calmly turn and slot home underneath the diving Bevan.
For a while Wimbledon continued to have the better of things, but Jo Kuffour should have done better after 77 minutes when Brown smothered bravely at his feet as the visitors started to come back into it.
Brown was again in action with eight minutes remaining, parrying Mustapha Carayol's header, as the Dons gallantly tried to hold on for a point.
But the hard work was undone in the 85th minute when Johnson jumped under pressure to challenge for Chris Lines' free-kick and clearly handled the ball. Virgo seized the opportunity to blast the ball home from the spot to put the visitors 3-2 ahead.
Chris Bush could have rescued a point for the Dons in added-on time, coming in from the left to meet Minshull's cross, but his side footed effort was well off target.
So no fairytale return for the Dons, but an encouraging fightback in a breathless end-to-end game. The Dons will have to cut out the individual errors that cost them three goals if they're to prosper at the higher level.
The Dons travel to Dagenham & Redbridge next Saturday (13 August) and then face a long midweek trip to Plymouth Argyle (16 August) before entertaining Hereford United at Kingsmeadow on 20 August.
Wimbledon: S. Brown, Gwillim (Bush 81), Porter (Minshull 63), Stuart, Johnson, Hatton, Wellard, Midson, L. Moore, Jolley (Ademeno 66), Yussuff. Subs not used: Turner, S. Moore.
Goalscorers: Stuart 40, Ademeno 69.
Booked: Stuart 4.
Bristol Rovers: Bevan, Smith, Anthony, Virgo, L. Brown, Zebroski (Lines 53), Gill, Stanley, Anyinsah (Carayol 70), Harrold, McGleish (Kuffour 62). Subs not used: Bolger, W. Brown.
Goalscorers: McGleish 17, Harrold 20, Virgo 85.
Booked: Zebroski 9, Anyinsah 13, Virgo 39, Harrold 62.
Referee: Keith Stroud (Gillingham).
August 7, 2011