Dons’ Relegation Battle Goes Down To The Wire

Bristol Rovers 1 v Wimbledon 0

Wimbledon’s survival battle looks like going down to the wire after they lost 1-0 at Bristol Rovers on Saturday (6 April), leaving them just two points off a relegation place.

If anything, the Dons had the better of this match until Gary Alexander was forced off through injury. But after his departure their attacking hopes faded and there was a sense of inevitability as Rovers were allowed to carve open the Dons’ defence to score an 82nd-minute winner.

After rotating his squad for the Easter fixtures, boss Neal Ardley fielded his strongest-available side and was rewarded with possession officially recorded at 59 per cent – an impressively high ratio for an away side – but very few goalscoring opportunities of genuine note.

Afterwards, Ardley admitted on the club’s official site: ‘We lacked quality at times up top. Maybe there was a bit of nerves. We are deflated after that because we felt that the worst-case scenario was that we would get a point.’

But he insisted: ‘We need to maintain togetherness and keep the boys believing that they are good players. If we keep the performance levels high in the same way that we have since January then I am sure we can do what we need to do.’

The Dons started this encounter on the back foot, with the home side pressing forward and going close when Ryan Brunt saw his 25-yard effort deflected over the bar.

Wimbledon slowly began to exert themselves, often winning the second ball and finding space to get their passing going, and Sammy Moore saw one effort go just wide of the post.

But it was Rovers who again came closest to scoring in the 37th minute when a corner was only partially cleared and Fabian Broghammer’s volley hit the post and rebounded to safety.

The Dons continued to dominate possession in the second period, with Jack Midson’s flick releasing Alexander but he fired over from 30 yards. Alexander had another effort that went over wildly, and a succession of corners from Chris Hussey and Sammy Moore were causing the home side discomfort.

But with 25 minutes to go Alexander was forced off with an ankle injury and the Dons sorely missed his intelligent positional play and ability to bring others into the game, with his replacement Jesse Darko again offering little of note.

And so, with 10 minutes left, the Dons midfield and defence repeatedly backed off when presented with opportunities to close down a Rovers attack and there was a sense of inevitability when the ball reached Tom Hitchcock and he shot home beyond the despairing dive of John Sullivan.

Wimbledon attempted to push forward to salvage the point they deserved but never really offered much realistic chance of that happening, leaving them nervously looking over their shoulders.

Aldershot Town are bottom of the table but with games in hand, and the Dons know that they must pick up points in their remaining games against Exeter City (at home on 13 April), Gillingham (away on 20 April) and Fleetwood Town (at home on 27 April) if they are to retain their Football League status.

By Rob Crane

Attendance: 6,881

Bristol Rovers: Mildenhall, Smith, McDonald, McChrystal, Brown, Norburn, Woodards, Broghammer (Lockyer 90), Harrison (Anyinsah 53), Tounkara, Brunt (Hitchcock 66). Subs not used: Gough, Richards, Harding, Clarke.

Goalscorer: Hitchcock 82.

Booked: Hitchcock 83.

Wimbledon: Sullivan, Youga, Balkestein, Bennett, Hussey, S. Moore, Pell, Meades, Alexander (Darko 66), Midson, L. Moore (Sainte-Luce 69). Subs not used: Jaimez-Ruiz, Osano, Cummings, Long, Antwi.

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April 8, 2013