Bristol Rovers 3 v Wimbledon 1
Wimbledon’s fine run of away results came to an end as they went down to a 3-1 defeat at fellow play-off contenders Bristol Rovers on Tuesday night (8 March).
The Dons had gone 10 matches on their travels without tasting defeat but that run was curtailed as a second-half fightback wasn’t enough to secure a result.
And their disappointment was compounded by first-half injuries to Connor Smith and Tom Elliott and the injury-time dismissal for dissent of Bayo Akinfenwa.
‘When you assess it afterwards, it’s not just the points you haven’t gained; it’s the injuries and now suspensions,’ manager Neal Ardley told BBC Radio London.
‘As far as the actual game goes, I thought we were really good. They were ruthless with their chances, we made some silly defensive errors at certain times and they punished us.
‘I thought in the second half in particular we ran all over them.’
The match started in encouraging fashion for the Dons as they weathered early chances, including when Paul Robinson missed his clearance and Matty Taylor released Jermaine Easter, prompting a save from Kelle Roos.
But the Dons failed to make the breakthrough during that early period, with Sean Rigg just missing Lyle Taylor’s cross and Robinson failing to connect with Ryan Sweeney’s header across goal following a Jake Reeves corner.
And on the half hour mark the Dons were made to pay as Sweeney was unable to fully clear a cross, the ball was delivered back into the area by Lee Brown and Easter steered his header beyond the reach of the diving Roos to make it 1-0 to Rovers.
Soon afterwards both Smith and Elliott was forced off, and the Dons’ misery was compounded as Rovers got their second. A scrappy battle to gain possession following a hopeful Rovers forward punt ended with Ollie Clarke emerging with the ball on the edge of the area and his firm drive into the bottom corner gave Roos no chance.
Wimbledon abandoned their diamond midfield at half-time and almost immediately pulled a goal back, although not before Ollie Clarke had almost gained a second after neat interplay with Easter.
That Dons’ consolation goal came from a Reeves corner as Jonathan Meades rose on the penalty spot to direct his header finely just inside the far post.
Wimbledon had renewed confidence now and pegged the hosts back, with Rovers keeper Steve Mildenhall denying Rigg and a Reeves effort being deflected just wide, while Robinson also threatened to score from another Reeves delivery and Lyle Taylor shot just over.
So it was largely against the run of play when Rovers got their third with 13 minutes remaining. Deep in his own half, Lyle Taylor’s lay-off to Barry Fuller was sloppy and Chris Lines seized on possession before slotting the ball through to Matty Taylor who made no mistake with his finish.
The Dons had further chances to pull another goal back, Robinson volleying wide and Meades being denied by Mildenhall, but their night ended on a sour note deep in injury time when substitute Akinfenwa was penalised despite seemingly having his shirt pulled in the Rovers penalty area and was shown a straight red after giving protracted ‘feedback’ to referee Ben Toner.
The Dons cling on to the final play-off position despite the result but have now lost their game in hand over their rivals. They travel to Morecambe on Saturday (12 March) before hosting strugglers York City at Kingsmeadow the following weekend.
Bristol Rovers: Mildenhall, Leadbitter (Montano Castillo 93), J. Clarke, Lockyer, Parkes, Brown, O. Clarke, Mansell (McChrystal 84), Lines, Taylor, Easter (McBurnie 59). Subs not used: Harrison, Puddy, Broom, Fallon.
Goalscorers: Easter 28, O. Clarke 38, Taylor 78.
Wimbledon: Roos, Fuller, Robinson, Sweeney, Meades, Smith (Barcham 36), Bulman, Reeves, Rigg, Taylor (Akinfenwa 80), Elliott (Azeez 35). Subs not used: Shea, Kennedy, Fitzpatrick, Gallagher.
Goalscorer: Meades 52.
Booked: Meades 59, Reeves 74.
Sent off: Akinfenwa 91.