Exeter 3 v Wimbledon 2
A red card for midfielder Dannie Bulman turned the tide of the game as the Dons lost 3-2 at Exeter City on Saturday (14 March) – but manager Neal Ardley instead focused on a soft penalty decision that saw his side go behind.
The Dons were level at 1-1 in the second-half when veteran Exeter striker Clinton Morrison tumbled theatrically in the box following slight contact from Dave Winfield, and Tom Nichols converted from the spot to put his side ahead.
‘I thought the penalty was soft,’ Ardley mused on the club’s official website afterwards.
‘At 1-1 we still had something to cling on to and had just put on fresh legs to try and have that energy about us.
‘But it was a soft penalty. The ball has got played through and there was no way he [Morrison] was going to get the ball. He has bought that with his experience.’
The Dons had got off to a flying start in this game, taking the lead in the fourth minute. Adebayo Akinfenwa chested down a free-kick struck from deep and swivelled before unleashing a spectacular effort from the edge of the box that put the visitors ahead.
The home side responded, and goalkeeper Joe McDonnell had to be alert to save from Ryan Harley and also stood up well to Nichols, who fired against the outside of the post. And Deji Oshilaja also had to be alert to deny Liam Sercombe.
But Wimbledon’s cause was hampered in the 25th minute when Bulman was shown a straight red. Challenges were flying in from all sides as the two teams tussled for possession by the touchline, but when Bulman went in over the ball on Connor Riley-Lowe, referee Darren Deadman had no hesitation in bringing play to a halt and brandishing the card.
Wimbledon held on until half time, with McDonnell again doing well from Nichols and Barry Fuller and Winfield also doing sterling work to preserve the advantage.
Both sides struck the woodwork in the prelude to half-time, with George Francomb’s volley deflecting onto a post and Nichols seeing his own effort deflected onto the crossbar.
But the tide turned after the half-time break.
First the Dons midfielders lost a battle for possession on the edge of their own box, and Ryan Harley squared for Nichols who fired between Jack Smith’s legs to leave McDonnell unsighted and make it 1-1.
Then came the controversial penalty incident in the 66th minute. There appeared little danger as the ball was played into the Wimbledon box, but Morrison must have felt Winfield’s hand on him and fell spectacularly to the ground. Nichols showed no compunction and converted emphatically to put the hosts ahead for the first time.
And that lead was extended just minutes later when Liam Sercombe’s cross was pulled back by Nichols and David Wheeler’s shot deflected off Smith and into the back of the net to give Exeter a 3-1 lead.
The Dons pulled one back in the dying moments when Oshilaja’s header hit a post and bounced into the back of the net off home keeper James Hamon, and Winfield also had a penalty claim of his own turned down before heading off target as the Dons fought to salvage a point.
They now face a midweek trip to Mansfield Town before hosting Portsmouth at Kingsmeadow in an all-ticket encounter next Saturday (21 March).
Exeter: Hamon, Davies, Ribeiro, Moore-Taylor, Riley-Lowe, Sercombe, Oakley, Harley, Nicholls (Wheeler 61), Nichols, Morrison (McCready 81). Subs not used: Bennett, Keohane, Jay, Pum, Cummins.
Goalscorers: Nichols 54, 66 (pen.), Wheeler 70.
Booked: Riley-Lowe 25.
Wimbledon: McDonnell, Fuller, Oshilaja, Winfield, Smith, Francomb, Reeves, Bulman, Potter (Azeez 63), Tanner (Moore 64), Akinfenwa (Kennedy 63). Subs not used: Worner, Rigg, Phillips, Fitzpatrick.
Goalscorers: Akinfenwa 4, Hamon 89 (o.g.).
Booked: Oshilaja 80.
Sent off: Bulman 25.
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March 15, 2015