Luton Town 2 v Wimbledon 0
Wimbledon boss Neal Ardley refused to blame the referee after Karleigh Osborne was harshly sent off as the Dons lost 2-0 at Luton Town on Saturday (26 September).
The on-loan Bristol City defender received two yellows from referee Brendan Malone for what seemed two comparatively tame fouls in the space of five first-half minutes, leaving the Dons a man short for the whole of the second period.
‘If you’re going to send someone off for their first two tackles then you could end up with eight men on the pitch regularly,’ Ardley told the club’s official website afterwards.
‘Maybe a warning might have been the right thing because it looked soft. Sometimes when someone has [already] been booked, referees use common sense and say, “That is your last one, any more and you are off.”
‘But I am not going to criticise. We have to move on from it.’
The red card contributed to ending Wimbledon’s unbeaten away record and meant they got no reward from a match where their performance warranted more.
The Dons weathered an initial flurry of pressure from the home side to take control in the first period, with George Francomb testing Luton keeper Mark Tyler and then picking out Bayo Akinfenwa, who headed narrowly off target.
Jake Reeves had a long-range effort tipped around by Tyler, Akinfenwa headed wide and Andy Barcham forced Tyler into another save after embarking on a trademark run as the Dons continued to enjoy the upper hand.
Luton came back into it slightly, probing the Dons’ defence with Josh McQuoid forcing a save from James Shea, and then came the moments that helped turn the game.
Osborne’s first booking came in the 30th minute after he blocked McQuoid’s forward surge, while the second for a harmless-looking challenge on Cameron McGeehan prompted Malone to reach for his red.
The Dons saw it through to half-time comfortably, with Francomb dropping to right-back and Fuller filling in in the middle, and they signalled their attacking intent by switching to a diamond midfield for the second period, with Sean Rigg coming in to replace Adebayo Azeez and provide Akinfenwa with support.
And the Dons continued to bely their numerical disadvantage as Rigg was soon involved, volleying wide following Akinfenwa’s flick, while Jon Meades shot across goal following good build-up play involving Barcham.
Although Shea was again forced to save from Scott Griffiths, it was Wimbledon who continued to fashion the chances, with Rigg twice more going close with long-range efforts.
On the two rare occasions that Luton did break through, Rigg and then Fuller were on hand to save the Dons’ clean sheet.
But all that changed with 11 minutes remaining when Alex Lawless’ attempt at a long-range shot through a crowded box was blocked by Jack Marriott’s legs and the Luton man was able to react quickly to prod the ball home.
The Dons continued to press, introducing academy product Egli Kaja from the bench for his debut to add potency up front, and they almost got their reward only for Tyler to fingertip away Akinfenwa’s looping header from a Francomb cross.
But in injury time salt was rubbed into the wounds as Marriott got his second, shooting home after Shea had gone down to block McGeehan’s initial effort.
The Dons will aim to pick themselves up with back-to-back home games against Northampton Town (29 September) and Barnet (3 October).
Luton Town: Tyler, O’Donnell (Lawless 60), McNulty, Wilkinson, Griffiths (Hall 75), McQuoid (Marriott 61), McGeehan, Smith, Lee, McCourt, Mackail-Smith. Subs not used: Potts, Green, Justham, O’Brien.
Goalscorer: Marriott 79, 90.
Booked: McCourt 89.
Wimbledon: Shea, Fuller, Robinson, Osborne, Meades, Francomb, Bulman (Oakley 91), Reeves, Barcham (Kaja 80), Azeez (Rigg 56), Akinfenwa. Subs not used: Kennedy, Sweeney, McDonnell, Gallagher.
Booked: Osborne 30.
Sent off: Osborne 35.