Rochdale 1 v AFC Wimbledon 1
AFC Wimbledon earned a potentially vital point in their relegation battle as they drew 1-1 at Rochdale on Saturday (17 March), a result that left Dons manager Neal Ardley singing the praises of his side’s relegation opponents.
The Dons took the lead early on through Deji Oshilaja but then the in-form home side increasingly took a grip on the game before ultimately having to settle for a point courtesy of Andy Cannon’s equaliser midway through the first period.
‘I’ve been telling the players all week about how well they [Rochdale] have been playing,’ Ardley told the club’s iFollow Dons channel. ‘People look at Rochdale down there, but every manager who has been up against them recently has said how well they are playing. They are in a good place. They have a very tough schedule, but they don’t seem to be letting up.
‘It was important that we got something out of the game. We did not play great but we managed to do that. George Long and our players at the back had to dig in. They had to put their bodies on the line and in the end we are delighted with a point. They [Rochdale] are probably aggrieved.’
With Cody McDonald ruled out for the remainder of the season, leaving the Dons with just two recognised strikers, Joe Pigott returned to the starting line-up. Also starting was Will Nightingale, in for the injured Darius Charles.
It was Nightingale’s defensive partner who opened the scoring when Lyle Taylor’s free-kick from a central position fell kindly to him after being blocked by the wall, the solid centre-back making no mistake to convert from close range after just seven minutes.
Soon afterwards Pigott went close to doubling the Dons’ advantage, narrowly failing to convert at the far post after Taylor got behind the Rochdale defence and delivered a teasing cross.
But after that it was backs to the wall as Rochdale began to rediscover their recent form. George Long made a significant contribution, coming out of his box to head clear as Brad Inman threatened and then recovering to save Matt Done’s follow-up shot. The ball still wasn’t clear and it took a Oshilaja block to deny Ian Henderson when a goal seemed certain, with Long pulling off another quick-succession save to turn behind Cannon’s follow-up.
And Long was soon in action again, scampering across his goal to block a far-post Ryan Delaney effort following Done’s cross.
There was, though, an element of fortune when the equaliser came in the 25th minute. Cannon’s shot from outside the area took a massive deflection off Barry Fuller as he turned his back on the ball and looped high beyond Long’s despairing attempt to claw it out.
The pressure continued in the second half as Scott Wiseman set up Stephen Humphrys whose effort from outside the area went through a crowd of players before being turned behind by Long. From Inman’s corner, Done was only narrowly off target.
But Dale went closest of all in the final moments when Humphrys’ direct free kick beat Long but rebounded back off an upright to ensure that both sides shared the points.
Wimbledon now sit in 18th place, just three points above Northampton who occupy the final relegation berth but with a considerably better goal difference. Next up are promotion chasers Shrewsbury (away, 24 March) before a vital match against 20th-placed Fleetwood at Kingsmeadow on Good Friday.
Rochdale: Lillis, McGahey, McNulty, Delaney, Wiseman, Inman (Davies 73), Camps, Cannon (Kitching 74), Done, Humphrys, Henderson. Subs not used: Rathbone, Moore, Hart, Dobre, Gillam.
Goalscorer: Cannon 25.
Booked: Henderson 31.
Wimbledon: Long, Fuller, Nightingale, Oshilaja, Meades, Trotter, Soares, Abdou (Forrester 63), Francomb, Pigott (Barcham 63), Taylor. Robinson, Parrett, Sibbick, Kaja, McDonnell.
Goalscorer: Oshilaja 7.
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March 19, 2018