Stevenage 0 v Wimbledon 0
Wimbledon qualified for the League Two play-offs on Saturday (30 April) – thanks to a late equaliser scored by Plymouth Argyle in their match at Cambridge United.
As the Dons were drawing 0-0 at Stevenage, Cambridge were beating Plymouth 2-1 – a combination of results that would have meant a nail-biting final Saturday with the Dons having to get at least a point against Newport and Cambridge having to win at Mansfield to have any hope of overhauling them.
But shortly after the final whistle at Stevenage the travelling Dons contingent erupted into jubilation as news came through of Plymouth’s injury-time equaliser – and with it Wimbledon’s qualification for the end-of-season promotion deciders.
Jubilant Dons boss Neal Ardley told the club’s website: ‘All the drama was not in this ground but obviously I am delighted. I am ecstatic and excited. I’m also relieved that we got ourselves over the line.
‘The players deserve a huge amount of credit because of what they did since 26 December. They have gone on a run that would have us second in the table based on form during that spell. That got us to this point where we had enough of a cushion and I am so proud of them.’
Despite – or perhaps because of – everything being up for grabs in this match, it was a comparatively tame goalless draw that helped see the Dons over the line.
Wimbledon enjoyed plenty of possession throughout but struggled to make much impression up front. And it took three moments of Kelle Roos determination to keep the Dons from falling behind.
First the Dutchman raced from his goal to clear as Stevenage’s Greg Luer charged through to threaten his goal. And then he pulled off two quick-fire point-blank blocks in the goal area, first to deny Luer and then to spread-eagle himself and palm away Dean Parrett’s follow-up.
But the Dons’ first-half was soured by the forced withdrawal through injury of influential midfielder Jake Reeves, who will be a big loss for the play-offs if he does not recover in time.
The second period saw the Dons switch to a diamond midfield as they sought to assert themselves more thoroughly, and Callum Kennedy soon delivered a cross that Lyle Taylor headed straight at Jamie Jones,
And shortly afterwards Sean Rigg had a golden opportunity, turning on the penalty spot to poke at Barry Fuller’s cross but seeing his effort go just wide.
With Tom Elliott seemingly struggling for fitness and Taylor out of sorts, it wasn’t until they had been replaced by Adebayo Azeez and Bayo Akinfenwa that the Dons looked more potent up front, with the latter’s physical presence causing the home defence plenty of problems.
It was Azeez who set up another Rigg opportunity, but the former Oxford man’s effort again lacked venom and Jones saved comfortably.
Up the other end Adam Marriott capped a well-crafted Stevenage move by blasting over from the edge of the area as the home side caused the travelling support some anxiety towards the climax by pressing forward.
But ultimately the draw was probably a fair reflection of the encounter – and Wimbledon will hardly be ruing their missed opportunities after the dramatic conclusion at Cambridge.
The Dons now play their final league game against Newport at Kingsmeadow next Saturday (7 May) before the two-legged play-off semi-final (on dates still to be decided) against either Accrington Stanley, Bristol Rovers or Oxford United.
Stevenage: Jones, Henry, Wilkinson, Wells, Franks, Pett, Tonge, Parrett, Mulraney (Lee 75), Luer (Marriott 58), Kennedy (Conlon 82). Subs not used: Day, Johnson, Adams, Gorman.
Booked: Tonge 10.
Wimbledon: Roos, Fuller, Robinson, Charles, Kennedy, Francomb, Reeves (Smith 39), Bulman, Rigg, Taylor (Akinfenwa 76), Elliott (Azeez 60). Subs not used: Shea, Fitzpatrick, Sweeney, Murphy.
Booked: Robinson 48.