Wimbledon 1 v Cambridge 2
Two Cambridge goals in as many minutes just after half-time turned this game on its head as Wimbledon went down to a 2-1 defeat at Kingsmeadow on Tuesday (18 August).
The Dons spent the first 45 minutes making promotion-favourites Cambridge look distinctly ordinary but then conceded two sucker-punch goals in as many minutes immediately after the break.
And the seemingly stunned Dons then spent the majority of the rest of the game staggering around in a daze as they sought to recover from the blow before mounting a late, futile rally.
The Dons started with the 4-4-2 formation that finished Crawley so successfully in the previous match, and it looked like they would get instant reward when Tom Elliott had the ball in the back of the net after just three minutes, only to see the offside flag raised.
But that didn’t dent the Dons’ determination as they continued to push forward in rampant fashion, with the Cambridge defence forced to clear a Bayo Akinfenwa effort off the line.
The Dons got the lead they deserved with 12 minutes on the clock. Sean Rigg cut in from the right before unleashing powerful drive at goal that got stuck in the feet of Elliott. The tall striker reacted quickly to dig it out and fire home against his former club to make it 1-0.
Still the Dons poured forwards, with Elliott and Andy Barcham firing just wide and then Elliott seeing another effort cleared off the line after being set up by Akinfenwa.
Then Barcham and Callum Kennedy combined down the left to produce another chance for Elliott that was straight into the arms of visiting keeper Chris Dunn.
With the half-time whistle came a sense of satisfaction at an impressive first-half performance combined with a sense of slight unease that the Dons’ advantage was still so slender.
And those worries came to the fore as Cambridge won a corner within the opening 30 seconds of the second period. Ryan Donaldson delivered a near-post cross that Leon Legge got in front of his marker to head home. Against the run of play, it was 1-1.
But two minutes later it was even worse for the Dons. This time Harrison Dunk delivered a corner from the opposite side and it was met by the unmarked Barry Corr who side footed a volley into the back of the net to make it 2-1 to the visitors.
Two mad second-half minutes had turned the game on its head and Wimbledon fell to pieces. They failed to mount much of a challenge until a triple substitution and a reversion to the 3-4-3 formation with just over 15 minutes remaining.
Karleigh Osborne spurned a glorious opportunity, connecting with a George Francomb cross but somehow heading wide when the goal was at his mercy, and then Francomb and Barry Fuller combined to set up Lyle Taylor but header was narrowly off target.
Adebayo Azeez had a penalty appeal turned down, but there was nothing for the Dons’ faithful to cheer as they failed to find the equaliser.
‘You can put an attacking team out, get your full-backs and wingers working in unison, and keep getting bodies into the box,’ manager Neal Ardley told the club’s website afterwards, ‘but you have to take your chances.
‘I will have to work on the finishing with the players to get us three goals up like we should have been tonight.’
The Dons have a chance to rediscover their clinical edge when they visit Carlisle United on Saturday (22 August) before following that up the following Saturday with the visit of Exeter City.
Wimbledon: Shea, Fuller, Osborne, Robinson, Kennedy (Azeez 72), Barcham, Bulman, Reeves, Rigg (Francomb 72), Akinfenwa, Elliott (Taylor 72). Subs not used: Nightingale, Meades, Fitzpatrick, McDonnell.
Booked: Fuller 70, Reeves 80.
Goalscorer: Elliott 12.
Cambridge: Dunn, Legge, Coulson (Dunk 31), Roberts, Taylor, Donaldson, Simpson (Keane 84), L. Hughes, Taft, Slew (Berry 46), Corr. Subs not used: Omozusi, Beasant, Morrissey, Newton.
Goalscorers: Legge 46, Corr 48.
Booked: L. Hughes 45.