Reshuffled Pack Earns Dons Draw

Wimbledon 1 v Chesterfield 1

Wimbledon earned a creditable 1-1 draw against table-toppers Chesterfield on Tuesday (11 March) as manager Neal Ardley reaped the benefits of mass changes.

The Dons have been in below-par form in recent months, culminating in a particularly disappointing home defeat against York City in the club’s previous outing.

Ardley responded by dropping Darren Jones, Luke Moore, Tom Richards, Will Antwi and Charlie Sheringham, switching formation to bring back a four-man defence, and bringing in Alan Bennett, Kevin Sainte-Luce, George Francomb and Peter Sweeney.

Even with Aaron Morris playing at left-back, the switch from a three-man central defensive team with wing-backs to a traditional back four, with Sammy Moore protecting them in midfield, seemed to give the Dons a more stable platform. And despite playing Danny Hylton in a lone striker role, the Dons also looked more potent going forward than they have in many weeks.

But the Dons had to weather an early storm as Chesterfield came at them from the off. Indeed, Eoin Doyle could have put the visitors ahead in the very first minute, latching on to Ritchie Humphreys’ firm header to break clear of the defence, only for Ross Worner to block well with his legs at the expense of a corner.

Wimbledon came into the game more as time wore on, with Sweeney’s passing in midfield reminding Dons fans of what they’ve been missing during his injury absence. It was Sweeney who carved out the first notable opening for the Dons, playing a delightful throughball for Hylton, but the former Aldershot man struggled to get the ball onto his foot for a shot and Ian Evatt got back to clear the danger.

Francomb was then involved in a couple of promising moments, first unleashing his own shot that was fairly comfortable for Chesterfield keeper Tommy Lee to thwart, before delivering a corner that Frampton met with a trademark thumping header that this time hit the bar and went over.

Hylton again spurned a chance when he headed straight at Lee, but early in the second half the Dons got their reward. Barry Fuller took a throw-in to Francomb on the corner of the box, who let it cross his body, turned, controlled and then, using his ‘wrong’ foot, curled his shot into the far side of the goal to put the Dons 1-0 up.

The lead, though, lasted for just five minutes. Jimmy Ryan managed to deliver a low cross into the middle that Worner, colliding with one of his own defenders, could only turn into the path of Ollie Banks. The Chesterfield man calmly nudged the ball to the right to create a clear sight of goal before blasting it into the back of the net to make it 1-1.

That goal gave Chesterfield a fillip and they spent the majority of the rest of the game forcing Wimbledon to defend, demonstrating the swift passing and movement that has propelled them to the top of the table.

But strong challenges from Sammy Moore and Bennett, coupled with Tendayi Darikwa’s intended cross hitting the bar, meant that the Dons were successful in repelling their attacks.

And substitute Chris Arthur should have done better and restored Wimbledon’s advantage when he met a Francomb corner with a header, only to steer it well wide.

Despite a failure to pick up three points, this was a much-improved Wimbledon performance against a strong side. Dons fans will be hoping that it continues when they visit Burton Albion this weekend (15 March), before hosting Cheltenham the following weekend. 

Wimbledon: Worner, Fuller, Sainte-Luce (Arthur 72), Frampton, Bennett, Morris, S. Moore, Francomb, Hylton (Wyke 72), Collins, Sweeney (Pell 86). Subs not used: Midson, Brown, Jones, Richards.

Goalscorer: Francomb 50.

Booked: Francomb 52, Morris 80.

Chesterfield: Lee, Darikwa, Humphreys, Ryan (Kearns 66), Evatt, Cooper, O’Shea (Richards 76), Morsy, Doyle (Gnanduillet 91), Banks, Roberts. Subs not used: Smith, Hird, Togwell, Dunbavin.

Goalscorer: Banks 55.

Booked: Doyle 41.

Att: 3,424

By Rob Crane

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March 12, 2014