Wimbledon 1 v Forest Green Rovers 2
Wimbledon tumbled out of the FA Cup as they suffered a frustrating 1-2 home First Round defeat against National League leaders Forest Green Rovers on Saturday (7 November).
The non-leaguers got their tactics spot on as they sat deep and built a wall of their lime-green kit that the Dons struggled to pass their way through, before hitting the hosts with a sucker-punch with just seconds remaining to steal victory.
It was only at the start of each half and right at the death that Forest Green showed much attacking intention – and Dons boss Neal Ardley will be worried that those spells resulted in two goals conceded by his side.
‘For the first 10–15 minutes we showed a lot of anxiety in our play,’ Ardley told the club’s website afterwards. ‘That meant we had to chase the game [after first falling behind].
‘We got back into it and then took control of the game after scoring the equaliser. Then in the last five minutes we started giving away a few silly little fouls and we invited some pressure.’
It was a disastrous opening for the Dons who fell behind with just six minutes on the clock. Dannie Bulman attempted to shepherd out the ball for a goal kick but Keanu Marsh-Brown pounced to keep it in and feed former Birmingham midfielder Darren Carter, who blasted home from close range.
That allowed Rovers to sit back and defend their early lead, and Wimbledon enjoyed plenty of possession from then on. Callum Kennedy, again playing on the left of midfield, was instrumental as the Dons sought an equaliser, setting up Sean Rigg for a header that went meekly over and then curling a free kick narrowly off target.
There was a sense of inevitability when Wimbledon equalised with 24 minutes on the clock. Lyle Taylor released Barry Fuller down the right and his low cross into the centre found Kennedy who blasted the ball home for his second goal in a week to restore parity.
The tide was now firmly in Wimbledon’s pressure and Forest Green survived a penalty appeal after Tom Elliott tumbled in the box and were then relieved to see referee Graham Horwood chalk off an Elliott effort, judging that the striker had fouled keeper Steve Arnold when there appeared to be little in it.
A Taylor effort that went wide from a narrow angle rounded off the Dons’ first-half attempts, but any hope of maintaining that momentum immediately after the break evaporated as the visitors emerged with renewed vigour.
And they nearly regained their advantage when Marsh-Brown sent over a cross that Charlie Clough’s firm header smacked against the bar.
As Rovers lapsed back into their introverted first-half mentality, the Dons did fashion two chances for Taylor and then Rigg, but the Dons were struggling to get behind or through the massed visiting ranks.
Rigg did waste two golden opportunities, including one after being put clean through by Jake Reeves before shooting narrowly off target, but the game seemed to be drifting towards a replay.
It was into injury time when Rigg gave away a cheap free kick and the ball was eventually worked to Elliott Frear who smashed it home, with keeper Ben Wilson possibly seeing it late behind his defence.
The Dons rallied for one last assault before the final whistle sounded, only to see Paul Robinson head his effort wide of the target.
The Dons now return to league action where they will be looking to extend a three-match winning streak as they travel to Portsmouth on Sunday (15 November) for a televised game. After that they return to Kingsmeadow for successive home games against Wycombe (21 November) and Dagenham & Redbridge (24 November).
Wimbledon: Wilson, Fuller, Robinson, Osborne, Meades, Rigg, Bulman (Toonga 68), Reeves, Kennedy (Beere 77), Taylor, Elliott (Azeez 69). Subs not used: Sweeney, McDonnell, Gallagher, Kaja.
Goalscorer: Kennedy 24.
Booked: Toonga 86, Rigg 90.
Forest Green: Arnold, Bennett, Clough, Racine, Jennings, Wedgbury, Sinclair (Pipe 89), Carter, Marsh-Brown (Kelly 82), Parkin (Guthrie 74), Frear. Subs not used: Jones, Bender, Baldwin, Maxted.
Goalscorers: Carter 6, Frear 90.
Booked: Racine 69.