Wimbledon 3 v Mansfield 1
Wimbledon overcame a poor tactical start to beat Mansfield Town 3-1 at Kingsmeadow on Saturday (16 January) and propel themselves to within sniffing distance of the play-off positions.
Dons fans were left scratching their head before kick-off as boss Neal Ardley chose to start with a 4-3-3 formation, with a midfield comprising the attacking instincts of Andy Barcham and Sean Rigg alongside Dannie Bulman.
Against a Mansfield side that aggressively condenses play whenever they’re not in possession, the Dons predictably found themselves starved of width and space, with the match more often resembling a pinball game than a match of football.
But a half-time switch to a more familiar 4-4-2 formation restored sanity and prompted an immediate turnaround as the Dons recovered from a half-time deficit to chalk up a win that leaves them level on points with Accrington Stanley but in eighth place on goal difference.
Ardley admitted to the club website afterwards: ‘I went brave with two wingers in midfield and Dannie Bulman with three forwards, but it did not work.
‘I tried to stick with it to give it enough time to gel, but it didn’t and I had to make a call at half-time.
‘I took responsibility for it and it was nothing to do with the players. It was not pretty and it was scrappy at times, but from front to back we battled. The players deserve all the credit.’
The Dons were on the back foot right from the start, with an early poor Jon Meades pass being intercepted by Matt Green who charged through and forced a great intervention by James Shea.
But with little over 10 minutes on the clock the Dons were unfortunate to concede a free-kick near the halfway line. Blair Adams swung in the set piece and, although Shea appeared to be barged away as he went up to gather, the ball fell to Green who finished clinically to put the visitors ahead.
With the Dons denied service from the over-populated midfield, they were forced to rely on the occasional forward foray by Barry Fuller to provide any width. On one occasion the full-back was picked out by Bulman but his cross was fired over by Lyle Taylor as the Dons struggled to get going.
The main threat continued to be at the other end of the pitch and it needed an excellent recovery challenge by Paul Robinson to deny Green as the forward sought to capitalise on a mistake by Karleigh Osborne.
And it was Shea who was forced into preventative action 10 minutes before the interval, going down to deny Reggie Lambe after he had been set clear by Chris Clements.
But the half-time replacement of the ineffective Bayo Akinfenwa by Callum Kennedy, releasing Meades into midfield, produced an immediate impact.
Just four minutes into the second period the Dons thought they had equalised as Taylor latched on to Osborne’s excellent ball over the top and rounded Brian Jensen before sliding the ball into the back of the net. With the ball on the centre spot as both sides prepared for a resumption, protracted protests from the Mansfield bench prompted the referee to consult with his linesman, and the goal was ruled out for offside.
But within 11 seconds of the restart Taylor had an authentic goal to level the match, latching on to a poor back pass after a ball over the top to calmly slot the ball through Jensen’s legs and into the back of the goal.
Almost immediately Bulman threatened to put the Dons ahead, firing narrowly wide of the post with a shot from the edge of the area, as Wimbledon continued to make hay.
And the Dons maintained the pressure but with fewer goalscoring opportunities until the replacement of Taylor, who had picked up a minor knock, with Ade Azeez.
Almost immediately the livewire sub headed an effort narrowly off target, but Meades didn’t make the same mistake as from a Kennedy corner he rose to flick the ball into the far corner of the net and put the Dons ahead with 12 minutes remaining on the clock.
It still wasn’t over as a contest as Mansfield suddenly found renewed vigour, with relief for the Dons when Chris Clements fired an effort that rebounded off the post with Shea well beaten.
But with just minutes left it was finally over as Shea’s long kick was flicked on by Tom Elliott and Azeez got ahead of his marker to poke the ball over the advancing Jensen and secure the points.
The Dons’ next scheduled home match, against Yeovil Town on 30 January, is subject to them not winning an FA Cup replay against Carlisle United, but before then the Dons travel to Notts County next weekend (23 January).
Wimbledon: Shea, Fuller, Robinson, Osborne, Meades, Rigg, Bulman, Barcham, Elliott, Akinfenwa (Kennedy 45), Taylor (Azeez 69). Subs not used: Beere, Fitzpatrick, Sweeney, McDonnell, Gallagher.
Goalscorers: Taylor 49, Meades 78, Azeez 87.
Booked: Osborn 10, Meades 49, Azeez 82.
Mansfield: Jensen, Hunt, Pearce, Tafazolli, Adams, Chapman (J. Thomas 65), Clements, Baxendale (McGuire 53), Lambe, Westcarr (Rose 53), Green. Subs not used: Shearer, Collins, Beardsley, Blair.
Goalscorer: Green 11.