Wimbledon 2 v Morecambe 5
Neal Ardley’s tactical mistake helped push Wimbledon to a dispiriting 2-5 home defeat against Morecambe on Saturday (17 October).
The Dons had the visitors on the back foot in the early stages of the second half as they pulled the score back to 2-3 and were threatening an equaliser.
But Ardley’s failure to capitalise on his side’s dominance by bringing on Adebayo Azeez to terrorise the home defence let the visitors off the hook, and then a switch to the 3-4-3 formation killed off any lingering impetus and helped the visitors rattle in two late goals.
With a growing sense of frustration as Ardley’s side fails to live up to its promise, the boos that rang out at the full-time whistle told their own story.
‘We gave ourselves a mountain to climb,’ Ardley said on the club’s official website afterwards. ‘At half-time we tried to take the anxiety away from the players. We wanted them to go for it and get the fans behind us. For 25 minutes, I thought we did that well and got back into the game.
‘For the last 15 minutes we lost all our shape. The last 15 minutes we were really poor and there is no hiding that.’
To compound the Dons’ misery, Andy Barcham was stretchered off after lengthy on-pitch treatment during the first period. He now faces a scan to assess the extent of his injury.
Barcham had given the Dons an early lead, combining excellently down the left flank with Jon Meades and Lyle Taylor before turning his man on the corner of the goal area and slotting the ball home in the third minute.
But then it was an all-too-familiar story from the Dons. First Semi Ajayi made a hash of dealing with a ball in his own box and, in his eagerness to make amends, lunged in to foul Shaun Miller. Miller stepped up to take the resultant penalty and blasted it beyond James Shea’s reach.
With the game still to reach a quarter of an hour, Miller struck again. There seemed little threat when one of his colleagues chested the ball down to him midway in the Wimbledon half, but Miller produced a well-controlled half volley that whizzed into the top left corner with Shea understandably caught unprepared.
The Dons kept on plugging away, passing the ball with intelligence without ever creating many clear-cut opportunities, but the visitors struck again during the 10 minutes of added-on time allowed at the end of the first period to take account of Barcham’s injury.
Referee Trevor Kettle left players and fans alike bemused as he gave a free-kick to the visitors in a threatening position in mysterious circumstances, but the Dons defence should still have done better as Aaron McGowan’s in-swinging delivery was easily headed home by Alan Goodall to put the visitors 3-1 ahead.
The Dons came out firing at the start of the second period and upped their tempo. It took just four minutes for them to reduce the arrears as substitute George Francomb’s corner was prodded home by Bayo Akinfenwa.
Now the Dons had Morecambe entrenched deep in their own half as they continued to press, and Dannie Bulman spurned a glorious chance to square-up the encounter when he blasted narrowly over following Taylor’s cross.
And Sean Rigg continued to cause the visitors’ defence all sorts of problems as he marauded down the left flank, forcing Barry Roche to save as one cross almost sneaked in at the near post and prompting a succession of corners.
But by the hour mark Morecambe were starting to emerge from the storm and home supporters were crying out for Azeez’s introduction, hoping his pace would cause extra problems for the tiring Morecambe defence.
Ardley’s failure to take the initiative was compounded with 15 minutes remaining when he replaced Rigg with Tom Elliott and switched to a 3-4-3 formation. Immediately the Dons were reduced to hitting long balls towards forwards who kept crowding each other out, while Morecambe sought to capitalise on the suddenly exposed Francomb and Meades down the flanks.
So there was a sense of inevitability when Morecambe scored their fourth with nine minutes remaining, a classic Morecambe counterattack releasing Tom Barkhuizen who sped clear of Ajayi and lofted the ball over the advancing Shea to make it 2-4.
And the icing was put on the cake for the visitors’ 96 travelling supporters when in injury time Barkhuizen again counterattacked before setting up Paul Mullin, who had a simple tap-in.
Wimbledon fans will travel in hope rather than expectation as the Dons seek a rare away win at Accrington Stanley on Tuesday (20 October) and York City on Saturday (24 October).
Wimbledon: Shea, Fuller, Robinson, Meades, Ajayi, Rigg (Elliott 77), Bulman, Reeves, Barcham, Francomb (39), Taylor, Akinfenwa. Subs not used: Kennedy, Azeez, Osborne, McDonnell, Toonga.
Goalscorers: Barcham 3, Akinfenwa 49.
Booked: Taylor 44, Akinfenwa 45, Reeves 76.
Morecambe: Roche, Parrish, McGowan, Edwards, Beeley, Ellison, Goodall, Kenyon, Devitt (Wildig 77), Miller (Mullin 81), Barkhuizen. Subs not used: Molyneux, Fleming, Thompson, Ryan, Kelleher.
Goalscorers: Miller 8 (pen), 13, Goodall 45, Barkhuizen 80, Mullin 90.
Booked: Kenyon 15, Goodall 17, Devitt 21, Ellison 55,