Dons Learn Realities During Sheffield United Defeat

Wimbledon 2 v Sheffield United 3

Wimbledon’s League One learning experience continued on Saturday (10 September) as they lost 2-3 at home to big-spending Sheffield United, despite a spirited display.

The contrast between the two clubs couldn’t be more extreme, illustrating the battle that the Dons face this season. While Wimbledon’s budget is amongst the smallest in the division, the travelling United fans who crammed into Kingsmeadow’s away section are accustomed to watching in front of crowds of over 20,000 every home game.

And following both sides’ disappointing start to the season, the Blades were able to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds to bolster their squad before the transfer window closed, while the Dons brought in just Chris Robertson on a free transfer.

‘I have to give some credit to Sheffield United because they were clinical,’ Dons boss Neal Ardley told the club’s website after the final whistle. ‘But we have to be better.

‘Midfielders have not tracked runners for [their] first goal, someone has run between two defenders for the second goal, and one of their players has run between two of our defenders to slot it in for the third goal.’

It was those defensive frailties that undermined the Dons in this encounter, with goalkeeper Ryan Clarke saving his defensive colleagues on several occasions to keep them in the encounter.

The Dons had enjoyed the best of the early exchanges, with Tyrone Barnett heading just wide, and were unfortunate to fall behind in the 20th minute. Mark Duffy capitalised when Jake Reeves slipped on the edge of the area, turning Paul Robinson first one way then the other before firing home.

And the Dons’ disappointment was doubled just six minutes later when Barry Fuller was beaten for pace down the flank by Matt Done, who crossed perfectly into the centre where prolific marksman Billy Sharp got between Robinson and Jon Meades to head home from close range.

But the Dons steadied the rocking boat before half-time, with United keeper Simon Moore forced to turn an Andy Barcham cross behind and then Barnett heading wide from the resultant corner.

But they deservedly pulled a goal back after 37 minutes. Barcham cut in from the touchline and left his marker on the ground, delivering a near-post cross that Dom Poleon headed home to give the Dons encouragement.

The visitors still carried a threat whenever they went forward and the Dons were fortunate when Duffy spurned a glorious chance for his second soon after the break, firing wide when well placed.

And Clarke was then forced into action, coming off his line well to close down the angle when Done broke through and forcing the attacker wide where his shot went into the side netting.

Although Wimbledon did threaten themselves, it was perhaps no surprise when United extended their lead. It was almost a replica of the earlier chance that Clarke thwarted as Done found himself in acres of space after latching on to John Fleck’s pass, only this time he was able to shoot home to make it 3-1 despite the angle being against him.

But Wimbledon didn’t wilt and responded positively, switching to a 3-4-3 formation that surprisingly not only brought more attacking threat but also shored things up slightly at the back.

And with 18 minutes remaining they pulled it back to 2-3. Dean Parrett caught the United defence napping from a free-kick on the edge of the area, lofting the ball over the wall and straight into the path of the advancing Tom Elliott who converted it clinically.

Substitute Lyle Taylor could have grabbed an equaliser from Elliott’s flick but headed over, but as time ran out the Dons also spluttered out of momentum and the visitors left with the victory that their clinical finishing warranted.

The Dons will aim to pick themselves up when they head across London to Charlton Athletic next Saturday (17 September) before hosting Shrewsbury Town on 24 September.

Wimbledon: Clarke, Fuller, Charles (Taylor 64), Robinson, Meades, Francomb (Whelpdale 80), Parrett, Reeves, Barcham, Barnett (Elliott 65), Poleon. Subs not used: Shea, Bulman, Beere, Kelly.

Goalscorers: Poleon 37, Elliott 72.

Booked: Fuller 40.

Sheff Utd: Moore, Wright, O’Connell, Ebanks-Landell, Freeman, Duffy, Coutts, Basham (Fleck 45), Lafferty, Sharp (L. Clarke 65), Done (Scougall 80). Subs not used: Hussey, Ramsdale, J. Wilson, Chapman.

Goalscorers: Duffy 20, Sharp 26, Done 60.

Booked: Sharp 16.

Att: 4,810.

By Rob Crane

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September 14, 2016