Wimbledon 1 v Stevenage 2
Neal Ardley’s tenure as Wimbledon manager is under renewed scrutiny as his side produced another lacklustre display on Saturday (12 December), going down to a 2-1 defeat against Stevenage at Kingsmeadow.
Although goalkeeper Ben Wilson’s calamitous decision-making played a part in the defeat, especially for Stevenage’s wind-assisted winner from a free-kick deep inside their own half, there can be little hiding from a performance that again failed to offer much in the way of vigour or attacking nous.
And any hopes of the Dons getting back into the game effectively disappeared when Ardley switched to a 4-3-3 formation and, with monotonous predictability, any attacking threat from the home side immediately dissipated, attacking movement grinding to a halt and the side resorting to long balls to attackers with their back to the goal.
Ardley refused to talk to the press afterwards, but fans’ anger following the sub-standard display that resulted in the players being booed off only intensified when George Francomb failed to turn up to the Man of the Match presentation as the players immediately left for a club Christmas party in Manchester.
Yet the afternoon had started in slightly more promising fashion as the Dons actually started on the front foot, forcing a number of early corners, with Sean Rigg going close with a volley when one of them was cleared to him on the edge of the box.
But as the Dons’ blunt cutting edge saw them lose momentum, the visitors started to come into it. First Michael Tonge fired a free kick that Wilson did well to turn around at the base of a post.
Then Wilson spilled a Tom Pett shot right into the path of Jamille Matt and had to be brave to go down at his feet to gather.
But Wilson’s decision making was also exposed as he twice in the first half charged out of his box to clear but failed to deal with things effectively, first being bailed out by Karleigh Osborne and then being relieved to see Matt fail to slide the ball into the back of the exposed net from a very narrow angle.
So it was somewhat against the run of play when the Dons went ahead just before the break following a throw down the left. The ball was worked to Dannie Bulman and his lofted cross into the box saw Francomb get the right side of his marker and rise to head into the back of the net.
It would be harsh to say that it was the out-of-form Francomb’s sole positive contribution to the afternoon, but it demonstrated the paucity of the Dons’ performance that it was enough to win him the Man of the Match award.
But the visitors were level 11 minutes after the restart, with the Dons contributing to their own downfall by passing straight to a Stevenage man when under no pressure. From there, the ball was worked to Matt in the inside left channel and he fired a brilliant shot into the far top corner to make it 1-1.
Ardley immediately brought on substitute Adebayo Azeez to partner Lyle Taylor and Bayo Akinfenwa up front, but it did little to halt the direction of traffic as Stevenage started peppering the Wimbledon box with crosses.
So there was little sense of surprise when the winner came, although the nature of it was remarkable. There seemed little direct threat as Jerome Okimo took a free-kick near the left touchline, deep in his own half, but as he lofted it forward it caught on the wind, bounced once and then went over the head of Wilson who had left himself exposed.
Wilson did partially redeem himself with a save from Lee Cox’s late drive, but Wimbledon offered little all afternoon and ultimately this defeat was deserved.
The Dons travel to in-form Newport next weekend (19 December) before entering the busy Christmas period with a home game against Bristol Rovers on Boxing Day followed by a trip to Exeter on 28 December.
Wimbledon: Wilson, Meades, Osborne, Robinson, Kennedy, Francomb, Bulman, Reeves, Rigg (Azeez 59), Taylor, Akinfenwa (Elliott 74). Subs not used: Fitzpatrick, Sweeney, McDonnell, Kaja, Toonga.
Goalscorer: Francomb 43.
Booked: Osborne 14.
Stevenage: Day, Henry, Wells, McCombe, Okimo, Whelpdale, Cox, Tonge, McFadzean (Gnanduillet 53), Pett, Matt. Subs not used: Hughes, Lee, Johnson, Crowe, Conlon, Gorman.
Goalscorers: Matt 57, Okimo 76.