ANOTHER home game, another horrible piece of defending. The mantra is so repetitive it is like Groundhog Day (well, it was on the very day). It is so predictable that the crowd doesn’t even complain, writes The Wizard of Oz.
Wimbledon, who started with new boys Gary Alexander and Harry Pell, were leading 1-0 and Burton, apart from an awful moment in the first minute simply weren’t in the game.
When they made a rare move down the left, the cross, which, with more desperation could have been blocked, was low and hard and skied up in the air off a defensive miss-clearance by Pim Balkestein.
As it hung there, Neil Sullivan looked at it but didn’t dare come – a younger bolder keeper could have made the yards and claimed or punched the ball — and two defenders, Balkestein and Mat Mitchel-King, watched the ball as it came down but made feeble attempts to win it. The Burton attacker Symes couldn’t believe his luck and artfully dodged the two men of straw to score past Sullivan.
We had been warned: in the first minute Sullivan watched a cross come into the area, it was his to claim but he hesitated, almost fatally, as MMK couldn’t win the header which hit the bar and bounced down to be cleared off the line. ‘Saved’ as they say, by the woodwork.
After that early alarm Wimbledon dominated the play, Pell was prominent, busy and surprisingly skilful, and Alexander got a deserved cheer when his first touch was a header he had no right to win.
Toby Ajala was causing mayhem down the right, and on the left a superb first time ball from Peter Sweeney set Luke Moore to the corner, his cut back inside was met by the surging Chris Hussey whose cross-cum-shot was batted away by the keeper.
Wimbledon were applying considerable pressure, winning numerous corners and free kicks, and Balkestein had a header cleared off the line. A goal was bound to come and Wimbledon deservedly opened the scoring through the opportunism of Alexander.
Wimbledon’s delivery from the free kicks had been poor and so Balkestein elected to take a free himself and placed the ball exactly where he would have wanted it. Burton failed to clear and Alexander tucked home a typical poacher’s goal.
Pell went close with an audacious half volley from all of 35 metres; Alexander glanced a head wide from Ajala’s near post cross. Pell had another go with the keeper stranded but his first time left footer from the halfway line was never close. All Wimbledon, as they say, and then came that horrible piece of defending.
Wimbledon continued to dominate in the second half. Alexander blocked the keeper’s clearance and the ball could easily have rebounded into the goal, or to the waiting Jack Midson but it spun away. More pressure on the keeper when his weak clearance was hoisted back into the area, Alexander couldn’t win the header, Midson hit the clearance first time toward goal, blocked by a desperate Burton defender. Penalty roared the crowd but the referee wanted none of it.
Burton worked their way back into the game and as Wimbledon began to tire they looked more threatening but it was short lived as the referee saw red at a Burton corner, sending off Diamond, the captain. I have no idea what for, modern football is full of all sorts of infringements at corners, but it looked as if Balkestein was the one lying on the ground clutching his head as if suddenly suffering a severe migraine.
Wimbledon couldn’t take advantage despite the unstoppable Ajala and the efforts of Pell. Ajala raced away down the right but had his head down and didn’t see the unmarked Luke Moore in space to his left; Moore left Ajala in no doubt about his disappointment.
Ajala, with a lovely deft touch set Pell away on the right, he raced into the area and brought a fine save from the keeper with a fierce shot but probably should have laid the ball off inside where Wimbledon were queuing up. Ajala almost wriggled through but his shot was blocked.
Despite the exhortions from the crowd, and the desperate long balls forward, Wimbledon simply couldn’t get the winner.
The fight against relegation remains long and hard and there will be no respite until the final whistle of the season. Burton, despite their league position, were not in the class of Gillingham, or Oxford, or Port Vale. This was two points dropped by the Dons. For Wimbledon to survive they have to win these games and eliminate the cancer at the heart of their defence.
The MoM was awarded to Ajala, who was lively and unorthodox throughout but my nominee would be the impressive Pell who really stamped his authority on the midfield. Alexander had a fine debut, impressing with neat touches and a willingness to get involved.
[Editor’s note: **** Actually Saturday was Groundhog Day, the day that is celebrated in the US on February 2. According to folklore, if it is cloudy when a groundhog emerges from its burrow on this day, then spring will come early; if it is sunny, the groundhog will supposedly see its shadow and retreat back into its burrow, and the winter weather will continue for six more weeks.]