stevenage fcTHERE’s always someone to knock you down a few pegs after the rarefied experience of hobnobbing with Liverpool in the FA Cup and none are better at it than Stevenage.

Just five days after getting the losing kudos for ruffling Liverpool’s Premier League plumage, Wimbledon found themselves being roughed up by Graham Westley’s physically direct team on their churned Broadhall Way ground in Hertfordshire.

Stevenage is not the team you want to face straight after scaling the heights against Liverpool. Stevenage have the wood on the Dons and a 2-1 loss on Saturday made it seven League and Cup games without a win (Dons won JPT 2011 on penalties after a 2-2 draw). No wonder Neal Ardley knew what was in store.

“Stevenage did a really good job on us at our place earlier this season. Of all the games we could play ‘after the Lord Mayor’s show’ this would probably not be the one we would choose,” Ardley winced.

Of course, Ardley also didn’t help matters by winning the Manager of the Month award ahead of Westley, whose Stevenage team had been in a fine run of form over Christmas/New Year.

No, it was all set up for Wimbledon to lose and the outcome wasn’t a surprise. Stevenage have carried off the season double over the Dons.

Deji Oshilaja2
Deji Oshilaja .. conceded penalty on Dons’ debut.

It was the first game without Matt Tubbs and Adam Barrett. A replacement for Tubbs could be in place by the next home game against Carlisle United, while Ardley went back to Cardiff City for a new defender, Deji Oshilaja.

After a first half of the season buttressed by 33-year-old Alan Bennett, 35-year-old Andy Frampton and 35-year-old Barrett in the heart of the defence, Ardley is now relying on two 21-year-old loanees, Jake Goodman and Oshilaja. Benno has been a fixture on the bench lately and Mark Phillips is totally out of the frame.

And while Oshilaja impressed with his speed and composure on the ball, his Dons debut will be marked by conceding a penalty.

While there is a bit of conjecture over the awarding of the penalty — the referee had to sternly lecture an irate Ardley in its stormy aftermath — it was ultimately the winner for Stevenage, so on face value the contested foul cost Oshilaja’s new team three points.

All the same Ardley was pleased with Goodman and Oshilaja’s work in their first game together on very limited preparation time.

“We had a young centre back pairing playing together for the first time and I thought they coped admirably, especially near the end when we were chasing the game. I thought they were excellent,” the gaffer said.

Jake Reeves
Jake Reeves .. first signing in transfer window

It was also the first game for Jake Reeves as a permanent signing after five games on loan from Brentford in 2012.

Now a midfielder wearing a Alice band might not be some Dons fans’ cup of tea — especially those who still pay homage to Vinnie Jones  — but Reeves was brought in for his playmaking touches.

His first appearance since switching from Swindon Town was at the expense of Sammy Moore, even though his passing game wasn’t suited by Stevenage’s cabbage-patch pitch.

“Jake Reeves brought some good quality with nice touches in the midfield area,” Ardley said.

Ardley wasn’t blaming his players, rather  referee Philip Gibbs for the defeat.

“It was disappointing because the players have given everything that they could in the game, but have had it taken away from them. I’ve got to be careful what I say, but it’s the first time I’ve felt really strongly that the officiating was not what it should have been,” Ardley fumed.

“It’s a tough one to call (the penalty decision). Both players were watching the ball and they clashed heads. It’s a brave decision to give that. I think we deserved a draw if you look at the game overall.”

Stevenage took the lead in the 32nd minute when Adam Marriott’s shot was deflected into the path of Tom Pett, who finished clinically.

However the Dons were level less than four minutes later. Bayo Akinfenwa and Sean Rigg combined to set up a shooting chance for George Francomb and he curled a lovely effort into the bottom corner from 20 yards.

The game swung in Stevenage’s favour again in the 69th minute after referee Gibbs adjudged that Oshilaja had fouled Dean Wells in an aerial challenge in the box and Walton made no mistake from the spot.

The Dons thought they had good claims for a penalty themselves when Ade Azeez was pushed and fell in the box, but the referee waved away the appeals.

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