IT’s some turnaround when Wimbledon can return to the scene of a hideous flogging and come away with a stoic point and in the process defy in-form leaders Burton Albion playing with 10 men for a great chunk of the game.
Not many of us expected the Dons had the defensive wherewithal to withstand the 10-game unbeaten Brewers on their own patch, but to do it with a man down for the last 30 minutes (including five minutes stoppage time) is a sign of a growing confidence and belief within the ranks.
There were some murmurs when Neal Ardley replaced outgoing defensive linchpin Adam Barrett with Deji Oshilaja, a 21-year-old veteran of just 10 Football League appearances. Yet he has been a major contributor to the Dons last two clean sheets among a run of four unbeaten games.
Even more meritorious considering the red-carding of centre-back partner Mark Phillips which forced a back-four reshuffle, yet still Wimbledon held on for a deserved point at Pirelli Stadium where the Dons crashed and burned two and a half years ago leading to the demise of Terry Brown.
Following Saturday’s 2-0 win over play-off contenders Newport County, the point against Burton puts the Dons in good heart for Saturday’s trip to face the co-leaders Shrewsbury Town, but with a looming concern over who will replace Phillips following his red card.
Neal Ardley left youngster Ryan Sweeney on the bench and shunted Barry Fuller from right-back to partner Oshilaja at Burton, while Will Nightingale and Jake Goodman were unavailable through injury.
Jack Smith made his comeback in the penalty shoot-out loss to Corinthian Casuals in the London Senior Cup on the same night and could be another option, although it might be a bit early to throw him back in.
The point means the Dons have taken four points off Burton this season after the 3-0 win over the Brewers at Kingsmeadow last September. It has been some season so far: wins at Milton Keynes and Wycombe Wanderers in the Cups, victories over then leaders Burton Albion and Bury at home and a well-received FA Cup loss to Liverpool.
Twenty nine games down and the Dons are on 41 points, three points more than the corresponding stage last season and still a tantalising five points outside the play-off places. Keep your eyes upwards lads.
Still a sticky patch to get through this month: Shrewsbury (away), Luton Town (home), Cambridge United (away) and even a stirring Hartlepool United on that long haul to the north east. But still the points trickle in and the Dons are holding their ground.
“We defended resiliently and the boys have given everything. There is a good feeling around the camp and we come away in good spirits,” Ardley said.
“It was obviously tough after the sending-off because we had to curb what we had been doing, but I thought when it was 11 versus 11 that we were the more likely team to score.
“It was a tough evening in many ways. But other than a few long-range shots they never really threatened.
“We have a good squad and we wanted to play to our strengths. We knew we could get our two skilful dribblers (Alfie Potter and Craig Tanner) up with Bayo and making things happen.
“It did not quite happen, but we pushed Craig further forward in the second half and he got in behind them a lot. They were playing a high line and we tried to exploit that. We had three or four one-on-ones. Alfie Potter had one of those in the first half, Craig Tanner had two in the second half and Ade Azeez almost got in. We had some great chances.”
It was a tough night for Mark Phillips, who had spoken pre-match about seizing his opportunity after a frustrating season, on the outside looking in.
“I’ve been working hard to get myself back, fit and raring to go. I’m just pleased that my chance has come again,” Phillips said.
“I’ve been doing hard fitness work after all my setbacks. It’s been a mental strain as well as the physical side of things. I’ve always had my back up against the wall over the years and I come out of it working harder.”
But the frustration returned when Phillips was given a straight red card by the referee for an off-the-ball incident in the 64th minute. The defender was dismissed for what appeared to be a stamp on Stuart Beavon, although the circumstances are sketchy.
It just made Wimbledon’s job all the more harder, yet they held fast for the fighting point.
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