THE fighting Dons delved deep for the third straight match to snatch a point off Northampton Town in another late late show to near the finish line in League Two on Tuesday.
Just when it looked as though the 10-man Dons were to be denied by the Cobblers’ 79th-minute goal to hit the front they conjured another of their great escapes in the sixth-minute of stoppage time through Sammy Moore to grab a point and hold on to an eight-point buffer over the drop zone with just seven games left.
It’s been an extraordinary 10 days for Wimbledon: four crucial points have been salvaged deep (and I mean deep) into stoppage time to underline the character of the team as it fights for L2 safety.
How’s this for never-say-die? Darren Jones scores in the 98th minute for a 1-1 draw at Burton Albion, last weekend Jack Midson latches on to the winner to sink Cheltenham Town in the 97th minute and ‘Slamming’ Sammy bobs up to snare a point at Northampton in the 96th minute.
A team that refuses to give in will never be beaten 💙💛⚽#afcwimbledon
— Simon Bassey (@simonbass10) March 26, 2014
And the Dons had to overcome adversity to prise that point off the Cobblers when they were reduced to 10 men after Midson was red-carded for handling on the line in the 28th minute after the Dons had scored first.
George Francomb gave the Dons the early lead smartly finishing off a fine ball from left-back Tom Richards after lead up work involving Sammy Moore and Michael Collins. That was the Dons’ earliest goal this season – 14th minute – and they were full value for it.
The Dons could have been 2-0 up when Francomb’s cross was diverted against his own crossbar by defender Leon McSweeney. Wimbledon were causing problems for the Cobblers, noticeably anxious as they attempt to fight their way out of the bottom two which they have occupied since September.
But the match turned in the 28th minute when referee Michael Bull ruled that Midson had handled the ball on the line from Zander Diamond’s header and was shown a straight red card. Darren Carter lashed home the penalty and the Dons were left with the task of surviving for an hour a man down.
Secret Agent was at the game and told WDSA: “The decision was crazy as the ball seemed to hit the top of Jack’s shoulder after he cleared the ball off the line with his heel with the ball behind him.
— Andrew Harding (@AndrewHarding9) March 25, 2014
“Definitely not deliberate and I’m not sure even a contortionist could have avoided the ball hitting him. It certainly wasn’t denying a goal as the ball was heading away from the goal when it hit his arm. I’m sure we’ll appeal the red card.”
Wimbledon had to change their tactics and had two banks of four protecting the goal with Charlie Wyke on his lonesome up front.
The Dons defended resolutely and you could hear the groans from the home supporters as the clock ticked down. Manager Chris Wilder went to his bench before the hour, hauling off three players, among them former Dons loanee Brennan Dickenson, yet still no breakthrough.
Just when Wimbledon were in sight of a backs-to-the-wall point a half-cleared cross fell nicely for Carter to score his second of the night into the top corner with 12 minutes to play.
The Dons were forced to go after another goal and it took until the 96th minute when they got it. The impressive Barry Fuller hoisted in a cross and the ball was diverted into the path of Moore, who banged home the equaliser. The great escape was complete (again).
“Absolutely brilliant! Outstanding determination. The true never-say-die Wimbledon spirit at its best again. We clearly love added time. Voice hoarse, that was just brilliant. Never did a draw feel so like a win,” Singapore Don told WDSA.
It’s an important goal as it preserves an eight-point buffer and separated by nine teams from the drop zone. Conceivably, it might take another win to get the Dons over the line, but they are in a good place at the moment and one that Northampton, Portsmouth, Wycombe and Bristol Rovers would dearly covet.
“We are still striving to finish as high as we possibly can. I think 54 points is the most we have got in the league. We want to try and top that and say that it has been AFC Wimbledon’s best season in the league,” Neal Ardley said.
It’s only the second draw Wimbledon have eked out against their nemesis Northampton in six games and the first time they have scored more than one goal and not won this season.
But it’s the unquenchable fighting spirit that is fuelling the Dons in this nerve-racking part of the season. They are clearly handling the pressure, while others (Northampton, Portsmouth and Bristol Rovers) are feeling the strain.
It’s far from over, but Neal Ardley’s team have their fate in their own hands at this stage.
“Neal and the boys came over at the end to deserved applause from the travelling fans. A hard-earned point to maintain the eight-point gap between us and the bottom two with another game chalked off. Northampton will need to gain more than a point per game more than we do in the last seven games. On tonight’s performance, they won’t do it,” Secret Agent said.
Absolutely gut wrenching tonight….nothing else to say but we'll go again Saturday….another point closer to our goal! #keepthefaith
— Leon McSweeney (@LeonMcSweeney) March 25, 2014
Cobblers boss Chris Wilder, who swapped promotion-chasers Oxford United for a relegation struggle with Northampton, says the draw “feels like a defeat.”
“I’m sure it feels like a victory for Wimbledon and they defended superbly but when we got ourselves 2-1 up we should have seen the game out,” he said.
“We’ve got to take tonight on the chin, we are still in this fight and we’ve got to show big character now [against Bury] on Saturday.”
The Dons are again on the road this weekend when they take on Mansfield Town, who fought back from 2-1 down at Hartlepool United on the same night to win 4-2 and climb to 17th spot, one point behind the Dons. Another tough battle in prospect, but aren’t they all?
Read more views in the WDSA match thread.