Another week in the big leagues, another 3-2 defeat, more suicidal defending… yet clearly nothing to worry about just yet for us Dons fans. If we weren’t scoring goals, that might be a problem, but the upside of conceding preventable goals is by their nature they are, erm, preventable in future… if we hadn’t repeatedly given our opponents the ball in close proximity to our goal, we wouldn’t have lost that one.
I know talk before the game was this was all about the occasion, and the result was irrelevant (to a point), but despite doing everything we possibly could in the first twenty minutes to gift our opponents victory, we would have taken a point after an encouraging comeback had it not been for one moment of madness…
The penalty decision, on first glance – which was from the Tempest end a good hundred yards from the incident – looked pretty nailed on… An arm went up from someone in a Dons shirt, the ball struck it, the ref blew and pointed to the spot. At the time I couldn’t really understand what complaint the Dons players surrounding the referee could possibly have had.
Watching it back from a more favourable angle (and how much of a godsend is the Football League show? No more waiting 48 hours for AFCWTV…), at the moment of impact between the ball and Brett Johnson’s arm, he was in the process of being wiped out by Byron Anthony, including a forearm to the face, and couldn’t possibly have judged the flight of the ball to intentionally make contact. It’s an unbelievably harsh penalty decision, and the Dons can count themselves pretty unlucky.
I suppose under the circumstances we should be grateful that it was Brett Johnson who conceded the penalty, had it been one of our younger players the knowledge they had cost us the game, on such a big occasion for the club, might have taken some time to recover from. I don’t think we’ll have any problems with Brett Johnson, an experienced player like him will bounce back, he’s been our most consistent defender over the past couple of years, hands down (ouch…).
One of the reasons I got the penalty issue out-of-the-way early is, yes, you could probably consider us quite unlucky to go down to such a late penalty, but on the balance of play Bristol Rovers deserved their victory. The squad are going to have a few nightmares over the first two goals when they sit down to watch them this week, but before that Christian Jolley could have given the Dons the lead, racing clear down the left channel, unfortunately knocking the ball too far and giving Rovers keeper Bevan a chance to close him down, the deflection seeing the ball balloon over the bar.
As for the two Rovers opening goals, well the first was a consequence of the Dons dedication to playing the ball out from the back. We got ourselves into trouble a couple of times last season, against the better prepared sides in the division, thanks to the managers insistence on Seb Brown throwing the ball wherever possible, but to be fair its our best chance of developing a move… when Seb is forced to kick long the ball invariably is returned with interest more times than not, Jack Midson can’t win every ball launched forward. This might change if the club employs the services of the target man they are rumoured to have their eye on, but even then, play to your strengths, the back four and midfield are just going to have to get used to finding space quickly when Seb receives the ball – a punt up field to a big lad should be last resort.
Perhaps Seb was a little unfortunate, as he would have got away with his careless throw had it not caught Ricky Wellard a little by surprise, the ball getting caught under his feet and subsequently robbed from his possession. The last person you’d really want the ball to fall to was Scott McGleish, he might be 38 but you never lose the knack of putting the ball in the net, and he was never likely to miss.
If that goal could be put down to nerves and misfortune, the second was unforgivable. Just minutes after giving the ball away you wouldn’t have expected two of our better players in Yussuff and Johnson to contrive to give the ball away on the half way line, allowing the little legs of McGleish to carry him deep into the Dons box. His first effort was well blocked by Browns feet, only for the ball to drop back at the veteran forwards feet for him to clip in for, of all people, Matt Harrold to nod home.
Of all the players we have come up against that haven’t had franchise links, Harrold is one of the least popular after his bullying act on the Dons BSS standard back four in the Wycombe cup tie three years ago. The Dons are now of a standard equal to, or possibly in advance of his ‘quality’, so how galling that it was him who bundled home a goal that at the time seemed to have ended the game as a contest, especially as it gave him the chance to hold four fingers up to the Tempest end… kind of flattering in a way that the Dons are seen as such a threat in this division, but still – it was three years ago. He doesn’t even play for Wycombe any more. What a dick.
The Dons eventually created another chance worthy of note as half time approached, but Midson’s ball through to Luke Moore in a two on one situation got caught under his feet, and once again Bevan was on hand to smother the chance. It seemed our best chance of getting back into the game before the break had gone, but moments later a Christian Jolley charge down the left was crudely halted. Sam Hatton swung the resulting free kick over, Jamie Stuart only needed to guide it beyond Bevan and into the top right corner – Kingsmeadow had some hope again.
During half time I would normally have read my copy of WUP, but I can only presume it sold out (not that I really made too much of an effort to find someone, running late as I was), so was forced to read the programme instead. The bloke in front of me did have a copy, examining every article in fine detail as I read over his shoulder. That was until he got to the Anonymous Don ramble, where he quickly turned the page, an incident which almost provoked a rare outburst of Don on Don violence…, until I realised ‘Of course, he would have read that before the game, probably moments after purchasing his copy…’. Yeah, that’s probably what happened. Probably.
Wimbledon looked so much better in the second half you would have thought Brown had sent a team of lookalikes out in the first, just to confuse the opposition. Despite not really creating any clear-cut opportunities, it was much better football, the Dons looked dangerous going forward and I was pretty confident the equalizer was on its way. Brown took the opportunity to make a couple of changes, the disappointing Porter replaced by Minshull, who immediately provided an extra physical dimension to the Dons game. Moments later Christian Jolley, who had a storming hour or so on the pitch and hadn’t shown signs of fading, was also withdrawn. I can only imagine Brown was just looking for a way of getting Charlie Ademeno onto the pitch, and Jolley was unfortunate enough to get the hook, but any debate over the decision was ended less than three minutes later.
A Dons move seemed to have broken down, but was hopefully hooked back into the Rovers area by Wellard. Minshull got up well to nod the ball down, and Charlie Ademeno was on hand to fire under Bevan and put the Dons back on terms. With twenty minutes left, the hope among Dons fans was we would go on and win it, but it wasn’t all Wimbledon, Seb Brown had to make a couple of fine saves to keep Rovers out. And once again, despite all their possession, the Dons weren’t creating clear chances, and as the game entered its final stages it seemed they might had to settle for a point.
Then came the penalty, and I’m not going to go over it again, but if you are fortunate enough to earn a penalty in a tied game five minutes from time, you’d want it to be struck as well as Virgo hit this. Even if Seb Brown had gone the right way he wouldn’t have got near it, although it was quite interesting in a week where this report was doing the rounds to note which way Seb dived.
The Dons best chance of getting back into the game probably fell to the wrong person, a deep cross found third substitute Chris Bush at the far post, who neither tapped back across goal nor buried it in the net, instead blazing over. The home fans gave the Dons a decent send off on the final whistle, aware this was a pretty decent performance – individual errors aside. Two encouraging defeats so far this season, but Wimbledon really need to start turning these sort of performances into results pretty soon… hopefully starting next week at Dagenham.
It might have only taken us nine years to earn our place back in the Football League, but hopefully it will only take another seven days for our first Football League win…