Fragile Dons pay the price for lacklustre half against leaders Portsmouth
AFC Wimbledon 1 Portsmouth 2
Wimbledon will need to show the sort of spirit and front-foot approach they mustered in the second half on Saturday if they are to avoid a relegation dogfight this season.
Boss Neal Ardley was clearly furious with the Dons after a supine first 45 minutes in which they allowed the league leaders the freedom of Kingsmeadow.
There was none of that in-your-face competitiveness which has been written into their DNA since the Harry Bassett days, and after being out-muscled at a corner in the air, with Tom Naylor getting the decisive touch for Pompey, a fragile-looking rearguard was breached again when Gareth Evans turned in a low cross at the far post.
Only the agility of keeper Joe McDonnell prevented a far more chastening scoreline as a confident Pompey relished the opportunity to pop the ball around unmolested.
Ardley gambled on three substitutions at the interval to try and claw back the 2-0 deficit, and the result was a vastly improved display – with the battle-hardened James Hanson suddenly winning every aerial duel going and Tony Hartigan adding some control to the midfield passing.
Will Nightingale also came on and seemed to lift standards in the back line and with skipper Deji Oshilaja finding space to get in some dangerous crosses from the right, an unlikely equaliser looked possible after Hanson had pulled a goal back with a thunderous left-foot drive.
Just silencing the 700 travelling away fans was an achievement after that wretched opening spell for the Dons, but they need the hard currency of points and more of that second half zeal in the weeks ahead.That is now five defeats in seven at home and they have only two wins in 14 to their name.
“The team we all believed in at the start of the season is still in there,” Ardley said in his programme notes before the match. “They just need help and a win or two to set them on their way again.”
Those sentiments hold true more than ever after the latest setback.
Line-up: McDonnell - Watson (Nightingale h/t), Oshilaja, McDonald, Purrington - Jervis, Trotter, Soares, Barcham (Hartigan h/t) - Appiah, Pigott (Hanson h/t).