AFC Wimbledon 2 Gillingham 4
AFC Wimbledon’s defensive frailties returned to haunt them as a three-game winning streak was brought to a sorry end.
Three goals in 10 minutes either side of half-time killed hopes of a fourth win on the bounce and suggested that new-found solidity at the back is a fragile construct after all.
The afternoon began so brightly for Wally Downes’ men, who deservedly led after 22 minutes and might easily have scored more, so positive was the way they set about their business.
Joe Pigott, the man of the moment with two match winning goals in a week, came close to scoring with a thunderous shot against the base of a post and set up two more great chances for team-mates before the Dons took the lead.
But with the confident hosts looking to build on Michael Folivi’s fine opener, the outplayed Gills suddenly found their sea-legs, netting twice in a two minutes to grab a half-time advantage they could scarcely have anticipated after being under the cosh for so long.
And when they plundered a third soon after the break, the chance of a home recovery all-but evaporated.
Wimbledon’s three-man defence had brought three clean sheets in a row – the cornerstone of an accumulation of points which lifted them off the bottom of the League One table and has raised hopes of a great escape.
But they were found wanting this time and will need to regroup again quickly, with just seven games left in which to beat the drop. They remain three points below the dotted line.
The Dons deservedly led when Folivi side-footed home after excellent work by Toby Sibbick and Scott Wagstaff. Sibbick’s slick footwork took out two men on the right touchline to feed Wagstaff, whose burst into the penalty area and pull back left Folivi with all the room he needed.
It was half an hour before Aaron Ramsdale was troubled. He was equal to an effort from Brandon Hanlan inside the area following a swift breakaway and well-weighted pass from Leo Da Silva Lopes.
But he was unable to keep out the same combination 10 minutes later, as Hanlon took delivery of another nice pass from Lopes to fire under Ramsdale.
Two minutes later, a speculative long range effort from Graham Burke caught out the Dons keeper, who allowed what appeared to be a harmless potshot get past him.
And the game had turned completely on its head early in the second half when the Dons were caught napping at a long throw-in on the right and Lopes smacked a low shot into the far corner to make it 3-1.
Downes made a triple substitution on the hour in a desperate bid to try and get back into it. It never looked like happening. Burke clipped the outside of a post with a shot from outside the box as the Gills seized control and they always looked likely to add to their tally.
Sure enough, striker Tom Eaves rubbed salt into a very raw wound by glancing a Luke O’Neill free-kick past Ramsdale on 83 minutes as the Dons crumbled.
A James Hanson header deep into injury time did little to lift the gloom.
Typical of strange and disappointing drift towards the loss was the moment ref Lee Collins stopped play to demand that men with pitchforks come on to repair a patch of upturned turf near the centre circle. It did nothing to lift the mood of frustrated Wobbles fans.
Line-up: Ramsdale – Kalambayi, Thomas, McDonald – Sibbick, Wagstaff (Hanson 60), Hartigan (Connolly 60), Wordsworth, Seddon – Pigott, Folivi (McLoughlin 60). Subs not used: Watson, Pinnock, Barcham