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  • Writer's pictureBy Dan Evans

Spirited Dons fall to unfortunate Stevenage defeat

AFC Wimbledon (1) 2 Al-Hamadi 39, 74

Stevenage (0) 3 Piergianni 55, McAteer OG 61, Norris 83

Decimated by injuries and in a rotten run of form, AFC Wimbledon went back to basics in a spirited 3-2 defeat against League Two promotion hopefuls Stevenage at the Cherry Red Records Stadium.

The Dons have been in miserable form since the turn of the year, and although this loss means they are now six without a win, it was another sign that Johnnie Jackson’s men can compete with the best the division has to offer.

Having already beaten league leaders Leyton Orient on home turf in November, a reversion to Wimbledon’s principles of old was almost enough to do their London rivals a favour against one of the other title contenders.

After switching between back three’s and midfield five’s in recent weeks in an attempt to improve a record of just one win since the turn of the year, there was beauty in the simplicity of the system that Jackson deployed to bring clarity to the tactical confusion of late.

An organised and committed 4-4-2 provided security at the back and plenty of bodies in attack. A man on either flank and two in the middle meant a plethora of dangerous crosses reigned into the Stevenage penalty area throughout. The patched-up midfield and backline contested every loose ball as though their life depended on it.

Few appeared to benefit more from the extra body in attack than Josh Davison. The former Charlton striker has ploughed a lone furrow of late, failing to find the net since New Year’s Day and regularly lacking attacking support.

Paired with January signing Ali Al-Hamadi, the influence both had on the game was noticeable.

Toby Savin was forced into the first save of the night from a Davison snapshot after Al-Hamadi had set him up on the edge of the box, and Davison played in Al-Hamadi for the best chance of the opening quarter ten minutes later. The Iraqi international should have done better than draw a reaction stop from Savin.

The promising start was undermined by what is now an all-too familiar issue though. The Dons were only able to name four substitutes following a bruising defeat at Gillingham at the weekend, and their injury woes only were added to when Lee Brown slumped to the turf on the half hour.

Not a great deal of Chris Gunter’s 717 career appearances have come at left-back, but Brown’s injury forced him to adopt the role as midfielder George Marsh was brought on to take the Welshman’s place on the right of the defence.

Stevenage had begun to take control as the half has progressed, though circumstances seemed to galvanise the Dons, and it was they who took the lead as half-time approached.

Receiving the ball on the near touchline, Armani Little rightly spotted a cluster of blue shirts in the opposition box. Perhaps they distracted Savin as he came to claim the ball played into the middle, as the ‘keeper’s indecision allowed Al-Hamadi to bundle into an empty net.

Stevenage and Steve Evans were too savvy to be outplayed by a makeshift opponent for the entire game though, and four substitutions and two changes of formation in the first seven minutes of the second half led to them drawing level.

Luke Norris drew Nick Tzanev into action for the first time with a powerful free-kick, and within moments captain Carl Piergianni had equalised with a header from a corner.

A moment of undeserved misfortune then proved costly, as a series of ricochets following a Jamie Reid shot ended with Kasey McAteer getting the final touch as the ball agonisingly crawled over the goal line.

Misfortune and controversy often make cosy bedfellows, and Wimbledon were convinced there had been a foul in the lead up to the crucial goal.

The Dons showed few signs of relenting though, remaining committed to their game plan and determined in their ability to trouble the promotion chasers. Although manager Jackson felt unable to influence the game with the paucity of options on his bench, it was another ball into the box that drew his men level.

This time it was Marsh on the right who picked out Al-Hamadi in the middle, the January arrival from Wycombe Wanderers turning his initial effort on to the crossbar before just about firing home the rebound.

The night ended in defeat though, as after no one picked up Norris at the back post, the Stevenage striker emphatically fired a shot beyond Tzanev and into the net.

Although the loss possibly ends any hopes of the play-offs once and for all, the spirit shown in difficult circumstances was enough to suggest that there is hope for Jackson’s Dons in the future.

Wimbledon: (4-4-2) Tzanev – Gunter, Kalambayi, Nightingale, Brown (Marsh 27) – McAteer (Pearson 89), Woodyard, Little, Chislett – Al-Hamadi, Davison (Janneh 89). Subs not used: Broome, Pierre

Stevenage: (4-3-3) Savin – James-Wildin (Forster-Caskey 52), Sweeney, Piergianni, Clark – Taylor (Tomkinson 45), Reeves (Bostwick 45), Gilbey – Horgan (Roberts 45), Norris (March 90), Reid. Subs not used: Przybek, Rose


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