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  • Writer's pictureBy Dan Evans

Wimbledon play-off hopes falter under the weight of late Crawley frustration

AFC Wimbledon (0) 0

Crawley Town (0) 1 Orsi 78’


A 15th goal of the season for Camden-born Danilo Orsi condemned Wimbledon to defeat at Plough Lane against Crawley as the Dons inconsistent start to 2024 continued.


The striker reacted quicker than any home defender to turn home from a poorly defended throw-in late in the game, denting Wimbledon’s promotion hopes and hinting that absences at both ends of the field could ultimately end up de-railing their season.


Johnnie Jackson’s side have won just two of their nine league games since the turn of the year. The fact they sit just a point shy of the top seven tempered by the reality that as many as ten teams are still eying up that final play-off slot.


“For 65 minutes we played really well,” Jackson observed. “I thought we would take something from the game. We don’t take our chances and they come into it.


“I want more all the time. There’s expectancy now. People are going to go away frustrated, myself included because I think we were worthy of something tonight.”


The January sale of top-scorer and talisman Ali Al-Hamadi was never likely to help Wimbledon return to League One this term, yet they still started with a vim that suggested it was inevitable they would use this game in hand to clamber back into the top seven.


The Iraqi international’s replacement Josh Kelly, signed on deadline day from Solihull Moors, offered early signs that he is starting to adjust to the Football League, but he has now made five appearances for his new side without finding the net.


The Dons’ willingness to get bodies in support of their strikers made Al-Hamadi even more effective this season than he had been last, and Kelly already seems to have taken that particular message on board.


It was his run to the by-line that created a cross from which Omar Bugiel was hauled down without the referee noticing, and within minutes he had raced down the left once more to float a ball into the middle that Josh Davison could not quite reach to connect with properly..


Yet when Kelly passed up one of several good chances in the second half as he headed a corner straight at Crawley’s Corey Addai, it was hard not to feel that a familiar clinical edge was missing.


“We have to score,” admitted a frustrated Wimbledon head coach. “We’re creating openings that we’re not taking and that’s costing us. I don’t see the other teams creating an opening where there two yards out from our goal.”


Jackson remains without his favoured centre-back pairing of Joe Lewis and Ryan Johnson due to injury. Wimbledon still managed to keep Crawley at arm’s length for much of the contest though, even when Crystal Palace loanee Kofi Balmer was forced off to add to the defensive injury woes.


The only crack in the first half appeared on the stroke of half-time when goalkeeper Alex Bass was fortunate to see the crossbar come to his rescue after flailing at a looping Liam Kelly corner.


Bugiel, who has three goals in five games since returning from Asia Cup duty with Lebanon, all too often found his best attempts to make something happen halted by the hands-on approach of Jay Williams.


However, even Williams could not stand in his way midway through the second half as he looped a tantalising header toward the back post that Davison somehow managed to strike against Addai from close range.


A triple substitution was deemed necessary to turn a draw into three points, yet the return from injury of captain Jake Reeves and introduction of new hero Ronan Curtis only served to hand the initiative to the visitors.


They had already taken control of possession by the time that Orsi struck, and from the point that Crawley took the lead, Wimbledon rarely looked like recovering the point that had for so long seemed their minimum reward on an increasingly frustrating night.


“You’ve got to do it for every moment of the game,” Jackson assessed. “There’s no point dealing with nine [balls into the box] and then with the tenth one you concede and it costs you the game.


“You can’t pick and choose your moments. The teams that do it more regularly will be the teams that end up getting where they want to go. We need to be better. Everyone needs to be better to get where we want to go.”


Wimbledon: (4-3-1-2) Bass – Ogundere, Balmer (Pearce 40), Brown, Currie – Little, Ball (Reeves 66), Tilley – Bugiel (Pell 84) – Davison (Curtis 66), Kelly (Gordon 66). Subs not used: Tzanev, O’Toole.


Crawley: (5-3-2) Addai – Gordon (Tsarroulla 79), Ransom, Conroy, Wright, Forster (J Kelly 67) – Darcy (Campbell 67), Williams, L Kelly – Orsi, Lolos (Roles 90). Subs not used: Sandford, Gladwin, Adeyemo.


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