Wimbledon 0 v Bristol Rovers 0
Gutsy Wimbledon answered some of their critics by battling to a 0-0 draw against Bristol Rovers on Boxing Day, despite having Paul Robinson sent off after just four minutes.
Rovers have one of the best away records in the division so the Dons looked to be up against it when Robinson was harshly given his marching orders, despite seeming to cleanly take the ball as Rovers striker Ellis Harrison burst through on goal.
But the Dons reorganised, with Barry Fuller going to central defence and striker Lyle Taylor dropping back to play in the hole behind Bayo Akinfenwa.
And the players produced one of their better performances of recent weeks to secure a point and partially answer those who have criticised some recent lacklustre efforts.
Boss Neal Ardley told BBC Radio London: ‘I’m really, really disappointed with the match officials. I’ve watched the footage back three times; it is as clear a foot back to the goalkeeper as you’ll ever see from Paul Robinson.
‘If you saw the way the boys played and the effort they put in, I believe we would have won with 11 men. I’m proud of the performance.’
The capacity crowd had barely settled into their seats before referee Keith Hill set the course for the afternoon. Matty Taylor played Harrison through but, with other defenders also tracking back, Robinson slid in and few people had suspicions of even a foul as the former Portsmouth man cleanly won the ball and Harrison tumbled under the challenge. But Hill saw it differently and reached for his red card, to the disbelief of the Wimbledon players and fans.
If anything, the extra space that playing with 10 men gave them seemed to benefit Wimbledon as they played with a degree of movement and off-the-ball running rarely seen, and although James Shea had to block a Taylor effort it was the home side who offered more threat going forward.
First Taylor just failed to connect with a Jake Reeves through ball, then Akinfenwa nearly capitalised with a clever near-post header from a Reeves long throw.
Taylor was also nearly on the end of a low Andy Barcham cross and then burst through from deep, only for Lee Brown to get back to thwart his forward surge.
But it wasn’t entirely one-way traffic as Shea pulled off a brilliant save to deny Billy Bodin what seemed a tap-in.
Such was the visitors’ frustration that they felt forced into a half-time switch, and although they enjoyed slightly more of the play early in the second period, with Bodin curling one effort narrowly off target, the Dons’ defence still stood firm.
Reeves was on hand to clear the lines when Shea failed to collect one cross, and Fuller epitomised the determination of the afternoon as Rovers counterattacked with two men clear, haring across the pitch to launch into a sliding tackle that cleanly stymied their ambitions.
After withstanding that Rovers pressure, it was almost the Dons who snatched it at the death as the influential Reeves crossed from the left but substitute Callum Kennedy headed over.
The Dons have still failed to win since the end of October, a sequence that has combined with some lethargic performances to increase unrest in the crowd regarding Ardley’s tenure, but this battling performance at least showed the attitude that has previously mostly been notable for its absence.
The Dons will be hoping for more of the same as they travel to Exeter City on Bank Holiday Monday (28 December) before travelling to Cambridge United the following weekend.
Wimbledon: Shea, Fuller, Robinson, Osborne, Meades, Francomb, Bulman, Reeves, Barcham (Kennedy 81), Taylor (Rigg 82), Akinfenwa (Elliott 73). Subs not used: Azeez, Fitzpatrick, Sweeney, McDonnell.
Booked: Reeves 60, Taylor 76.
Sent-off: Robinson 4.
Bristol Rovers: Mildenhall, Brown, J. Clarke (Leadbitter 45), Lockyer, McChrystal, Mansell, O. Clarke, Gosling (Montano Castillo 65), Bodin, Harrison (Gaffney 73), Taylor. Subs not used: Parkes, Easter. Preston, Broom.
Booked: Leadbitter 83.