The Hatters’ first-ever visit to the Football League’s youngest stadium saw them return from South West London empty-handed, following a single-goal defeat against AFC Wimbledon.
An early second-half goal for the hosts at the ‘new’ Plough Lane (situated just 250 yards away from the site on which the original Wimbledon F.C.’s ground bearing the same name once stood in SW17) settled the contest, after Myles Hippolyte had seen his 32nd-minute penalty saved.
The hosts’ midweek home meeting with Walsall had fallen victim to southern frost, but conditions were thankfully a good deal milder as County took to the field showing one change from the line-up that had started at Edgeley Park against Bradford City four days earlier. Callum Camps was the player brought in, replacing Paddy Madden who was named among the substitutes – and Ryan Croasdale took the captain’s armband in Madden’s stead.
The Hatters got off to a flying start so far as corners were concerned, winning four of them in the opening 10 minutes. But attempts on goal in the early stages were rather harder to come by – much as they had been for County during the first half in midweek (and indeed, no doubt, for Wimbledon, whose most recent match, two weeks previously, had also ended scoreless against the ‘Bantams’ of Bradford).
As the half’s mid-point approached, acting skipper Croasdale was the first player to unleash a shot – earning another corner in the process, as home goalkeeper Nik Tzanev deflected it behind.
Tzanev was then to become a central character in the next chain of events, as, around the half-hour mark, he bundled over Kyle Knoyle in the box – albeit with the ball already going out of play – and, after Referee Oldham had rather mystifyingly pointed to the spot, the ‘keeper dived to his left to deny Hippolyte from 12 yards.
Four minutes ahead of the break, Ben Hinchliffe comfortably caught an Ethan Chislett free-kick. And before the teams went in, County’s Number One was also called upon to catch hold of Josh Davison’s fierce shot through a crowded area, as well as rushing off his line to claim the ball from Ali Al-Hamadi.
HALF-TIME: Wimbledon 0, County 0.
Having ended the first half brightly, the hosts began the second in similar vein – and within three minutes of the resumption, they took the lead, as Hus Biler chipped from the right of goal for Harry Pell to head home from close range.
Moments later, a Wimbledon second looked in the offing, following a break that culminated in Davison going to ground in the County area under a challenge by Akil Wright – only for penalty appeals to be dismissed and play waved on.
The Hatters sought to get back on level terms by making a double-substitution that saw Madden brought on up front, together with Jack Stretton – making his first appearance since his recent return to SK3. But Wimbledon continued to press, as Chislett and Biler sent respective shots beyond the right and left posts.
It was a case of ‘cometh the hour, nearly cometh the man’, with Madden converting Kyle Wootton’s flick-on just four minutes after his introduction – only to find himself flagged offside and the goal ruled out.
Chislett volleyed another effort past the right post, and Armani Little ballooned a shot over from close range, whilst, at the other end, Tzanev tipped away an angled delivery from Wright, before seven minutes of added time were announced – albeit, as it turned out, without having any further bearing on the scoreline, which saw the hosts leapfrog County into 10th place.
FULL-TIME: Wimbledon 1 (Pell, 48), County 0.
Team (3-4-2-1): Hinchliffe; Wright, Byrne, R. Johnson; Knoyle, Camps, Croasdale (Capt.) (Madden, 56), Rydel (MacDonald, 69); Collar, Hippolyte (Stretton, 56); Wootton.
Unused Subs: Jaros, Evans, Jennings, Lewis.
Booked: Wright, Byrne.
Attendance: 8,511 (1,162 away).
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.