AFC Wimbledon 0
ARGYLE’S first goal-less Sky Bet League stalemate in a day less than a year maintained their five-game unbeaten run and preserved their proud record of having the country’s best defensive record outside the Premier League.
Further kudos can be gained from the fact that only two other League 2 teams had previously failed to stop Wimbledon, led by the prolific Matt Tubbs and Adebayo Akinfenwa, from scoring this season.
The nearest the Pilgrims came to securing a fifth successive win for the first time since the crossover of the 2006-7 and 2007-08 seasons came in the first half from a couple of Bobby Reid attempts, while Wimbledon will point to an Akinfenwa header after the break that hit the crossbar as their what-if moment.
In the end, a point from their first 0-0 scoreline for 52 matches was probably just about a fair reflection of an always entertaining game.
Argyle manager John Sheridan had been obliged to make one change to the starting line-up that had laid the foundations for consecutive 1-0 victories away to Tranmere Rovers and over Carlisle United at Home Park.
A heel injury to midfielder Lee Cox, picked up against the Cumbrians, allowed on-loan Bolton youngster Andy Kellett to make his Argyle debut in his favoured left wing-back position. Kelvin Mellor, who had been deployed in that role since midway through the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy win over Swindon, switched flanks, allowing Anthony O’Connor to slip into the central midfield space vacated by the hapless Cox.
The Dons, who had lost 2-0 at divisional leaders Wycombe Wanderers at the weekend, welcomed back midfielder Dannie Bulman, after suspension, and promoted defender Andy Frampton from the substitutes’ bench.
Their opening 11 included former Pilgrims centre-back Adam Barrett, on loan from Gillingham, who had been given a start in league football at Home Park when Kevin Hodges was Argyle manager and has carved quite a career in the game since being jettisoned by Paul Sturrock 14 seasons ago.
Bulman and Barrett were at the forefront of the Dons’ first meaningful assault on the Argyle goal which came after Bobby Reid was clearly fouled, ceding possession in the centre of the park.
Bulman took the ball on and forced Luke McCormick into a save at the foot of his near post; from the resulting corner, Barrett’s goalward header down into the turf briefly threatened to loop into the goal before O’Connor nodded the ball over the crossbar.
Argyle’s response, after soaking up a little more pressure, came from an unlikely source, central defender Peter Hartley pinging off a measured 35-yard rising drive which was fierce enough for Dons’ goalkeeper James Shea to parry uneasily, rather than catch. O’Connor then caught the mood with a similar attempt from similar range but his low shot curled away from goal.
The familiar pattern of Argyle dominating a first half continued, although Curtis Nelson had to show alertness and alacrity to snuff out a potential threat from Tubbs, and George Francomb’s corners tested the concentration.
Bobby Reid slipped Bulman with embarrassing ease before drawing a full-length save from Shea, with the ball bouncing just out of the compass of Lewi Alessandra as the in-form Argyle forward followed up.
However, the best chance of the first half came just as the game entered added-time with Tubbs and Akinfenwa linking up for the latter to tee up Francomb for a free pot on goal from less than ten yards. All he had to do, it seemed, was hit the target, but, fortunately for Argyle, he failed in that simple task.
There was still time for Bobby Reid to draw another save from Shea as the Pilgrims finished a half which they had shaded on the up.
The second half saw Argyle faced with different circumstances – playing into the teeth of the stiffish tail of Hurricane Gonzalo with fourth official Lee Venamore having replaced injured match referee Graham Horwood.
The contest remained compelling, however, and Tubbs twice served notice on the Pilgrims’ back line as they entered a sixth hour without having conceded a league goal. The admirable captain Nelson took one for the team to thwart a breakaway from the Dons’ striker, who then poked a near-post cross just wide.
If the first half had belonged to the Pilgrims, Wimbledon had good claim to ownership of the second. Akinfenwa nearly franked that with a goal when he rose to head Shea’s lofted free-kick from halfway on to the top of McCormick’s crossbar.
Sheridan sent on Smalley for Reuben Reid with 20 minutes to go, looking, no doubt for him to turn the tide as he had done when introduced similarly against Carlisle four days before. However, the momentum remained squarely with the home side, and Tubbs again caused flutters when he headed Akinfenwa’s scissor-kick assist just over.
In the end, though, just like Gonzalo, the game blew itself out and Argyle left Kingsmeadow with their third successive draw at a venue where they have never tasted defeat.
AFC Wimbledon (4-4-2): 20 James Shea; 2 Barry Fuller (capt), 27 Adam Barrett, 5 Andy Frampton, 3 Jack Smith; 7 George Francomb, 8 Sammy Moore, 10 Dannie Bulman, 11 Sean Rigg; 9 Matt Tubbs, 10 Adebayo Akinfenwa. Substitutes (not used): 6 Alan Bennett, 12 Harry Pell, 14 Ade Azeez, 17 Callum Kennedy, 18 Jake Nicholson, 26 Joe McDonnell (gk), 29 Ben Harrison.
Argyle (3-5-2): 23 Luke McCormick; 5 Curtis Nelson (capt), 16 Carl McHugh, 29 Peter Hartley; 2 Kelvin Mellor, 28 Anthony O’Connor, 17 Bobby Reid, 11 Dominic Blizzard, 13 Andy Kellett; 9 Reuben Reid (22 Deane Smalley 72), 7 Lewis Alessandra (10 Marvin Morgan 82). Substitutes (not used): 1 James Bittner (gk), 6 Ollie Norburn, 8 Jason Banton , 14 Tyler Harvey, 25 Aaron Bentley.
Booked: Nelson 55, B Reid 71.
Referee: Graham Horwood (Lee Venamore half-time).
Attendance: 4,318 (882 away).