Date: 18th March 2014 at 12:51pm
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Want a sign how much Wimbledon are fighting to stay up this season? How about grabbing an equaliser in the 97th minute playing away to a playoff-chasing team?

Darren Jones’s scrambling effort off a George Francomb corner deep, deep into stoppage time earned the Dons a well-deserved point in a 1-1 draw with fifth-placed Burton Albion at Pirelli Stadium on Saturday to keep edging towards League Two safety.

That’s two points in four days against teams at the top end of the table after the 1-1 home draw with leaders Chesterfield amid signs that Wimbledon are rolling up their sleeves to tough it out over the remaining nine games.

Yet again Neal Ardley’s team had to dig deep as scoring goals continues to be an issue, but on the score of resilience you can’t fault them. They kept going right to the end and this time were rewarded with the crucial equaliser from Jones.

That point keeps Wimbledon bobbing up and down in 15th spot on 44 points. A couple of wins could do it, but this slow excruciating Chinese water torture shows no sign of being alleviated that conveniently. It’s incremental, a battle of wills and perhaps those who commit the least mistakes will scramble over the finish line.

Let’s just hope that will be the Dons. If you have problems scoring goals then the defence are under enormous pressure to do their part. While it’s 36 goals in 37 games, the defence have conceded 42 goals.

That’s 22 less conceded than the corresponding stage last season. The Dons have proven harder to beat this term while scoring nine goals less at the comparative stage. No wonder it’s testing the fans’ resolve.

In another sign of how the Dons have toughened up this season is in the microcosm of matches at Burton over the last three seasons. Wimbledon were smashed 6-2 there last season and a sizeable determinate in Terry Brown losing his job and the season before the Dons went down 3-2.

This time Burton scored just once and that was through a penalty. In the current WDSA poll [below] most respondents (28 per cent in a congested sample much like the concertinaed L2 table) believe Ardley tinkers too much with selections, is too negative and the team doesn’t score enough goals. But a further 22 per cent says the team has improved on last season and we should back the gaffer. Only 10 per cent want him sacked.

Should Wimbledon survive this season and get through to the off-season then the Club and Ardley have some pressing issues to sort out to ensure the team can push on next season and not again be more concerned solely about survival.

It is probably in that vein that Ardley appealed to supporters after the Burton game to ‘stick together.’

The players and Ardley took a lot of (deserved) stick after that insipid York City display when the team’s energy and commitment were questioned. The subsequent efforts against Chesterfield and Burton have shown there is a pulse and that the players do care as Ardley was at pains to point out post-match on Saturday.

“I know that the fans have been frustrated lately, particularly with our performances at home, but we are frustrated too,” the gaffer beseeched.

“We are really passionate and we care. We are very hard-working, we want to do the right things and have a strong finish to the season. You want to get wins, you never just want to draw games. It has been a tough week and we’ve worked hard on the back of the York game. We know what we have to do to hit the targets that we want.

“All the teams are under pressure from top to bottom in this league, whether that’s going for the play-offs, the top three, or fighting to stay away from the bottom. It’s incredibly tight and the fans and players have to come together as a club and give everything during the last nine games. The players care.

“I know that people say that they just want the players to have a go, but they always have a go. Sometimes they get caught between two stools and are anxious in home games and their confidence is low.

“f the confidence is a little bit low then everyone should get together. The only way that we’re going to pick everyone up and get the results we need is to stick together. The fans here are brilliant when they’re on song and let’s hope we get that in the last nine games.”

That shows a manager who feels under pressure and appealing to fans who have become downhearted at what has become another season of struggle with few high water marks.

Yet performances such as those against Chesterfield and Burton Albion show that the team does have character and an appetite to get the job done, whatever it takes. Ardley is appealing for forbearance, a quality not readily available in today’s society.

Burton manager Gary Rowett was furious at the referee David Whitestone’s interpretation of the amount of stoppage time, given that Wimbledon’s equaliser came with virtually the last kick in the seventh minute of time added on.

“You could see from my response at the end how I felt about it all,” said Rowett, who was seen shouting at the ref and tapping his watch as the ball went out for the corner from which the Dons scored.

“Five minutes went up, we then had one substitution, but for some reason the game carried on and they got their goal after seven-and-a-half minutes (sic).

“You could argue that Wimbledon deserved a point for their effort and endeavour, but to get done like that is particularly galling.”

They call it swings and roundabouts. The Dons can point to a number of times where luck has gone against them this season; this time they got something back.

But don’t think that Wimbledon didn’t deserve this hard-earned point. The Brewers’ fans admitted the Dons were worth it as shown by these comments on their forum…. “Wimbledon played well in the second half and deserved the point. We missed our chances so only deserved a point. What was so impressive about Wimbledon was their ability to put in dangerous crosses, especially from place kicks throughout the match. We had several scrambles when we were just pleased to hack the ball clear and the pressure told right at the end.”…. “we barely deserved the win, we were being overrun in the midfield.”

Ardley believes it would have been an “injustice” if the Dons had lost.

“I did not think we did a hell of a lot wrong during the game. In the second half we missed chances and if we had got a goal earlier we could have gone on and won the game. Against a team (then) fourth in the league on their own patch I thought they did not have many chances. We got a point from the game and I think it would have been an injustice if we’d lost the game.”

Ardley played Danny Hylton on his own up front and yet again the on-loan striker failed to score in his ninth game since his one and only goal on debut against Hartlepool. Hylton was hauled off for Jack Midson to have almost 30 minutes at Burton and he too failed to find the net.

It is becoming plainly obvious that the forward options Ardley has at his disposal will unlikely resolve the lack of goals this season. Somehow the team has to find some goals in the remaining games to keep the wolf from the door.

Wimbledon’s defence had no problems coping with Burton’s threat in the first 20 minutes, before Alan Bennett conceded a penalty for bringing down Dominic Knowles. Billy Kee beat Ross Worner with an emphatic conversion down the middle.

The Dons were better in the second half and impressive Francomb created several chances from the right which were spurned before Jones got on the end of another great Francomb delivery from a corner to score at the death.

So it’s back to Kingsmeadow next weekend for the visit of Cheltenham Town. A win would help ease a lot of problems, but that seems easier said than done this season.

And your last chance to have your say in WDSA’s Ardley poll…. Click Here.

Written by Onyadon aka Rob Smith.

Rob writes the Wimbledon Downunder Supporters’ Association (WDSA) blog and lets us use this blog with his permission. To view WDSA – Click Here.

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