Report: Dons 0-0 Stags
Mansfield Town deservedly brought an end to their six-match losing streak with a hard-fought point against AFC Wimbledon at the Cherry Red Records Stadium.
Paul Cox’s side dominated for large parts and were only denied all three points thanks to the sheer brilliance of the hosts’ shot-stopper, Ross Worner.
Worner made three exceptional saves in the closing stages from Matt Rhead and Ross Dyer respectively, whilst Sam Clucas and Bern Hutchinson also went close.
It means the Stags will go into Tuesday’s nights FA Cup with Budweiser Second Round replay with confidence, due to this very positive performance.
The Stags made a positive start in South London, enjoying plenty of possession in the early exchanges but without creating any clear-cut chances.
John Dempster was flagged offside from Adam Murray’s second-minute set-piece cross into the area, whilst Ross Dyer was just unable to latch onto a long ball forwards.
The Dons’ first shooting opportunity arrived on 10 minutes when Callum Kennedy stepped up and hit a 30-yard free-kick from a central position, narrowly over Alan Marriott’s upright.
Nevertheless, the visitors looked more composed on the ball and Jamie McGuire forced Ross Worner into a routine save with a low 25-yard drive on the quarter-hour mark.
Wimbledon then enjoyed two corners in quick succession, but the Stags’ backline held firm and Luke Moore’s hooked attempt was comfortably caught by Marriott.
The hosts went close again on 20 minutes when Charlie Sheringham shrugged his way past Lindon Meikle on the left-wing and played an inviting ball inside to Michael Smith.
With Martin Riley quickly alert to the danger, Smith’s subsequent strike from the edge of the area flew high over the woodwork and Marriott was untroubled.
Wimbledon were beginning to enjoy a sustained spell of pressure and Marriott was called into action on 23 minutes, when he tipped over a cross-cum-shot by Sheringham.
Sheringham posed a constant threat for Mansfield and only a few moments later, a last-ditch intervention by Murray prevented the lively frontman from breaking into a one-on-one.
The Stags then went close to breaking the deadlock, as some good work by Meikle and Murray resulted in Sam Clucas having a powerful low drive blocked by a Dons player.
Marriott endured a nervy moment before the half-hour mark when George Francomb’s downfield clearance bounced up, and had to be caught by the Stags’ keeper on his goal-line.
His opposite number then provided a brilliant fingertip save to keep out an angled strike from Clucas on 32 minutes, following some good pressing by McGuire midway inside the Dons’ half.
Wimbledon nearly took the lead shortly before half-time when Peter Sweeney capitalised on some hesitancy from McGuire and slipped an inviting ball for Sheringham to latch onto.
The goal was gaping for the Dons striker, but Meikle and Riley, both back-tracking, did enough to distract Sheringham, whose scuffed shot went well wide.
Mansfield almost made a breakthrough on 41 minutes, when Clucas peeled off the shoulder of his marker in order to reach a left-wing cross towards the far post
The youngster was at full-stretch when he brought the ball down and his eventual shot had Worner beaten, but ricocheted off the post and went wide – letting Wimbledon off the hook.
Neal Ardley’s side nearly made the Stags pay instantly, as Worner’s long downfield punt was mis-controlled by Dempster, and put Luke Moore into a one-on-one.
The odds seemed to favour the Dons striker, but Marriott raced off his line and brilliantly diverted Moore’s effort wide at the expense of a corner.
In what proved to be the last chance of the first period, Kennedy picked out Smith at the near-post with the subsequent corner, but Marriott wasn’t called into action.
The Stags began on the front-foot after the re-start and within 40 seconds, Clucas had whistled a long-range left-foot attempt narrowly wide.
Mansfield continued to press forward and had a strong wind in their favour, which caused no end of problems for Worner, who had one attempted clearance chased down by Murray.
The Dons, however, showed a lot of grit and determination and enjoyed a sustained spell of pressure around the hour mark, in which Marriott was twice called into action.
The Stags’ custodian palmed away a vicious inswinging corner from Kennedy on 57 minutes, before racing off his line to tip over a far-post stab-shot from Barry Fuller in another attack.
Wimbledon seemed to grow in confidence and Francomb should have done much better when he carried the ball more than 30 yards, but had a powerful effort blocked by Dempster.
The visitors bolstered their attacking threat with a double substitution on 63 minutes as Matt Rhead and Ben Hutchinson were introduced in favour of Meikle and Anthony Howell respectively.
Rhead nearly made an immediate impact as he connected to Junior Daniel’s deep cross, but his header was comfortably caught by Worner.
The pendulum continuously swung either way and Mansfield soon endured a ‘heart in mouth’ moment as Smith seized upon a mistake by Dempster on the edge of the area.
Smith’s resulting strike took a wicked deflection off Dempster and looped up over a static Marriott, before it landed on the roof of the net – much to the Stags’ relief.
With a quarter-of-an-hour remaining, the Stags began to press forward more and more and almost snatched a winner thanks to the aerial threat of Rhead.
McGuire delivered a pin-point cross towards the edge of the six-yard box, where Rhead made a perfect connection, but Worner dived to his right and somehow made a save.
The Stags continued to pen Wimbledon back and were on top as the match entered its final 10 minutes.
Hutchinson was the next to go close as he scuffed a 20-yard shot just over the upright, following a clever lay-off by Clucas right on the edge of the area.
Rhead was then denied by Worner for a second time in quick succession as he connected with a long punt forward by Marriott, only to be prevented by the forearm of the Dons keeper.
Hutchinson swung a teasing corner right under Worner’s crossbar on 83 minutes, but yet again the Dons managed to scramble away the danger.
The Stags’ frustrations grew even further when Worner produced another save of the highest order to keep out a bullet close-range header from Dyer, with just three minutes remaining.
Wimbledon nearly stole maximum points just a few seconds into four minutes of added time when Jim Fenlon’s sweetly-struck 35-yard drew an excellent save from Marriott.
However, honours eventually finished even as the Stags deservedly brought an end to their six-match losing streak.
Attendance: 3,900 (220 away supporters).