Barnsley 0 AFC Wimbledon 0
By Dave Hunt-Jackson at Oakwell
AFC Wimbledon faced what their manager called the first acid test of the season on Saturday at Oakwell.
Although they only came away with one point, it’s fair to say they passed that test with flying colours.
With games coming thick and fast, Dons boss Neal Ardley rang the changes with Will Nightingale and Ben Purrington returning in defence for Tyler Garratt and Rod McDonald. Andy Barcham and Liam Trotter replaced Anthony Wordsworth and Mitch Pinnock in midfield. In attack there was a rest for the Dons’ leading and indeed only goalscorer Joe Pigott as Kwesi Appiah returned to partner James Hanson.
This was a hard-fought contest spoiled somewhat by a woeful refereeing performance from Martin Coy who lived up to his name in failing to produce a single card.
Barnsley are touted as one of the favourites for promotion, if not the title and came into the game with two wins and a plus-six goal difference from their opening two matches.
But for all that Wimbledon were good value for their third clean sheet in three League One matches.
In fact, in a game of few clearcut chances, it was Tom Soares’ low drive – well-saved by Adam Davies – that was arguably the best chance either side created in a game where two well-drilled and committed teams largely cancelled each other out.
In addition to that, Dons striker Hanson was dragged away by his shirt, and as seen at the World Cup, that should have been a nailed on penalty. Not given by this referee and one of many incidents missed.
What was perhaps absent for the visitors was the width created by Pinnock – how Hanson and Appiah would have loved his whipped crosses. Neither Barcham or Wordsworth could produce his quality of service but both ran tirelessly at both ends for the cause. The defence with Tennai Watson outstanding was rock solid although the compacted midfield stifled Trotter and Soares to a large extent.
The watching Pigott could learn much from Hanson, who gave as good as he got as he battled for every challenge against a physical Barnsley defence. This blend of young and not so young can only help Pigott and the other youngsters and indeed he gets better with every game.
One thing this new-look AFC Wimbledon side do not lack is spirit and they stood toe to toe with the Yorkshire outfit. They achieved this with a team that is arguably not their very best 11 and they did it with relative ease.
There was no backs-to-the-wall deep defending here – just assured aggressive fortitude all over the park. This against a side that had brushed aside Oxford United on the opening day.
It is far too early to assess where either of these teams might finish but Tuesday arguably brings a different and more important acid test as Walsall visit Kingsmeadow.
If the Dons are to avoid another relegation fight or even to dream beyond survival then dispatching other less fancied teams is a must.
A good performance and three points against the Saddlers would really turn the litmus paper red.
AFC Wimbledon: King 7 Watson 8 (Sibbick 83), Purrington 7, Oshilaja 8, Nightingale 7, Wagstaff 7, Trotter 7, Soares 7, Barcham 8, Appiah 7 (Pigott 80), Hanson 8. Not used: McDonnell, Pinnock, Garratt, McDonald, Wordsworth.
ALL IMAGES BY SEAN GOSLING