Grimsby Town fell to a narrow defeat after a scrappy, stop-start encounter with AFC Wimbledon.
The Mariners, backed by more than 1,000 travelling supporters on their first trip to Plough Lane for 33 years, controlled most of the first half and saw a John McAtee goal disallowed for offside. But the half was overshadowed by a serious-looking injury to Michee Efete, who required lengthy treatment on the pitch after a heavy fall before eventually being carried off on a stretcher. Wimbledon started to come into the game as the interval loomed and after more pressure, they grabbed what turned out to be the only goal on the hour, when Ethan Chislett pounced from a long throw.
Evan Khouri replaced Danny Amos in the only change to the Grimsby team following the FA Cup victory at Cambridge United last week. Max Crocombe started in goal, with Efete, Luke Waterfall, Niall Maher and Khouri forming the defence. Gavan Holohan, Kieran Green and Clifton were the midfielders, with Brendan Kiernan and Otis Khan supporting McAtee in attack. The substitutes were Jordan Maguire-Drew, Alex Hunt, Bryn Morris, Danilo Orsi, Keyendrah Simmonds, Aribim Pepple and Andy Smith.
Wimbledon came into the game sitting 13th in the Leaguge Two table, two points and three places ahead of their visitors, and last week’s FA Cup home defeat by Chesterfield was their first defeat in 11 games in all competitions. They named former Town loanees Ryley Towler and Harry Pell in their starting XI, while giant striker Kyle Hudlin, who scored against the Mariners for Solihull Moors in last season’s National League play-off final, was named on the bench. Wales defender Chris Gunter was also among the Dons’ subs after returning from the World Cup in Qatar.
Town started brightly and a Khan free kick on four minutes was headed away as far as Holohan, who volleyed over the bar.
A foul by McAtee on the halfway line gave Wimbledon their first opportunity to create danger with a free kick on 10 minutes. It was dealt with by Maher but the home pressure continued with a throw-in, which led to Crocombe catching a cross from Chislett on the right.
Khan got a cross in at the other end soon afterwards but his delivery from the left was claimed by home keeper Nik Tzanev under pressure from Holohan.
Town thought they had taken the lead on 14 minutes as a suberb move saw Kiernan and Holohan carve their way through the home defence. The ball was slipped through to McAtee and he rounded the keeper before slotting into the net, only for the offside flag to go up and deny what would have been a great goal.
Maher was penalised for a foul on striker Josh Davison two minutes later but Chislett’s free kick was headed over the bar by Jack Currie for a goal kick.
A Khan free kick at the other end was headed out for a Town throw, before McAtee went down under a challenge on the edge of the penalty area but the referee waved play on.
Another slick attacking move by the Mariners came on 22 minutes and led to Kiernan sending a volley through to Tzanev after meeting a cross from Khouri on the left.
The visitors had been the better side over the opening quarter of the game and looked in control, as Wimbledon struggled to impose themselves as an attacking force.
Green did well to stop Davison on the half-hour, before an Ayoub Assel shot was blocked by Efete for a corner as the Dons began to come into the game. The delivery from the flag was headed wide of the near post by Towler.
Huseyin Biler was shown the first yellow card of the afternoon after a poor challenge on Clifton but the free kick from Khan was headed away by Pell. Town retained possession and eventually won a corner on the left through McAtee but after it was played short, McAtee’s cross was caught by Tzanev.
Crocombe was called into serious action for the first time on 37 minutes after Pell played the ball to Assal on the left to start an attack. He found Davison but the striker’s shot was brilliantly blocked by the keeper.
At the other end, there was a chance for Town when a corner was turned back across goal by Waterfall and Maher connected with an overhead kick but sent his shot narrowly over the bar.
A good challenge by Kiernan stopped a cross from Currie at the expense of a corner but the hosts were unable to profit from it as a shot by Paris Maghoma was blocked.
It proved to be the start of a promising spell for the home side as half-time loomed and another corner came on 44 minutes, this time on the right. Chislett’s delivery was headed away by Efete but Wimbledon kept possession and Assal fired just over the bar after working an opening from 20 yards.
A lengthy stoppage came when Efete stayed down after falling awkwardly near the halfway line and after receiving treatment on the pitch for almost 10 minutes, a stretcher was called for the right-back. Smith came on to replace him when the game eventually restarted for two minutes of added time at the end of the half.
A cross from Davison was cleared by Maher, who had moved to right-back as Smith slotted into the centre of defence, as Wimbledon attacked in the closing seconds. But the game remained goalless at the interval, after a half which Town had controlled for long periods until the hosts showed their own signs of promise in the latter stages.
No further changes were made before the restart and Paul Kalambayi was booked for a late challenge on Clifton three minutes in. Khan played the free kick into the box but Waterfall was penalised for a foul on Currie as he jumped to win the ball.
Another free kick came for a foul on Kiernan in the centre circle but it came to nothing and the stop-start nature of he second half so far continued when the referee blew for a foul by Green.
Clifton and McAtee were both deemed to be offside as two Town attacks were stopped in quick succession, then a push by Khan resulted in yet another free kick being given.
A shot by Maghoma was blocked, before Assal was deemed to have beaten the offsie trap as he got in behind the Grimsby defence but his shot went beyond the far post for a goal kick.
A high boot from Waterfall gave Wimbledon a free kick midway inside the Grimsby half but it was headed away by Smith and when the ball was played back into the box, Maghoma was unable to keep it in play.
But the next home attack led to the opening goal, as a long throw from the left was headed on and CHISLETT was first to the ball to prod it past Crocombe and into the net.
The hosts immediately went forward again in search of more and a low strike by Maghoma took a deflection for a corner on its way past the near post.
A flashpoint came when Crocombe reacted to a push by Pell, who went down and stayed down under minimal contact from the Town keeper. The referee did not fall for the midfielder’s antics though, and instead showed him the yellow card when he eventually got to his feet.
Kiernan was denied by a good block after a break by Khan down the right but there was to be no corner as the flag eventually went up for offside.
Maher won a corner as Town continued to push forward but Waterfall’s header from it was blocked.
A cross from Maher was collected by Tzanev, before Simmonds replaced Kiernan in the away side’s second substitution with 72 minutes on the clock.
Pepple followed Simmonds onto the pitch as he replaced Khan four minutes later but most of the action was now at the end furthest from the 1,071 travelling Town fans as Wimbledon searched for a second goal.
Simmonds was shown the yellow card for a foul on the home right but Chislett’s free kick was caugh by Crocombe.
A great tackle by Khouri stopped another attack down the right, before another late offside flag stopped Chislett.
Hudlin came on for Chislett with five minutes to go and a low cross from Simmonds was dealt with soon afterwards as the Mariners looked for an equaliser.
Currie made a great challenge to stop Maher inside the penalty area and keeper Tzanev dived to prevent the corner, with the visitors continuing to push.
A foul by Simmonds on Hudlin gave the hosts a free kick on the right, level with the Town 18-yard line, as the game moved into five added minutes, but it led to an offside decision.
A great ball towards the far post by Simmons led to a corner on the right and after coming forward to join the attack, Crocombe met the ball from the flag but headed wide.
Town refused to give up but ultimately, they were unable to find an equaliser and left empty-handed despite a battling display which deserved some reward.
The Mariners are next in action on Saturday, when Tranmere Rovers are the visitors to Blundell Park.