Kingsmeadow, probably the most claustrophobic ground in League One football, was always going to prove a test of character for Sheffield United’s players.
Chris Wilder’s team passed with flying colours and showed plenty of calibre too as their winning sequence in League One competition stretched to three matches.
Mark Duffy, Billy Sharp and Matt Done were all on target for the visitors while Dominic Poleon and Tom Elliott kept AFC Wimbledon in the game.
But there could be no complaints about the final outcome. This was United, in an attacking sense at least, fast approaching their best.
With the excellent Ethan Ebanks-Landell ensuring Neil Ardley’s men did not dominate physically, Duffy and Sharp put United in control before Poleon reduced the deficit soon after. When Done pounced during the second-half, the contest should have been over. Instead Elliott intervened to set-up an anxious finale when, really, it should have been anything but.
United passed with precision, competed with tenacity and commitment and richly deserved this victory.
The conditions, not a piece of individual skill, were responsible for creating the game’s first clear cut chance.
United, making just one change to the starting eleven that triumphed 2-1 at Gillingham last week, were organised and in place when Jake Reeves edged tentatively forward with nine minutes gone. But when Ebanks-Landell lost his footing, Tyrone Barnett found himself unmarked inside the penalty area. United, and their on-loan centre-half, breathed a sigh of relief when he glanced a close-range header wide.
It was a warning that, strangely, Wimbledon failed to heed themselves. Ten minutes later, Darius Charles slipped at the opposite end of the pitch as Duffy looked to probe. As the home players swarmed around him in a vain attempt to protect Ryan Clarke’s goal, the midfielder twisted this way and that as he calculated his angles before smashing the ball into the net.
Sharp strengthened United’s grip on the contest in the 25th minute when he converted Matt Done’s centre.
But, seven minutes before the break, Poleon justified his selection ahead of another former United player Lyle Taylor when he headed home at the near post. Andy Barcham, probably AFC Wimbledon’s biggest threat, claimed the assist.
Although United will have been desperately disappointed to concede as the interval beckoned, they produced an encouraging response. While Barcham beavered away along the hosts’ left-flank, Daniel Lafferty was causing all sorts of problems down AFC Wimbledon’s right. The Northern Ireland international came within a whisker of working another chance after ghosting past Barry Fuller but the ball was scrambled clear.
Chris Basham, who had received treatment for an injury during the dying embers of the first-half, failed to reappear for the second but United continued to press. Indeed, they will have been disappointed not to have put the match to bed by the 50th minute with Duffy and Done both spurning good opportunities. The best, after he had blazed over the crossbar from distance, fell to Duffy. Sharp, showing great awareness, caught AFC Wimbledon’s defence napping with a lovely back heel but his team mate shot wide. Done forced Clarke to smother at the near post soon after before hitting the side-netting following a delightful passage of play embellished by Duffy’s perfectly weighted pass.
Done did convert in the 60th minute after being released by Basham’s replacement John Fleck. But AFC Wimbledon, despite fighting a desperate rearguard action, punished United for conceding a needless 73rd minute free-kick when Elliott reduced the deficit again. Dean Parrett had shaped to shoot but instead clipped the ball over the wall into his colleague’s path leaving Simon Moore with no chance.
AFC Wimbledon: Clarke, Fuller, Robinson, Charles (Taylor 63), Meades, Francomb (Whelpdale 79), Reeves, Parrett, Barnett (Elliott 63), Poleon, Barcham. Not used: Shea, Bulman, Beere, Kelly.
Sheffield United: Moore, O’Connell, Basham (Fleck 46), Sharp (Clarke 65) Done (Scougall 79), Wright snr, Coutts, Freeman, Ebanks-Landell, Duffy, Lafferty. Not used: Ramsdale, Hussey, Scougall, Wilson, Clarke, Chapman.Referee: Graham Salisbury (Lancashire).