DEAN Morgan scored the only goal of the game as Oxford United claimed another precious three points last night – but they had to survive a scare late on.
U’s boss Chris Wilder was sent off after taking his anger out on a set of water bottles in protest at a harsh free-kick given against his side in stoppage time.
George Moncur drew a fine save from U’s goalkeeper Ryan Clarke with the set piece and there followed an almighty goalmouth scramble.
But United came through and took another narrow win thanks to a terrific strike from Morgan just before the hour mark.
While the performance lacked the verve of Saturday’s win against Rotherham, the result was all-important in the race for promotion.
U’s top scorer James Constable and Damian Batt had to make do with places on the bench after serving suspensions as Wilder named an unchanged line-up.
The home side had been impressive for most of their 2-1 win on Saturday, but they looked edgy at times during the first half.
Less than two minutes were on the clock when Dean Morgan gave the ball away cheaply, gifting Luke Moore a shot which Clarke tipped over the crossbar.
From the corner the U’s goalkeeper was again called into action, stopping Pim Balke-stein’s header.
Despite the slow start, United should have taken the lead in the 12th minute, but Morgan failed to make contact with a superb cross from Scott Rendell.
Wilder’s men had more of the ball, but Wimbledon looked brighter when they were in possession and cut through the hosts with worrying ease at times.
One such move on 28 minutes was brought to an end by an ill-advised challenge in the box from Liam Davis.
Sammy Moore went sprawling on the turf, but to the visitors’ astonishment referee Keith Stroud waved away their appeals for a penalty.
Their clearest sight of goal in the first half came eight minutes before half-time.
A quick break scythed through United, who needed a smart block from Clarke to deny Moncur.
The hosts needed some inspiration and it almost arrived a minute later.
Oli Johnson burst into the penalty area, jinked past a challenge and fired in a shot which beat goalkeeper Seb Brown, only for Balkestein to clear off the line.
Johnson rescued the rebound himself, but with teammates screaming for a pass he elected to try again and Brown blocked.
The near miss lifted the U’s and they went on to finish the half strongly.
Adam Chapman saw a 25-yard free-kick parried by Barton, while successive Leven corners were headed off target by Asa Hall and Andy Whing.
United emerged from the interval with more purpose and played at a higher tempo, pinning Wimbledon back.
One spell at the start of the half saw the U’s force five corners in less than three minutes.
Hall almost extended his hot streak in front of goal on 52 minutes, arrowing in a left-footed shot from the edge of the box which Brown turned behind for yet another corner.
But the pressure was growing and in the 57th minute Wimbledon’s defence was finally breached.
A clever back heel from Leven 25 yards out found Hall and although his pass was not clean, it found Morgan in a yard of space.
The winger had at times looked a shadow of the player who had dazzled against Rotherham, but he showed a flash of class to smash a shot past Brown at the near post.
Far from crumbling, Wimbledon responded well to the setback and went on to enjoy a good spell against an Oxford side who looked uncertain whether they should stick or twist.
With 19 minutes remaining the fresh legs of Constable and Batt were introduced.
A second goal almost followed immediately, when a Leven corner was flicked on for Johnson, whose header hit the crossbar.
The ball was scrambled away and when it came back into the danger area Hall had a header saved by Brown.
United spent much of the last 15 minutes looking to protect their lead rather than extend it.
Wimbledon were kept at arm’s length until the very end, when Clarke’s stop from Moncur proved key.
But all that mattered was the win – and United got it.