And it had started so well. I had a nice lunch, then headed off to the ground early to pick up my Eastleigh ticket. Such a mild spring day allowed me to leave the coat at home, and bring my sunglasses along with me. Not because the sun was particularly strong, more that at the first sign of warm weather most Cambridge Estate residents try to leave as much exposed skin as possible to attempt to improve their tone from alabaster to something slightly healthier, intensifying the suns rays as it bounces off them into my eyes. Ironically this only has a negative effect, their skin coloured pinky red until the end of August when it conveniently burns off, revealing a brand new milky layer just in time for Autumn.
Despite that, Dons fans walking down Kingston Road were bubbling. Little groups in animated conversation. Boisterous youths bouncing off each other, just waiting for an excuse to break into song. The sun was shining. Hundreds were milling around outside the bars just soaking up the day. Its at this point I’d like to make my bid for at least a nomination in the Understatement of the Week in a Blog, Fanzine, Newsletter or Other Body of Writing Produced in a Non-Professional Capacity Award by saying things went a little downhill from here.
And I think it might be all my fault. I spent the hour before I left at a family lunch telling my uncle that if we won and Hampton lost then in all probability the 12 point gap produced would be too much for the Trumptonites to overcome. I made a token effort to apease the Football Gods. I littered my opinions with plenty of ‘if’s ‘maybe’s and ‘providing Hampton don’t win their game in hand’s. But what really screwed me was when I told my wife I would ‘bring home a bottle of champagne if we won’. From that moment the Best Case Scenario wasn’t going to be an option, and the scenario that played out come three o’clock came with a big sticker on it marked ‘Worst Case’.
My first fears were when I got to my place, which today was in the John Smith Stand. What I’d previously experienced as a happy excited feeling (not THAT kind of happy excited feeling though…) had suddenly transformed itself into a nervous rumbling in my stomach. My mouth felt suddenly dry. As the game kicked off I suddenly remembered the consequences of what would happen if we didn’t win today.
If the players felt this same sense of panic it didn’t show initialy. Great work by Danny Kedwell won Wimbledon a thrown down the right, quickly taken to Sam Hatton whose whipped cross was punched away under pressure by Wings keeper Charlie Mitten. Hatton was involved again when Chris Husseys deep cross found him completely unmarked, failing to find the far corner or better positioned team mates and floating harmlessly over. But yet the game remained very open, with James Baker proving a handful for the Dons defence largely due to his skillful, strong and very persistant running with the ball. On a couple of occasions he danced into the Dons box, of which one was somehow not turned in by two colleagues, the other drawing a superb save from eventual man of the match James Pullen.
Wimbledon then sparked into life again, as Main showed unexpected strength when latching onto a through ball despite being held back, getting away a powerful volley that Mitten failed to hold. At one point it looked as though Mitten may have mimicked predecesor Taylors gift of a goal to Main in the corresponding fixture, however the ball squirmed straight upwards and back into the keepers grateful arms.
The two teams had enough time to trade chances before the break, as Baker once more broke into the Wimbledon area before squaring to strike partner Moses Ademola who failed to find the net. Another Pullen save lead to Hatton being forced off the ball unfairly just outside the box. Hatton and Hussey lined up the angles but it was Dwayne Lee who drilled past the wall sadly too close to Mitton. It was a rare positive for Lee, who looked to be lacking fitness and not at all up to speed with the pace of the game. Lee’s afternoon was to get worse in the second half as the Dons left the field for the break to muted applause.
A quiet start to the second half was only enlivened by a couple of corners forced by Dons, and an inswinging low Hussey free kick that had to be pushed wide by a scrambling Mitton. Yet it seemed there was serious problems with the Dons midfield. A solid Welling midfield led by former Don Rob Quinn lorded it over Wimbledon at times. They seemed to have so much time and space to craft chances, whereas Mertons Finest barely had time to get the ball down before finding their offensive decisions rapidly reduced by a fast approaching red shirt. The unfortunate Lee suffered more than most, being exposed in front of the back four.
Of course the Negative Brigade in the John Smiths now had all the ammunition they required to slaughter the laid back number four, and he found himself hauled off by Brown on the hour. Not before a few Dons fans had let themselves down by abusing their own player. One guy behind me shouted ‘Get Lee Off’ repeatedly for a good two minutes, and even mild mannered me got sick of its childish manner, until one straw too many landed and I decided to confront him. Sadly this coincided with Lee finaly being hooked. In retrospect this was a good thing for me, as if I’d asked him to cut it out he would have immediately missed the point and asked me to defend Lees performance, which in all honestly I can’t. But it riles me that certain supporters in this section of the ground show complete naivety and lack of knowledge in situations like this. Lee hadn’t acted unprofessionaly at any point, he just played his normal game and it didn’t come off for him today. When he started to make errors our response, in fact our duty, as supporters should have been to pick him up again. No matter how many games you go to, or how much you donate financially you cannot in all seriousness call yourself a Wimbledon supporter if at this point you think its a good idea to abuse one of your own players. If by some stroke of luck one of the offenders happens to read this report, can I just say please, please can you take in what I have written above. Because when title races go down to the wire, minor problems like these snowball and all of a sudden become very very important. If you think as a supporter there is little you can do to help the lads once they cross the white line then in a way you would be correct, yes. But you sure as hell can cause some damage if your not careful. Rant over.
Lees replacement was the more attacking option of Saunders, with Adjei moving in front of the back four. For some reason this caused the Dons midfield to seemingly evaporate completely. Welling had the ball over the line soon after but the effort was crossed off due to an offside flag. And Welling got their reward for a brave attacking performance after Sam Hurrell found some space in the left channel, powered towards goal before driving a shot off the post. Several blue shirts were reduced to statues as the ball rebounded to Sanchez Ming to put the Wings ahead.
This isn’t a criticism of the clubs organisation, yet a relatively large away following of around 150 self-segregated themselves into a small section of the Tempest End during the second half, where the acoustics allowed their superb support to dominate vocally during the second half. If full segregation had been in place those Wings supporters would have been back in to corner of Kingston Road and John Smiths, barely heard by most of the stadium. Instead they were given the opportunity to keep their players motivated. And it was Wimbledon that looked demoralised as defensive mistakes lead to two one-on-ones that Pullen brilliantly kept out.
Then the icing on the cake. A Dons corner fell to the reliable Kedwell, lurking yards out at the far post. As the ground rose as one, Kedwells header flew off his head and over. With mere minutes remaining some Dons fans (like me) saw this as an opportunity to watch the last few minutes closer to the exits in order to stand a better chance of being near the front of the queue for Bromley tickets. The Welling fans celebrated enthusiastically at the end, causing a few Dons fans near me to mutter about Cup Finals, which probably wasn’t fair to Welling, who came to The Meadow and were exceptional, played open football restricting the Dons chances and creating enough of their own to justify victory. I was perhaps a bit unfair about Wellings promotion hopes in my Match Preview on Friday, I still think they won’t catch the pack occupying the play off places at the moment, but the honesty and hard work of their players means it won’t be for lack of trying.
As for Wimbledon, it just wasn’t going to be our day today. Too many players suffered an off day and with Trumpton destroying Chelmsford 4-1, the title is effectively in their own hands too, even if it would mean them scoring a few goals. Theres now too much loaded on next weeks tricky away trip to Eastleigh, and we will do well to keep our six point gap intact over the next few games before we visit the Beveree next month. The momentum has swung in Trumptons favour this week, as it did for us last Saturday. If anyone was in doubt that there are still plenty of twists and turns left in this title race they would do well to look at the last couple of weeks in the Blue Square South, notice a pattern, and expect it to repeat itself right up to April 23rd.