So the Blue Square South championship is now a three horse race once more, after the Dons worst fears were realised at The Silverlake Stadium. It was by no means a poor performance by the league leaders, who seemed to have turned a corner following recent indifferent form with a battling first period display, only to see luck turn against them in a moment of controversy in the second half.
This is usually where I would start a match report describing a defeat with ‘and it all started so well…’ but in truth it didn’t. Some Dons fans had to deal with transport chaos first (unless they drove or took the coach of course… but thats not the proper way to travel to an away match!) as Wimbledon Stations closure forced replacement bus services to Surbiton or extanded journey times from Clapham or Waterloo.
Personally I was in a bad mood from the off. Waking late and spending too long in the shower meant I had too little time to take breakfast in Kingston, but too much time to kill in Surbiton before the train left. The only Woking train running was the stopping service, the same train I get to work in Esher reminding me of the daily drudge on what should be my day of escape. And my irritation grows as I wait for the train to depart as despite signs and information boards travellers feel the need to rudely shout for instruction at weary platform staff.
I wanted to make a few notes on the train, but felt self concious doing so in case I was mistaken for a hardcore train spotter. As there were no trains about, it was probably the trainspotting equivilant of playing Ash away in the Surrey Senior Cup. Arriving at Woking and seeing England shirts remind me the national team are playing today. The twenty minute wait seems to take forever on the cold platform. My throat hurt and I felt nauseus, I wondered whether my cold was making a comeback. Strongbow and a Kitkat from the buffet didn’t help. It took a while to realise I was actually very nervous.
At Southampton Airport station I realise I left my map behind, but its a simple walk through a lakeside park, and round lanes with no pavement to Eastleighs ground. Like a spacious version of Sittingbourne, the roof down the side provides no cover for fans wishing to see the game, and no view for those wanting to remain dry. Rain turns to hail which turns to merciful sunshine as the teams come out.
From kickoff, and playing with the wind to their backs, the Dons gain the upper hand without really creating much worthy of note. The recalled Davis seems back to form, buzzing around the midfield, picking up loose balls and moving the ball on, simply and intelligently. He puts himself about as well, getting challenges in, losing the 50-50s largely on account of his slight frame, but doing enough. Lee and Hatton are usually on hand to pick up the pieces.
Despite gaining the possesion advantage in midfield, Wimbledon don’t create much. Eastleigh are holding their shape, remaining very well organised. The ball is finding its way back to Conroy and Hussey, forced back into orthodox full back positions, all too often. Hussey in particular looks frustrated. Unable to get forward and cross, he resorts to attempting to thread balls into the left channel. Mostly they catch the wind and drift harmlessly back into Eastleigh hands, occasionally a decent ball is made to look bad by forwards just not on his wavelength. Still Hussey cops flack from the supporters, another bad day at the office, another lesson hopefully learned.
A couple of decent chances fall Wimbledons way. Kezie Ibe, all pace and power, finds his way clear, literally fighting off huge defenders clinging to him in desperation only to see another giant centre half block his shot for a corner. A lofted ball into the box finds Main, somehow in space, who decides to strike first time, high, wide and over. Eastleigh are hanging on, beyond the back line they are poor, passes find touch, mostly second best in challenges. Their desperation shows when Goodhind hoofs Davis into the air just before the break. It looks crude, but the fullback was just late into the challenge, showing no intent, and rightfully only sees yellow.
Three minutes of stopages show, the fans seem to sense the importance of grabbing a goal while the Dons are on top, but no chances are forthcoming. Half time sees a penalty shootout between two Dons fans and two Eastleigh fans. A young Don fires straight at the keeper. The next, brillantly, slips while taking it and falls on his arse. On behalf of everyone in the stadium can I just say to that fan…. thank you! An Eastleigh fan steps forward, boots and all, and sends it into the car park. One young Eastleigh fan scores and moves to the next round. Three shots from the half way line for fifty pounds. He achieves this but sensibly in the blustery conditions declines to double-or-quit with one more strike from the centre spot. What entertainment! We should introduce this to the Meadow as of next Saturday. Ill put the money up myself, if I had it.
The crowd is announced as a record league gate for Eastleigh, 2283, at least a thousand of whom can’t see the pitch properly. Including me in the second half, as I wander around the edge, I eventually find short people to stand behind, a good thing too as the chances start to come. Eastleigh have the wind now, and they clearly know how to use it. Balls rain down the channels, mopped up by a dominant Inns and Judge, but their headed clearances have no distance allowing the Eastleigh midfield to come again.
And they use the ball well, creating early chances. Gavin Heeroo skews wide when well placed. Tony Taggart breaks clear, onside, with just Pullen to beat. The ball drops and he judges his lobbed volley almost perfectly, only to see the Dons stopper claw it wide. From the corner Tom Jordan stoops to head wide. Eastleigh are on top now. Wimbledon are playing long into the wind, playing right into Eastleighs hands.
Yet when Wimbledon get the ball down and play it they look good on the break. A well worked move sees a wild clearance from Eastleighs Aaron Martin narrowly avoid the top corner of his own goal. Then Wimbledon win a free kick in Hussey territory, well struck but down keeper Jason Matthews throat.
With the game now a watchable end to end affair, both sides pushing forward knowing the first goal will be vital, rather than show caution in fear of being the ones to concede. When the goal arrives, its not in any way controversial, its downright disgraceful. Eastleigh force a corner on the right, delivered in at pace, swinging in with the wind. Pullen is clear favourite to gather despite Jordans run to the near post. The Eastleigh captain hopefully sticks out and arm, Pullen scrambling as it finds its way into the top corner. The ground falls silent waiting for a whistle that never comes. Belatedly Eastleigh fans celebrate, the official points to the half way line, and Wimbledon don’t deserve this at all.
Wimbledon look a bit lost for a while. Jonny Dixon curls one wide, and Terry Brown decides action needs to be taken sooner rather than later. Lee makes way for Kedwell, and the Dons switch to a three mand front line. It takes time for the switch to take effect. In the mean time Pullen keeps Wimbledon in the game. A strike from distance is forced away, the follow up from an angle well blocked. Shortly after Jordans scrambled effort in the six yard box is somehow kept out.
As if inspired by their goalkeeper, Wimbledon find their feet and make use of their extra fire power. Kedwell works space outside the box and strikes, Matthews moves to his right to stop. The pendulum has swing in Wimbledons direction, when cruel luck hits them once more. The referee has had enough. He decides an injury he has picked up is too severe to carry on officiating, strange that he felt it more of a liability than the dark glasses and stick he had been carrying for the previous 75 minutes. He could have stood in the bar blowing his whistle at random and still had a better game than the one he had.
Incompetent referee was replaced by incompetent linesman for the remaining fifteen minutes. It made little difference to Wimbledon, caught cold they gifted possesion to Eastleigh, the ball finding its way to Ashley Carew, who skipped passed his man to the byline left of goal before finding Jonny Dixon to stab into the net.
At 2-0 I’d had enough. It was getting late. I didn’t want to miss the train home, my wife so kind to allow me to attend matches every week was making a nice meal, and I didn’t want to let her down before she returns to the States for a few months in the week. Yet still I stayed.The notepad went back in my pocket. I was right to do so. Wimbledon rarely turn round two goal deficits, yet they so nearly rewarded the large travelling support in the final few minutes.
Godfrey, on for the tiring Tom Davis, fired a loose ball wide of Matthews and into the net. The last note I wrote on my little pad was ‘BACK IN IT! Elliott. 1-2’. It was all Wimbledon now, as the minutes ticked over ever faster. Corners and free kicks were forced. On the whole the quality of delivery was good. The frantic last few minutes went by in a blur. The best chance fell to Kezie Ibe, whos powerful header was somehow kept out by Matthews. The keeper flew to his right, almost reaching back on himself to claw the ball away from the top right hand corner. It was a save worthy of winning any match, with the possible exception of this one. There was to be no justice for Wimbledon today.
This all proved too much for the supporters, who held their tempers, and Alan Inns, who sadly didn’t. The centre half had a superb game for the Dons, and while we love his passion and desire to be part of a winning Dons team, he should perhaps leave the abuse to the supporters, picking up a costly red card after the final whistle for absolutely no reason. We are going to miss him during the run in, his second red card of the season and ultimate suspension is going to place too much of a burden on Judge and Goodliffe.
Despite the debatable nature of their victory, I hold no grudge against Eastleigh. The error, and ultimately result could have gone either way. On the whole they were very friendly and knowledgable people, and they deserve a succesful football club for all the hard work put in by those who dragged the club out of the Wessex league and to the verge of a place in the Conference National next season.
The only let down, and I have to mention this as it’s MK related were some of the lads behind the goal. They made a lot of noise, and Eastleigh deserve that sort of support on a weekly basis, which I hope they get. Before the match started they sung ‘Milton Keynes, Wank Wank Wank…’ much to the delight of the Dons fans, at that point surrounding them. Then for some reason they broke into an audible version of the traditional Dons baiting ‘Milton Keynes’. Bravely they waited until the second half when the Dons fans had vacated that end. I appreciate your always going to get a few bad eggs but still, Eastleigh fans, you don’t deserve to be tarred with that brush, show some class.
News of another late Hampton victory reduced moral further. The walk to the station seemed longer, and filled with thoughts of playoffs, and perhaps having to meet this Eastleigh side again before the seasons out. Kindly Dons fans on the train picked me up by pointing out Hamptons harder run in, and our goal difference and the fact we must play them means its still all in our favour.
Hopefully the team won’t be too downhearted. Reading Terry Browns comments relating to the referees decision, he rarely is as vocal against such errors as he was this one. Keeping that error in the supporters and players mind shows his experience of picking up players in a title run in. We were genuinely unlucky not to come away with something from that match. We did play well against another top side, on their ground, and ultimately the result was decided by a mistake by the referee.
It happens. It may well happen once more, this time in our favour before the season is out. Perhaps on the 18th April. Stay positive, and we will ultimately get what we deserve.