After pondering how long AFC Wimbledons unbeaten run will carry on for after the Luton game, I now find myself wondering when this nightmare run without a win will last. Statistics don’t improve our situation. Our last win away from Kingsmeadow was in February against Thurrock. That means that this very blog has never had the pleasure of reporting on an AFC Wimbledon victory away from Kingsmeadow.
If we fail to win at Kettering but break our duck at Altrincham I’ll start to worry. See, I won’t actually be at Altrincham, and I’m not a superstitious man… well’, except for if I accidentally brush against something, when I have the overwhelming desire to brush it again with whichever body part made contact – just on the opposite side of me, just to ‘balance myself up’. Naturally this can cause some problems when I brush against a person… But enough of my possibly undiagnosed OCD, seriously, lets get a win over Kettering so I don’t have to worry about it any more.
But lets go back to the beginning and relive a day of missed opportunities all over again. I managed to wangle myself a lift to this one, so I had no need to worry about the chronic lack of legroom anyone over 5’10”, or the desperate rush to catch a train after the game. The problem was, on the way down, we had to meet our driver at Lingfield. It was a strange feeling at Clapham as I watched a handful of Dons get on the Eastbourne train while I waited for the one after.
A delayed train and a spot of traffic meant we didn’t get anything to eat, and I managed to wangle out of the responsibility of waiting in the queue for burgers at the ground by all of a sudden having to rush off and take some important photos. The amateur photography really only took a couple of minutes, meaning for the rest of the time I could unwittingly break the ground rules on several occasions by smoking far more cigarettes than I needed to… this is what happens when I can’t have a drink beforehand to settle the nerves.
In fact the only mistake Eastbourne Borough made that evening that really united certain Dons fans of all ages in absolute disgust was those constant tannoy announcements urging us not to smoke under covered areas. In the away section this meant either leaning over the barrier onto the pitch, or hanging around outside the toilets like some kind of sex pest… The only place I actually smoke these days are football grounds, I’m a non smoker for the rest of the week, don’t take it away from me. Please?!
An hour or so later my companions shuffled out from behind the bars of the refreshments hatch (not that kind of bar unfortunately), however the game had been underway for around ten minutes by this time. So what did they miss? Well, nothing, they were in full view of the pitch the whole time, but their absence meant I had no-one to ponder a few aspects of the evening that hour had robbed us of. Like why the Eastbourne mascot appeared to be a man with tracksuit bottoms on and half a walnut suit covering his upper torso.
Oh, and a couple of Dons chances. On four minutes a short corner was played to Derek Duncan, who floated the ball into the box. Danny Kedwell rose highest but planted his header straight into Eastbourne keeper Danny Knowles arms. Knowles was beaten a couple of minutes later, Chris Hussey taking the opportunity to fire a free kick toward goal from just outside the box, wide right, as The Sports seemed to anticipate a cross. Unfortunately he didn’t get the trajectory quite right, and the ball curled harmlessly wide of the left post.
Even at this stage, anything other than a Dons victory seemed an unlikely result. Wimbledon were winning most of the battles in midfield, and while Main and Kedwell didn’t seem entirely as sharp as we would expect, the downright shambles that was the Eastbourne defence more than made up for it.
Ten minutes in, and under no pressure, an Eastbourne defender lazily hit a ball across his own box towards a teammate wide right, only for Jon Main to stick a leg out and intercept. Main had the chance of a run on goal, but to be fair to the covering player he did well to prevent Main swinging the ball round him into the right corner. Main then awkwardly knocked it to his right with the outside of his boot for the onrushing Kedwell, perhaps just too far ahead of him, allowing Knowles to narrow the angle.
Still, you would have put your money on Keds to put it away from there, yet he struck it firmly over the keeper, and over the bar. Thinking back, I think it was at this point that I realised Wimbledon needed to score before The Sports sorted themselves out, and perhaps the players did too, such was the nature of how they snatched at chances during the remainder of the half.
Eastbourne created a half decent chance of their own, when Jamie Pullen punched a deep cross clear before taking a big tumble over a couple of players, leaving the ball to drop to an Eastbourne player. It would be unfair to say the goal was at his mercy, but there was a very clear channel he could have placed the ball into. Fortunately for Wimbledon he panicked and dragged it wide.
Having spent the opening twenty minutes wondering when the Dons goal might come, the prospect of Eastbourne nicking a goal and riding their luck struck me for the first time. I never for one second thought I would be right, the positive side of my mind still outweighed the negative, and Wimbledon kept pushing forward. All they needed was something to bounce in off someones knee/face/backside to take some pressure off, then it would have been a case of how many Wimbledon would win by.
This was not to be The Dons lucky day however, demonstrated by a couple of successive corners around the half hour mark. The first ended with an unidentified Don striking towards goal only for the shot to deflect of a defender, bounce up and continue in the direction of Jon Main, standing directly in front of the keeper. Main only had to get the faintest of touches to confuse the keeper, which he did, the ball then striking a hopeful arm Knowles had left up, before the ball rolled clear for a corner.
The second was worked to Derek Duncan who hit a really great looking ball that somehow didn’t get the required touch from either Don or Eastbourne player that would have diverted it into the net. Another corner a couple of minutes later, this time sweetly struck in by Elliott Godfrey was too high for Kedwell and his marker, and agonisingly missed by Brett Johnson who had made a run around the back and literally thrown himself at the ball.
It was Brett Johnson who epitomised the Dons defensive dominance when he snuffed out a great opportunity for Eastbourne. Matt Crabb carried the ball forward, with a backtracking Johnson the only player to beat. With all the momentum it looked as though the Sports man would have a clear run on goal, until Johnson stuck a foot in and nicked the ball.
Still, no goals came at the other end. Attacking the vast hordes of Wimbledon fans with minutes to go to half time, the ball found its way to Godfrey. Usually such a sweet striker of the ball, Godfrey struck the ground rather than the ball, throwing up a huge amount of sand and diverting it into the path of the onrushing Steven Gregory. Such was the Dons luck that his firm strike failed to test Knowles, hitting the only Eastbourne man blocking his way to goal, who actually looked as though he was trying to get out of the way more than anything.
Half time came, and Dons fans had worried looks on their faces. Rightly so, as it only took four second half minutes for the goal to come – for the hosts. Ex Dons trainee Neil Jenkins found the ball it his feet on the left, with no sign of Luke Garrard (actually, where was Garrard? He could have been at the bar for all I know…), and with Lewis Taylor caught upfield and left with no chance of getting back.
Still the remaining Dons defenders didn’t bust a gut to get across and close him down, perhaps expecting a pass to come. Instead Jenkins sauntered forwards, had a quick look at his options, then struck the ball firmly across the helpless James Pullen and into the top right corner. We had been well and truly suckered, I was stunned to the point I couldn’t even find any choice words to throw at Jenkins, as he stood in front of me celebrating seemingly for my benefit alone (I swear he was looking right into my eyes…).
The Dons response was disappointingly predictable. Too much urgency, trying to hit it long when perhaps persisting with trying to play through Eastbourne may have borne decent chances, rather than half chances and misfortune. In other words, why try and play the percentage game when you already know the odds are stacked firmly against you? This wasn’t helped by Eastbournes reluctance to allow more than four of their own players to cross the half way line at any one time. That’s by no means a criticism of the Sports by the way, they did what they had to do and lest we forget earned the points because of it.
It was seven minutes into the half when we saw our next example of Wimbledon misfortune. A Hussey freekick was punched away by Knowles a la Pullen in the first half. This time Duncan was on hand to intelligently head back over the keeper, although he did recover to get close enough for the referee to give the Dons an unlikely corner as the ball bounced off the corner of bar and post.
Shortly after a brilliantly timed challenge by Paul Lorraine cut short an Eastbourne break, maybe not as vital as Johnson’s in the first half but beautifully timed enough to deserve comment. It was Duncan who came closest to scoring shortly after. He overran the ball while moving from right to left on the edge of the penalty area, only to hit it on the stretch forcing Knowles into a smart stop low to his right.
It is this type of effort that makes you realise we were never going to take anything from this game. At first it seems like a standard effort, if Duncan had kept his feet and got a better strike it may have caused more problems, but the more you think about it, the more you remember seeing goals like it.
On another day a stray defender could have unsighted the keeper, or the keeper could have slipped, or the ball hit a bobble lifting it over the keeper. While you shouldn’t expect luck like this, with the amount of chances Wimbledon created you might think we could have earned a slice of fortune. In fact it seems stranger that we didn’t get that bit of luck…
Wimbledon’s best chance of the game came with twenty-five minutes remaining. A deep Luke Moore cross bounced before falling for Lewis Taylor, steaming in. A stretching Taylor got his head on the ball, but Knowles read the situation, moving to his left to not only keep the header out, but more gallingly to actually catch it.
With just over twenty minutes to go a persistent Jon Main run saw him stab the ball right to Lewis Taylor shortly before being dispossessed. Taylor hit a low hard ball into the box of such quality a goal seemed inevitable, or would have done on any other day, instead following a well worn pattern onrushing Dons players were either too early or too late.
Eastbourne managed their second shot on target on seventy five minutes, a free kick hit by ex-Don Jamie Taylor beating the wall but well smothered by Jamie Pullen down to his right post. Pullen did well in what he had to do, however will find himself marked down due to some incredibly careless distribution, including knocking a forty yard ball some twenty yards ahead of Chris Hussey and out of play.
Eastbourne could have ended the game with ten minutes to go, Crabb flicking a looping header a couple of yards wide of the Dons right post. This only prolonged the agony for the vast travelling support. The last real chance fell to Luke Moore, who took the initiative and ran at Eastbourne through the left channel, hitting a sweetly struck shot that would have caused Knowles some problems if it had flown a couple of yards either side of him, the keeper gratefully clutching the ball into his chest.
This was followed by five further minutes of Eastbourne running down the clock. Again this shouldn’t be taken as a criticism of Eastbourne, although to point the finger where it is due, the Sports Dan Brown deserves his knob of the week award for trying to – whoops! – accidentally lob Pullen from an uncontested drop ball on the half way line. Seriously, this publicity seeking jerk should be shipped off to Bromley where that sort of behaviour is accepted… he doesn’t deserve to play for a club like Eastbourne if that’s how he is going to behave.
On the whole though, Eastbourne put in a professional performance across the ninety, which as a semi-pro club in a largely professional league is perhaps a lesson Wimbledon will do well to learn, and fast…