Grays Athletic 2 AFC Wimbledon 4 – A Match Report

We all have our reasons for hating the bloke who compiles the fixtures. As a club, we could have been given the August Bank Holiday Monday fixture anywhere. The Cathedral city of Salisbury, for example. Down the seaside at Eastbourne. Even the University towns of Oxford or Cambridge.

But no. On one of the only days in the year when you can guarantee good weather (along with Cup Final day), we ended up in Grays. In Essex. Ugh…

What a scorcher it was too. I made the mistake of wearing my five year old Dons tracksuit top, the reason being it has enough pockets to hold my camera, notebook, phone, and the like. I originally bought it because it looked like the kind of top that might be cool in the summer yet keep me warm in the winter. In reality it does neither. Thanks Tempest.

Sunny Grays...

Sunny Grays...

After wandering around the away section of The Rec, I noticed the stewards had opened up more seating. So I went and got myself a seat. Not only did I have a great view, but it was cool, much better than standing on what must have been hellish conditions on the terraces!

What a game it turned out to be. Right from the kick off both teams went for each other. Wimbledon created the first chance, the ball bouncing nicely for Wellard to deftly side-foot a volley towards Kedwell on the right side of the area, who beat two men in the air and nodded towards Jon Main, all alone in the centre. Mains diving header was too close to Grays keeper Preston Edwards who did well to push it round the post.

A couple of minutes later Grays created a really good chance of their own. George Beavan powered a header towards goal from a corner than Jamie Pullen somehow kept out. Straight up the other end, and Ricky Wellard was enjoying getting involved in a game from the start, striking a fierce effort that would have caused Edwards problems had it been a yard either side of him.

After some uncertain Wimbledon defending, the lively Daniel Charge found himself tight on the Dons touchline to the left of goal, cutting inside and blasting from an acute angle that Pullen once again did brilliantly to keep out of the net. The game was only nine minutes old, yet with better finishing it could have been 2-2.

Dons fans file in before the game

Dons fans file in before the game

It only took a minute for the deadlock to be broken. A Chris Hussey free kick from the right was curled in towards the near post, where Brett Johnson made no mistake from a header that beat Edwards for pace. Johnson this became the first Dons player to score who didn’t happen to be Main, Kedwell or Moore (i.e., a recognised striker…).

It was all about Husseys delivery, and he appears to be full of confidence right now. I’m not sure what he needs to do to work his way into Paul Fairclough’s England squad after missing out for the forthcoming Hungary game, although if he keeps up his current form I’m sure he will get the call sooner rather than later. It was Hussey who had the Dons next chance on 17 minutes, firing a low effort across goal and wide, just ahead of a number of forwards looking to divert it into the net.

A much better Dons chance came along a minute later. Luke Moore slipped in Jon Main who rounded Edwards, over running the ball to the left touchline. Managing to keep the ball in play he squared it across the face of goal to the only Dons player currently suffering worse luck than him, Elliott Godfrey, who somehow managed to squirm the ball wide of the far post.

Wimbledon stepped up the pressure, with another effort seconds later. A Hussey free kick bobbled around the area, and with Edwards looking lost, Main tried to head the ball over him. Unfortunately he beat not only the keeper but the bar as well. But Main wouldn’t have to wait long for a much better chance to fall his way.

The lads line up

The lads line up

Main once again rounded Edwards following an impressive through ball from Wellard, yet this time the goalkeeper pulled him down. Edwards received a yellow card for his trouble, and Jon Main received the ball on the spot twelve yards out for his. If Jon Main is having trouble putting the ball away in open play, he still looks extremely confident given the ball from the spot. His firmly struck effort to the right sent Edwards the wrong way, giving Wimbledon a two goal cushion.

Despite the game being only twenty minutes old, it was hard to imagine Grays finding a way back into the game. Surely the Dons defence would tighten up, allowing our attacking options to pick Grays off. Another Hussey free kick kept the pressure on, this time central and curled around the wall, sadly not having enough to take it inside the left hand post.

Yet apart from looking woeful defensively, I always felt they had a lot going for them when attacking. They really unsettled the Dons back line, and I can’t work out why. It could have been down to Adjei replacing Gregory in the holding midfield position – while Kennedy had a good game individually he did find himself getting caught out of position now and then, perhaps inviting pressure onto the back four.

Paul Lorraine is beaten in the air

Paul Lorraine is beaten in the air

It lead to Grays best chance of the game on 26 minutes, as Dons players backed away, Kenny Davis strode on, belting a 20 yard effort that beat Pullen. Fortunately for the Dons it slammed against the inside of the post, as the Grays fans celebrated it bounced along the line and away. The Grays supporters wouldn’t have to wait long to celebrate…

When Glenn Poole picked up the ball wide left, cut inside and drilled a low shot wide of Pullens near post, it looked as if the danger had passed. Unfortunately the referee noticed the ball had clipped a non existent Dons heel and awarded a corner. When this was not properly cleared the ball found its way back in to the box, where Sam Gaughran was on hand to firmly head past Pullen.

Two-one now, and time for Wimbledon to worry. Just moments later Poole was given too much time to shoot wide of the near post on the right side of the box. Plus all of a sudden Wimbledon were making all the wrong choices offensively, summed up by a lame Kenny Adjei effort that dribbled wide of the near post when he should have picked out a team mate in a better position. And giving away possession meant Grays could come again…

Wimbledon didn’t just see out the half, they created a couple of chances of their own, Kedwell knock down for Wellard to release a thunderous half volley that Edwards did well to take without causing himself an injury, and an Elliott Godfrey volley that was lifted over.

Derek Duncan looks to intercept

Derek Duncan looks to intercept

Terry Brown was obviously eager to get his side in at the break and give them a talking to, however if he thought it would tighten up the leaky defence he wouldn’t be proved right immediately. When a Grays cross wasn’t properly cleared, the ball was played in again for Danny Charge to lash into the roof of the net. Poor defending again by Wimbledon, unusually so for this season as Grays became the first team to score more than one in a game against the Dons.

Although Grays would remain a threat to Wimbledon’s goal, they didn’t create another chance as good as their earlier efforts, and slowly but surely the Dons took control. A Moore ball to Kedwell gave the big forward too much to do, only able to head over. Then Hussey wasted a free kick in a good position before Jon Main found himself in the clear only to arrow an effort from twenty yards just over and wide.

On any normal day those chances would be worthy of describing in greater detail, but the sheer volume of chances Wimbledon were creating made it difficult to even make a note of them all. On fifty-seven minutes Godfrey found Ricky Wellard on the left side of the Grays area, the midfielder turned his man and struck a shot that would probably gone wide, only for Kedwell to get a toe-end to it that just diverted it over the bar.

Danny Kedwell points the way

Danny Kedwell points the way

Wimbledon just didn’t stop, Hussey found room on the left, cut inside and drilled a shot that Edwards did well to get down to low to his right. Then finally on the hour came the moment that not only gave the Dons the lead, but probably won the game once and for all.

A huge ball over the top was misjudged by Grays defender Cameron Mawer, allowing Danny Kedwell to get goalside of him and gain control of the ball. Entering the area, and with Kedwell about to pull the trigger, Mawer seemed uncertain exactly what to do next. With no way of winning the ball cleanly, he panicked and settled on taking a chunk of Kedwell’s shirt. Kedwell could only stretch and prod the ball into Edwards arms, the referee didn’t look that interested until the linesman flagged, and after a little chat sent Mawer from the field.

Nothing controversial there, although anyone missing the incident itself may have wondered as several Grays players chose to question the decision. None of this was putting off Jon Main, who replicated his first half penalty to give the Dons the advantage. So despite not finding the net from open play all season, Main now found himself on a hat trick and with three goals to his name. Looking at the numbers, Mains one-in-two strike rate is good enough, but how desperately he wanted to score during his remaining time on the field…

Shortly after Wellard and Godfrey were replaced by Gregory and Hatton. With Adjei moving up the pitch the midfield looked a lot more solid once more. Stephen Gregory is the sort of player you can tell is quality when he is on the pitch, yet for some reason you only realise how much he contributes when he isn’t there. While I think that Kennedy Adjei is a hugely talented player, its fair to say we missed Gregorys positional sense, the way he picks up loose balls in our own half. I don’t think Adjei or Dwayne Lee quite managed that last season and we found ourselves under a lot of unnecessary pressure because of this.

A huge Pullen clearance reaches his opposite number

A huge Pullen clearance reaches his opposite number

Wimbledon continued their siege of the Grays goal on sixty-four minutes. Jon Main’s hat trick quest proved fruitless once more as he tried to turn and shoot. His effort was absolutely hopeless and looked as though it would pose more danger to the residents of the flats next to the pitch, until a Grays defender needlessly stuck out a leg, diverting it over the bar for a corner.

On the subject of those residents, I always wonder whether they send someone round to see if they want a programme? I always pondered that about Leyton Orient when they built flats in the corner of their ground. Plus I noticed only three of the balconies were in use, do those residents who don’t watch go round saying ‘Grays Athletic do play outside my back window, and I do close the curtains…’ Plus did we have a Searchlight intrusion of our own at Oxford? I heard a few chants from the Tempest about ‘Pikeys on the roof…’? I couldn’t see, I was in the John Smiths…

Anyway, back to the corner. It was played short to Hatton who hit a great cross towards the back stick, headed wide by Kedwell (or it could have been Johnson…). A minute later Mainy got a bit overexcited once more, firing in a shot shortly after being called for offside. He might have got away without a yellow card if the ball hadn’t ended up in the car park…

I always wonder what goes through referees minds when they have already given a couple of clear cut penalties to a side, how do they cope with further appeals? I think this guy made up his mind he wasn’t going to give Wimbledon another no matter what happened… and what happened was Luke Moore broke into the box, and a Grays player swept his legs from under him. The referee realised his linesman wasn’t going to help him out this time so waved away Wimbledon appeals.

Elliott Godfrey looks to break down the defence

Elliott Godfrey looks to break down the defence

He didn’t book Moore, but the Dons striker clearly took this as some kind of insult, as if the referee had made a statement about his honesty, as he was still discussing the intricacies with the official a good two minutes later. By the way, for the bloke sitting behind me in the stands benefit, it is ok for players to talk to the referee! He wasn’t swearing at him, he was talking in a reasonable manner to the official, who had absolutely no problem answering him. Lets calm down shall we?

That was perhaps the only down point to sitting in the stand (as well as loss of atmosphere… but I’m used to that… I have a John Smiths season ticket…). A couple of Dons fans reacted to any loss of possession, indeed any pass that went anywhere except forward, in the same manner I would if I walked into my living room one morning and found a bear, a shark and a crocodile waiting for me. Wimbledon were pretty comfortable at this stage, and I know anything can happen in a game of football, but I didn’t really need a high pitched commentary consisting of advice such as ‘Get rid of it!’, Pass it forwards!’, and the all time classic ‘I wish they wouldn’t doooo that!’.

Seriously, it was like sitting in front of a group of people who had never seen a game of football before but were warned they would be kneecapped after the match if Wimbledon didn’t win… Its almost enough to put me off ever sitting to watch a game again! Strank Standers, are you all like this? I don’t know how some of them get through a game, never mind a season without heart failure, or having to call the nurse to give them their bedtime medicine and tuck them up in their special jacket…

Sam Hatton in action

Sam Hatton in action

Hmmm. Jon Main found himself dragged off once more, replaced by Derek Duncan, yet this seventy-first minute substitution was bookended by a couple of Sam Hatton chances. Firstly, he drilled a strike from twenty yards into the keepers arms (have our midfielders been practicing shooting by aiming at a cone placed in the middle of a goal I wonder?), before finding himself scuffing across goal with his left foot when through on goal wide right.

Wimbledon’s most fluent move of the game came with fifteen minutes to play. Hussey and Duncan combined down the left to find Luke Moore in space in the middle, who played a quick give-and-go with Sam Hatton. Unfortunately his shot was deflected wide, but the Dons were bringing some of their best football to the table. Another chance went by the wayside, as Hussey decided to ignore Kedwell in the middle after another run down the left, poking across goal and just wide with the outside of his left foot.

That’s not to say Grays had given up on an equaliser. Despite being down to ten men, one of the reasons Wimbledon had so much to operate in the Grays half of the field is Grays were still going for it at the other end. They hadn’t created anything worthy of note (otherwise I would have noted it…) but the danger was any slip by a Dons defender could be catastrophic, and every Wimbledon chance that went begging seemed to emphasise this a little more.

It was at this stage that Brett Johnson decided to drop a short back-pass to Jamie Pullen. While the worriers behind me shrieked in a frequency thankfully only audible to dogs, and presumably wet their man nappies, Pullen didn’t panic. In fact he didn’t even clear it, he took it round his man and calmly passed it away… although I have to say even my heart jumped just a little when he did that!

After netting the winner, Danny K heads for the toilets...

After netting the winner, Danny K heads for the toilets...

It was almost comical heading into the last five minutes, as Wimbledon missed more really decent chances than some sides get in an entire game. Moore broke down the right, and picked out Kennedy Adjei. Adjei fluffed his big chance by trying to allow the ball to cross his body and side-foot in with his left, only for the last Grays defender to get a challenge in that made Kennedy trip over the ball, lying prostrate as Edwards picked up the pieces.

Finally Kedwell, had a couple of chances from a tight angle right of goal, both teed up by Steven Gregory. The first slid just wide of the left post, whereas finally, finally, the second effort nestled in the bottom corner. No more than Kedwell deserved for his performance, no more than the Dons deserved, but maybe a little earlier next time please Dons?

For those of you keeping count of all the Dons chances, well done. And for those who didn’t, it was twenty-eight chances (eleven on target, seventeen off target, stat fans…), so congratulations for getting this far and reliving those twenty-four missed opportunities. Its definitely no exaggeration to say it could have finished 9-3…

So the Dons move on to a tricky but winnable trip to Tamworth. Its not within the realms of impossibility that we could take seven points from the next three fixtures, and if we do that… we have twenty points from our opening ten games. A target a well known football manager said last season was a good springboard for a promotion push…

(For more photos, see http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=100914&id=73526524635&l=7ffb260ff1)

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