At last a ‘normal’ Conference home game… Under the lights, in front of a decent crowd who generated a good atmosphere, which was good, as it was my Dads first visit to an AFC Wimbledon game. His, along with my cousins attendance meant I could get a neutral’s perspective of the game (well, my cousin bought a pair of white Dons shorts, so I’m not sure whether they could really have watched the game without bias… plus the chips on offer in the bar beforehand might have swayed them further…).
More on them in my Second Thoughts article later in the week. This is all about the game. Maybe because it was dark when I entered the ground (hasn’t done that for a while), but Kingsmeadow looked stunning under lights. The glow of the pitch, which looked as though it had been painted so luminous was it, with fans all round the pitch in a crowd that would have been pretty impressive last season for a Saturday game.
After drawing our last three games I think most fans harboured realistic expectations of grabbing a win. Yet it was Crawley who created the first half chance after two minutes. Jefferson Louis, who blew hot and cold throughout the game but looked impressive on occasions, picked up the ball on the left. He tried to cut inside and power a shot across Pullen into the top right corner, but got body shape all wrong and struck high and wide.
Two minutes later it was Danny Kedwell’s turn to lay down a marker. Picking up the ball on the right, he powered into the box and from a tight angle tried to blast the ball in at the near post. Crawley keeper Simon Rayner was alive to the threat, quickly getting down and diverting the effort away for a corner. Kedwell seemed to be involved in everything going forward for Wimbledon, moments later striking over from 25 yards.
Next it was Kedwell the creator, winning the ball on the edge of the Crawley box when it seemed certain to be pumped upfield, allowing Steven Gregory to slam wide of the left post. Then he set up Lewis Taylor, the next to fail to find the target from around twenty yards, after ten minutes. It would be another ten minutes or so before another chance came Wimbledon’s way (a Kedwell swivel shot from distance flying over), in that time the game settled down, with the Dons trying to play their crisp passing football – yet largely failing, Kedwell having to do too much work in his own half meaning clearances had no outlet. Crawley on the other hand seemed happy to try and hit the home team on the break.
Just after the half hour Wimbledon finally managed another shot on target. Garrard made a rare forage forward down the right, finding the bye-line and standing up a cross which in itself caused Crawley few problems. At least it should have done. A couple of half-hearted swats at the ball saw it fall to Luke Moore on the edge of the area, he hit his effort firmly but straight at Rayner who held easily.
The next chance, well I can’t really describe it as a chance… perhaps three weeks ago when we seemed to win a penalty every time we entered the opposition area. Hussey burst through on the left and seemed able to catch the ball before it crossed the line. Yet a Crawley defender made half a move towards him, he felt the contact and felt the need to go to ground. This was neither a ‘pulled down like Main at Grays’ penalty, or a ‘hauled back like Kedwell at Grays’ penalty… in fact to be honest – it wasn’t a penalty.
Which made me think about Erik Samuelson’s programme notes concerning ethics. As I saw Hussey’s fall to ground (I wouldn’t call it a dive – there is a difference, yet neither could it be described as a slip… perhaps the best definition was he was ‘baulked’), it could have been given as a penalty, we have seen them given, and yet… Don’t get me wrong, I’m not accusing Hussey of cheating, it’s just that he is one of a few of our players who are strong in the challenge anywhere else on the pitch, and yet wilt under any threat of physical contact in the box.
Drawing a foul is a genuine art, in other words using skill and pace to cause a defender to foul, yet we seem to have a few who are stretching this definition to the limit. We have been awarded more than our fair share so far this season, and any referee allocated to us will be more than aware of this. We are pushing our luck at the moment – we have already seen a yellow card dished out to Mr Luckless aka Elliott Godfrey when he was genuinely hacked down at Tamworth. Does this fall into the win-at-all-costs bracket we are seeking to avoid?
If you were looking for an idea of how a manager with a less than perfect definition of what is ethical would behave, you only had to keep one eye on Steve Evans in the visitors dugout. Constantly prowling around his technical area, the fiery Scottish fraudster looked capable of murder any moment. The linesman on his side seemed happy to take his word for a quiet life, and his assault of the poor fourth officials eardrums probably merited a trip to the stands, yet didn’t draw the expected words of disapproval from the referee after his attention had been drawn to it.
Evans was a happy man moments after Hussey’s tumble though, as Jefferson Louis crumbled under a Paul Lorraine challenge that looked nothing but fair. Louis picked himself up to line up the free-kick himself, twenty yards out and central. The Dons wall looked solid and difficult to beat, Louis struck a firm low effort straight at them, and the inevitable happened. The ball hit a Dons boot and rather than bounce clear it screwed into the back of the net, poor Jamie Pullen left with his weight on the wrong foot and rooted.
I have admired the Dons response to adversity so far this campaign, and while eventually Wimbledon came good, certain players showed an over-eagerness in the five minutes after the goal. Kennedy Adjei, who put another superb shift in, chose this five minute period to concentrate on giving the ball away. At least Adjei had a decent game on the whole, there were one or two midfielders (Gregory and Hatton) who didn’t seem to be at the races by their own high standards.
While the Dons didn’t look like scoring at the end of the first half, they wasted no time getting in to the Crawley box at the beginning of the second. Lewis Taylor burst into the area before being dragged back, then Steven Gregory was clearly pushed. Neither was given of course, we probably won’t get another penalty again… Have we seen the beginning of an anti-Dons conspiracy by Conference referees?!
This all happened within the first five minutes of the half, as did a Kennedy Adjei shot from distance that flew wide and high from 30 yards. The reason I keep mentioning these efforts, most of which didn’t threaten the Crawley goal, was to highlight the lack of composure our midfielders showed when in shooting positions. In most cases they seemed to have time yet still snapped a shot off way too quickly. I can’t be sure we will see a repeat of some of the goals we scored from distance last season. Or even another Luke Moore special…
Moore did manage to hit the target with a scorching right foot shot from the left edge of the area that curled towards the top right corner, unfortunately Rayner saw it all the way and pushed it round the post. Then Chris Hussey found Sam Hatton in space on the right, who tried an effort with his left foot that fizzed across the face of goal and just wide of the left post.
Ex-Dons trialist Callum Willock had started for Crawley supporting Louis up front, and had shown little of the form that had earned him a contract offer. In fact it looked as though things had turned out well for Wimbledon, as Willock spent most of the game falling over before being hauled off later in the half. Yet he did have one chance, a strike from the edge of the box that flew at Pullen but wobbled about in the air until the Dons keeper grabbed it.
Shortly after that Crawley wasted another chance as Thomas Pinault led a three on three break, only to tamely shoot wide when he had much better options available to him. The Dons then crafted a fantastic opportunity for an equalizer when Kedwell carried the ball forwards through the centre, and as Crawley men backed off slid an intelligent ball to Hatton on the right. The Dons midfielder got his head down and struck past the keeper, only to see the ball bounce off the bar and over.
Hatton had a poor game, but Brown managed to get at least twenty minutes of a performance out of him after a double substitution led to a reshuffle. The ineffective Garrard and tiring Taylor were withdrawn, replaced with Derek Duncan and Ross Montague. Hatton switched to right back, with Hussey moving to the right side of midfield and Moore dropping back to behind the front two of Montague and Kedwell. Derek Duncan moved to the space on the left vacated by Hussey.
The move paid off straight away. Chris Hussey’s move to the right allowed him to cut inside and deliver a deep cross to the far post. Kedwell shrugged off his man to get a head on the ball, which bounced up and over Rayner before dropping into the far corner of the net. Finally Wimbledon had some reward.
The Dons got their heads down in search of a winner. Derek Duncan charged into space on the left and floated a ball over that Kedwell relished attacking at the far stick. He managed to divert his effort over Rayner, but with no-one on hand to turn it in a Crawley defender had the easy job of heading it off the line. Montgomery was causing all sorts of problems and looks the ideal partner for Kedwell, managing to set up Adjei to once again strike off target.
That for all their effort was the last chance Wimbledon created, in act it was Crawley who almost nicked it late on following a huge long throw, flicked on at the near post that was somehow not turned in by an unidentified Crawley man at the far post.
This would have been harsh on the Dons, who perhaps should have won on weight of pressure alone, but have hopefully learned their lesson as far as taking their chances go. Kedwell produced once more, but until a midfielder notches I would imagine they will find themselves getting a bit of finishing practice in training this week…