It doesn’t matter who we play, FA Cup ties are nervous affairs for me. The legs go a bit wobbly, I get twitchy and in need of a constant nicotine fix… and I don’t really smoke that much these days. I’ve long since realised smoking isn’t as cool as it appears in the movies (especially when you spot a girl across a crowded dance floor, then get smoke in your eyes, recovering vision in your streaming eyes just in time to see said girl and usually most of her friends pointing and laughing at you…). Cigarettes are hard things to quit, yet in all other aspects of my life I have cut them out… except football.
To be fair, circumstance helped calm me down. A couple of pints in the pub beforehand where I had the pleasure of meeting a number of Dons fans that in fairness I should have done ages ago. I won’t name them for fear this report becomes as cliquey as an article in WUP(!), but they certainly helped me relax… at least momentarily.
I got to the ground by trudging through and underpass rendered a death trap thanks to slippery pavement and wet leaves… and maybe a poor choice of footwear on my part… Crawley, or at least the part around Broadfield Stadium, looks as soulless as you would expect from a new town. The stadium itself is the shit shaped cherry on the sewage cake. Built on the cheap, all breezeblocks and concrete… It reminds me of the purely functional Eastern Bloc stadiums of the 80’s.
The turnstiles themselves looked like a hand me down from the Premier League, like Farnborough’s Chelsea rejects. Yet upon passing through them, I handed over my fourteen quid, and in return I got… nothing. No ticket, no receipt, absolutely no record of entering the stadium. Even Combined Counties League sides managed to rustle up a roll of stubs to hand out. The true nature of Crawleys, erm, lack of professionalism would become apparent later in the afternoon.
Unfortunately the side that Crawley managed to put on the pitch didn’t match their chaotic administration. While the Dons had difficulty finding their feet in the first half, the hosts took advantage by taking control of the game. Just four minutes in big Jefferson Louis managed to meet a deep corner only to guide it straight into Pullen’s arms. A couple of minutes later a good Crawley move saw the ball switched quickly from right to left only for Danny Forrest, who was a real thorn in the Don’s side all afternoon, to hit his effort wide of the near post.
Forrest made no mistake with his next effort. Wimbledon had several efforts to clear without success, the ball finding its way to the Crawley number seven on the right corner of the six yard box. His fierce effort took a nick off of Alan Inns, flashing past Jamie Pullen into the net via the underside of the bar.
Surely this was the wakeup call the Dons needed? Ahhhmmm, no. They continued playing in a manner that involved a few misplaced passes before eventually someone gave the ball away. Either that or Alan Inns thumped it forward and Crawley regained possession slightly quicker than they normally would have done. Having said that, Crawley weren’t exactly turning the screw either. After a bright start they just seemed happy to contain the visitors, which they managed to do easily.
It seemed like the Dons players hadn’t realised this was an FA Cup game. The midfield was absent for long periods, the hapless Ricky Wellard watching the game bypass him, perhaps not looking as poor as he would normally due to slack performances all round. Sam Hatton was exceptional, putting in probably his best performance of the season albeit at fullback. His involvement in two second half incidents changed the game in Wimbledon’s favour.
Firstly, a rare Crawley counter attack found Louis bearing down on goal down the left flank. Brett Johnson seemed to have the situation covered until an unfortunate slip saw the goal open up for the frontman. His attempted shot was blocked for a corner by Hattons appearance from nowhere, a wonderful challenge that probably went a long way to keeping his side in the competition.
Then just before half time, a Wellard corner was easily cleared only as far as Hatton lurking on the left edge of the area. Easily beating the first man he put his foot through the ball, firing low into the back of the net. Now this was Wimbledon’s first shot on target, it probably would have drawn cheers from the large travelling support if it had cleared the roof of the terrace behind. Regaining parity at that key point gave renewed hope leading into the half time period.
The ten minute break at half time gave me time to experience the stadium’s smoking area (i.e. outside the stadium), and the matchday programme. As if Crawley haven’t been put through the ringer enough by me already. Oh, Red Devils, I haven’t even started yet! This programme… it had a really thin cover page that screws up and rips easily in your pocket. Plus the content… the usual shit. I actually think the same about most programmes but don’t care to mention it because most clubs don’t have big signs up saying MATCH PROGRAMME £2.50 which someone has attached a piece of paper to obscuring the £2.50 and scribbled £3 on…
The second half kicked off with our boys attacking the away end, and it was a different Wimbledon who took the game by the scruff of the neck. It took a while, and the hosts again created the first clear-cut opportunity, and unidentified Crawley man being denied brilliantly by Pullen at his near post. Ten minutes into the half, and Terry Brown had seen enough, removing the weak link in Wellard and replacing him with Kennedy Adjei.
The effect was immediate. Instead of Wellard lazily drifting across the field like a feather caught in the breeze, Adjei stamped his authority on the game by putting in challenges, winning the ball, passing with some level of accuracy and intelligence. Normal things that midfielders are expected to do. We can no longer afford to carry individuals, that must be the lesson we take into the rest of the season. How can we expect to have good runs in the Cup competitions if we effectively play with ten men for the majority of games?
With Taylor and Moore receiving the ball on either flank with increasing regularity, the fullbacks joining the attacks and Kedwell not required to drop back and help the midfield as much, Wimbledon started to look like the team that would go on to take the tie. A storming Kedwell run on the hour saw him carry the ball down the right flank before his low cross somehow evaded everyone at the near post, with no one on hand to tap into an empty net at the far.
Jon Main seems to have regained his form, and more importantly the confidence that he can play at a higher level. A high ball over the top was well watched by last seasons top scorer, protecting it from his marker as it bounced in the area. Keeping the ball at arms length from his man, he hit a shot from a tight angle that took Crawley keeper Rayner by surprise and unluckily bounced away off the near post.
Rayner had gone missing when Hattons strike hit the back of the net, a fact that Dons fans had noticed. Quite why a fellow Dons fan felt the need to remind him by throwing a paper cup at him I don’t know. I mean, a paper cup??? Quite what thats going to do I don’t know; apart from making you, and by extension all Dons fans, look like knobheads. Besides the fact it was only a paper cup, theres just no class in doing it. We are Wimbledon fans, we are a cut above the likes of Crawley. We were a bit fortunate that someone in the Crawley end threw something at Pullen towards the end, but there is no credit to be gained from sinking to their level.
The problem I had with Rayner was his beard. One of his team mates really needs to pull him to one side about it. Fair play, a few of us (myself included) like to grow a bit of face fur over the winter period, it keeps you warm on cold evenings and winter mornings. Rayner should perhaps be going down the ‘Viking’ road like me rather than the ‘History teacher’ look he is currently sporting… it just looks, well, it looks a bit rubbish.
In fact, shouldn’t we be encouraging our own players, especially Pullen, to grow beards (even just for the duration of our cup run?). Lets not forget, we once went on a decent cup run as a non-League club that made us famous up and down the land, and the bearded gentleman between the sticks made a bit of a name for himself… Plus Pullen would scare the life out of a few lightweight Football League centre forwards, who wouldn’t have come across an albino Yeti many times in their career.
The Dons next attack was down the left, and this time Luke Moore’s direct run caused problems. He made it to the bye-line before his attempted pull back bounced off a Crawley defender, narrowly sneaking past the near post. Another Dons break saw Lewis Taylor break down the right. Taylor really is a sight to behold, watching him fly down the flank, bamboozling defenders as he goes. An intelligent ball into Kedwell saw the big hitman just unable to get the ball from beneath his feet, a challenge from a Crawley man only seeing the ball as far as Main, whose effort at goal deflected straight back into Rayner’s hands.
Wimbledon’s big chance sadly relied on the referee to do the right thing and point to the spot, as Main burst into the Crawley area on the right, rounded his man only to be hauled down by his opponent. Now there was no doubt about what happened, it only relied on the referee blowing his whistle and pointing to the penalty spot. The guy had two hands around Main, denying him the chance to move towards goal or get a shot away. The referee saw it as clearly as we did… yet for some reason, he bottled it.
I have mentioned in the past how we need referees to do their job. We have skillful players who many defenders just cannot cope with. We have been awarded numerous penalties this season because of it, in fact we have been given seven. Yet on numerous occasions, referees have just bottled it. This has cost us points in the past, and could have cost us our place in the First Round.
I think referees are showing a great deal of paranoia following the high-profile beachball incident at the Stadium of Light last week. Yesterday our friendly man in black ran twenty yards, holding up the game in the process, in order to burst an inoffensive tiny yellow balloon that found its way into the Crawley penalty area. If only he had been more thorough at his job moments earlier, perhaps I wouldn’t have wasted two paragraphs moaning about his performance.
The Dons wouldn’t go on to get a further clear-cut chance in the game, although Kedwell again burst down the right, this time firing into the side netting. This infuriated Luke Moore in the centre, but to be fair he hadn’t managed to take up a decent position, so Keds was within his rights to go it alone.
Crawley went on to raise our nerves by forcing a few corners towards the end that were dealt with comfortably by Wimbledon. One scramble saw Pullen bundled over by a Crawley man, who found his way into the book (this was the incident that saw the object find its way from the Crawley end in Pullens general direction… again I think it was a bog roll or something, but why do it?).
Crawley also managed to raise our tempers at the final whistle. First they announced the crowd as a mere 2204, a figure that drew an incredulous response from both sets of fans. Now the relevance of not issuing tickets becomes clear. I’m not suggesting we go all St. Albans City and our directors moan about it in public- thats my job. I suggest we ask the FA to audit this figure. Whether it was an oversight by Crawley or not, I can’t be certain, but it has been widely agreed that the actual attendance was closer to 3000. This means that, purposely or not, Crawley Town have stolen several thousand pounds from our own club.
Only a cynic would suggest that an error in calculating the figures would more than make up for our appeal to the FA to reduce the admission price resulting in them losing a pound on every person entering the ground. And you have to wonder whether in that case, Crawley Town received all the money from their own turnstile operators. I heard talk that children were being charged £4, despite the ‘Kids for £1’ offer being heavily signposted… did this extra cash somehow disappear into turnstile operators pockets??? Purely by accident of course…
The final insult came on the final whistle, when the tannoy announcer reminded us all that the replay will be at ‘Kingstonian FCs ground’ on Tuesday night… Now thats just downright petty, in fact its bloody stupid. I dont think the PA guy at Crawley is thick, I think hes just an idiot, and such a provocative comment is actually a pretty dangerous comment from someone who is only supposed to be there for safety announcements…
Yes of course Kingsmeadow is home to Kingstonian FC, and it always will be. K’s have been my local side and second team for as long as I can remember. But the stadium is now owned and operated by AFC Wimbledon, and naturally I take great pride that the side I support have taken another local team in my home borough under their wing, hopefully leaving Kingstonian FC with a vastly improved stadium that they can use to build their own ambitions.
Of course. Crawley PA guy probably never thought that there was a pre-existing relationship between the two clubs. He’s probably one of those knobs who turns up on the K’s forum trying to stir up shit between the clubs. It ain’t going to work mate… I suppose we can only be thankful he didn’t mention Them…
So its back to the Meadow on Tuesday night, and very shortly we will know who the prize for the victor will be. Can I first appeal that should it be a tempting one, we don’t get over excited. As yesterday showed us, we still have a huge challenge awaiting us before we even think about that…