A much changed Dons line-up went through to the Third Round of the FA Trophy after a disjointed performance that was just about good enough to see off a battling Altrincham side. Lining up in a formation that owed more to ensuring as experienced a side as possible took the field, and with a non-existant bench, it could be argued this Wimbledon side just don’t know how to lose at the moment, despite making things hard for themselves at times played in front of a disappointing crowd of just 1450.
In fact it was Altrincham who had the first real effort of the game after two minutes, an outswinging corner firmly headed towards the left side of Sebb Brown’s goal, fortunately Jay Conroy had taken up a position on the post and was able to nod clear. Conroy found himself caught out of position frequently later in the game, but the tie would have followed a different course had he allowed this effort to creep past him. It was also pretty much the only effort Alty managed on goal before the break.
Not that Wimbledon dominated, at least not to start with. It took a while for the game to settle into any kind of pattern, as players fought to cut a niche for themselves while occupying slightly unfamiliar positions. For Danny Kedwell this seemed more of a problem than most, trying to play the Moore/Hendry role he constantly found himself sucked back deeper into midfield to win the ball, to the extent it almost seemed as if he was trying to play the holding role rather than the point of a diamond. Whatever his tactical instructions may have been, it left him far less effective than normal.
His battling qualities were still there, and he drew the foul that led to the Dons first chance just after the ten minute mark. Just right of centre, it seemed ideally positioned for Ricky Wellard’s left foot, but instead Hatton tried to whip it over right footed, the ball clearing the bar with ease. Next up Kedwell almost got on the end of a Main pullback after he had been set free down the left by a Hatton flick, sadly he was just beaten to the ball by a defender and the chance was gone.
Still the Dons now had Alty on the back foot. Despite not yet creating anything, and giving the ball away with worrying ease, the home side were getting the ball back thanks to some increasingly panicky clearances that allowed the Dons to build from the back once more. All of a sudden Wimbledon started to test Altrincham keeper Saunders. First, a Johnson cross found Kedwell whose looping header caused Saunders to stretch in order to collect. Then a Sam Hatton volley from the right edge of the penalty area caused the visitors custodian to drop smartly to his right to gather.
Finally, with five minutes of the half remaining Wimbledon found the breakthrough. Kennedy Adjei was given time to compose himself on the half way line before launching a rampaging surge into the visitors half, leaving two opponents for dead in the process. The ball found its way to Ricky Wellard loitering on the right edge of the area, a drop of the shoulder saw him past the opponent that blocked his path as he cut back inside, and rifled a left foot effort into the bottom right corner of the goal.
There then followed a bizarre piece of refereeing that infuriated the Dons fans and left both sides feeling a little hard done by. A through ball found Altrincham’s Chris Senior through on goal, and despite being a clear two yards offside the linesman’s flag stayed down. This threw Sebb Brown’s concentration, and he spied the danger too late before rushing out to clear. Senior’s balance had gone by the time the two came together, and after prodding the ball past the keeper the Alty man decided to take the easy option and tumble over the goalkeepers leg. Finally a whistle came, too late for Dons fans liking, awarding the free kick in Altrincham’s direction. A yellow card for Brown, but no more on account that Senior’s trajectory was sending him closer to the corner flag than the Dons goal, and at least two covering players were protecting the goal.
Not that the Altrincham bench were happy with the free kick, and kicked off into one of the biggest strops seen at Kingsmeadow this season, which included an always enjoyable spot of crowd interaction. Perhaps Alty manager Graham Heathcote should have read Terry Brown’s Mansfield programme notes, as there was little Respect shown by him towards the match officials. Ultimately you could say the men in black came up with the correct result, the referee seemed to notice something was up and took leniency on young Brown when I suppose a red card was a possibility – we have seen those given in the past. But ultimately the only losers in the incident were the Dons… if the referee had managed to make the correct decision to start with, I wouldn’t be writing this now!
[Edit – I’ve actually seen the video now and in particular the image reproduced here, and I’m ready to accept that it might have been a closer offside call than I suggested – which of course doesn’t excuse Senior’s extravagant tumble, which you don’t quite get the full benefit of on the video. For the avoidance of any doubt though, you can see the direction he was heading (Berrylands) and the number of covering players (plenty)]
Presumably Heathcote used this mock sense of injustice to his advantage during the half time break, not that it did him much good as his side found themselves two goals down less than five minutes into the second period. Adjei controlled a fierce low clearance, and slid the ball into Ross Montague, who had his back to goal on the edge of the area. Montague quickly laid off to Jon Main, who took a touch before drilling the ball into the bottom right hand corner.
For the next few minutes it looked as though the Dons would put the game well beyond their visitors. Main forced a corner on the right, and Wellard’s delivery was flicked on at the near post by Brett Johnson, only to be deflected behind. Wimbledon then threatened though a number of succesive corners, ended when Jon Main found himself brushed off the ball in the area, with the referee and his assistants being in no place to make a decision.
It was a that point that Heathcote decided to make changes, bringing on the more offensively minded Clee and Little. The switch had an immediate effect, with Altrincham now able to hold the ball in the Dons half more effectively and build attacks. Minutes later they forced the first real moment of danger in the Dons box, with Shaun Densmore’s precise volleyed cross from the right finding Senior in space, only for the Alty man to rush his headed finish when he could have taken the ball down. It was only a short respite for Wimbledon, as the visitors pulled themselves right back into the game.
As another Alty forage forward looked to have been repelled, a half-clearance found Anthony Danylyk in space twenty-five yards out, and he took his chance really well, returning the ball into the bottom left corner of Sebb Brown’s goal at such pace it gave the young keeper no chance.
Adjei immediately picked up a head injury that required a BIG bandage, however it was just coincidence that following this the Dons overworked midfield seemed to break down temporarily. Unable to pass the half way line, their balls forward were either over hit and poorly placed, or didn’t make it past the first man. Fortunately the back line was battling bravely against a barrage of crosses during a spell when it seemed a matter of when Altrincham would equalise rather than if.
But the storm had been weathered, and the Dons finally found their feet again in midfield. This culminated in a gradual spell of pressure that saw the hosts extend their lead and put the game beyond doubt. Following a bit of head tennis in the area a Ricky Wellard shotwas deflected into the air, looping perfectly for Jon Main to bury his header… Instead he just about did enough despite putting the ball too close to a defender for anyones liking. It seemed to have crossed the line before said unidentified Alty player fisted it away from goal, but Ben Judge was on hand to blast into the roof of the net and end the arguments.
Except the arguments between Main and Judge of course! To be honest it all happened to quickly to tell whether the linesman was flagging for Judge or for Main’s original effort, the two of them still trying to work it out long after the final whistle [Late edit – you can’t tell from the video either!]. To be fair Main gets more than his fair share, and Judge is a warhorse, reliable and loyal with it… Judge deserves the goal. If Jon Main has a problem with that, my only advice to him would be to make sure the ball hits the net in future – then no-one can take it away from you!
Five minutes later Altrincham had the ball in the net once more, this time ruled out due to a rather obvious handball by Colin Little, still it ensured a few Dons hearts leapt into mouths at a key moment. Despite the shaky performances from both sides, or rather because of the shaky performances, the game was reasonably exciting throughout. Although the Dons created more chances, including a self-made chance from a surprisingly lively Ross Montague that ended with a twenty yard shot that was slightly scuffed and comfortably saved by Saunders, it would have been slightly rough on Altrincham who deserve credit for their gutsy performance.
And those stay-away supporters ultimately missed out. Wimbledon now face the other unfortunate team that lost out to the 1977 Dons 4 Div 4 campaign – Workington of the Blue Square North. Without wanting to tempt fate, the Third Round draw has presented a series of fixtures that mean a winnable quarter-final would be just as likely as a difficult one – should we get that far… And to paraphrase Sam Allardyce (sort of…), those that weren’t there last night will be the first ones to complain when they can’t get tickets for the later rounds…