Southport 0 AFC Wimbledon 1

It was at about 8.25 in the morning that I first came to regret not investigating train tickets before they became prohibitively expensive, being as I was on the coach, with the seat in front digging into my shins and knees slowly turning to concrete… find me someone over five foot ten tall who actually enjoys taking the coach and I’ll show you someone who in all probability has a pretty severe bondage fetish… but to be honest, I would have endured a seat of spikes to see the Dons opening fixture (although the game itself would turn out to be pretty excruciating). You see, we just don’t lose on opening day… and we normally win!

It’s the sort of record we can start getting cocky about… the last time we lost on opening day, if my memory serves me right, was against Manchester United back in the days when I was still having difficulty getting served at the bar… And its the subject of alcohol that really piqued my jealousy – everyone, and I mean everyone I spoke to who had travelled up by train seemed considerably (and by considerably I mean a LOT) drunker than I was. As I have mentioned in previous posts, this is likely the last opening day fixture I’ll be attending for some time (no, not just until next year…), I should have celebrated Jolleys winner by stripping to the waist and invading the pitch – that would have been a story for the grandkids to be proud of!

But I suppose someone needs to maintain… someone needs to tell it like it is – and that person is destined to be me! Instead I had a quiet couple of pints in the Southport bar, chatting to some very friendly locals – with the exception of one jobsworth steward whose life’s work seemed to be ensuring that people stood quietly enjoying a drink moved away from the bar entrance, despite being NOWHERE NEAR THE ENTRANCE! You get those at every club though, and it doesn’t disguise that they are a nice club, Southport; one that had their own experience of a moneyed local rival suffering a case of Crawleyitis, and in their case they beat them to the title last season – an example to us Dons as Crawley (well, just Steve Evans actually…) kick off over not being able to sign a player under contract that seemed to have no real interest in going there to start with…

Around six hundred Dons fans packed onto the away terrace, a roofless affair meaning the Dons fans racket, pretty impressive up close, dissipated into the openness merely a few yards walk away. This was a larger turnout that Fulham managed at Bolton, by the way… although I’m sure Bolton charge a bit more than Southport’s £12.50, an impressive boast all the same.

As for the game, it wasn’t a good start to the season for the Dons. The passing was no-where near as crisp as it has been in pre-season, possibly held up by what looked like a pitch that hadn’t been mown for a good couple of weeks. If the first half had been a boxing match, you would have given it to Southport on points (albeit accompanied by fans throwing chairs into the ring and demanding their money back…). On a couple of occasions some ponderous defending led to Southport chances, with only last-ditch challenges keeping the ball out of the Dons goal. Having said that, Wimbledon ended up having the best chance of the half, in bizarre fashion.

As Sam Hatton cut in from the right, he was clipped by his man and went down. Free kick to the Dons, or so we thought… the ref had other ideas and awarded the Dons a penalty. I can only presume the ref had no idea where the incident took place, for which I don’t blame him really, the lines had barely been marked and us Dons fans had great difficulty working out when the ball entered the penalty area closest to us, never mind one at the opposite end of the pitch!

The problem with getting cheap decisions like this, is we never seem to take them. It seems to be the Wimbledon way… rather than giving the ball to Keds to smash past the keeper, thus going in at half time with an ill deserved lead, Jon Main stepped up, almost apologetically side footing to the keepers left and making no effort to disguise what he was about to do. The Southport keeper made it look easy, it really was an absolute let off for the home side, one that could have changed the game considering what was to follow in the second half…

The Dons started the second half with a little more purpose, Sammy Moore in particular could have done better with a chance presented to him. Southport seemed content to simply throw the ball forward and hope for an error, something that presumably served them well in the BSN last season when they were the biggest and strongest, but looking a bit one-dimensional against the Dons more refined football. Having said that, the Dons looked a little creaky at the back, the Johnson/Yakubu partnership still needs working on, as though both players had decent enough games, the performance as a unit didn’t quite add up to the sum of its parts. This wasn’t really helped by Andre Blackman’s continued positional drifting, I know Andre is the sort of player, like Chris Hussey was, who looks to contribute more in an attacking sense than a defensive one but it does leave us rather lacking at the back when he finds himself on the halfway line with his man streaking past him.

Fair lay to Andre though, he put in a fair few thunderous challenges himself, on a day my worry was he would get bullied out. He wasn’t the only one I had my fears for, but the young Dons stood up pretty well to the physical challenge. I’m sure most of us thought it would be like Land of the Giants, with our poor lads bundled off the ball at every available opportunity. It didn’t quite work out that way, if anything the Dons players looked the more aggressive… but before we get carried away, I have to say Southport did look very weak indeed. Even for a part-time side, and this could be something that causes them a fair few problems during the course of the campaign. In fact, it even got to the stage where these supposedly big tough players resorted to throwing themselves to the deck and pleading to the referee… a bit embarrassing for the locals I would presume, watching a team of kids rough up their boys… but something that almost worked for them in no small part due to inconsistent refereeing (which would ruin poor Lee Minshull’s debut, as I will explain later…).

As for inconsistent refereeing, the Dons were denied a stonewall penalty at the start of the half, as a big Southport defender (a quick reminder – I’m not taking notes at away games this season, so identifying opponents isn’t going to be easy!) fell on the ball, making contact with his right arm a couple of times before swatting it away with his left arm. Maybe the referee and linesman thought they would make up for their earlier error by not giving this one, but as the Dons failed to take advantage of their previous good fortune… in fact what am I talking about? Previous decisions should have no bearing on a referees next one, it’s not down to him to ‘level things up’…. more misfortune for the Dons…

Something had to change either way, and it was fortunate that it was Terry Brown who had the game changing card up his sleeve. This time last season we may have taken off a tiring Lewis Taylor and asked Ricky Wellard to play the free roll. Or switch the strikers around. A change for changes sake if you will. This time around, Terry Brown was able to remove Main and Moore – neither of whom had been poor, but then neither had changed the game either – and bring on Ryan Jackson and Christian Jolley. This had an immediate positive effect, changing the philosophy from trying to feed the strikers through the channels, adding a lot more width and allowing these pacy players the freedom to try to get in behind Southport.

The Dons now looked far more dangerous, especially as Hatton and Blackman were looking more effective going forward, having someone to work with on their respective flanks rather than just mucking in. Danny Kedwell started to come into the game more, receiving the ball at feet allowing him to terrorise the hosts back line. And eventually the goal came, good awareness from Christian Jolley to round the keeper and slot into an empty net after a fantastic ball from,,, well actually I’m not even sure who played the ball over, it could have been Hatton, it could have been Jackson (two players who obviously look very similar…) but whoever it was, the goal had finally come, and at that stage it seemed the Dons could go on and win comfortably…

That was until the referee intervened again. Lee Minshull was given his debut, and won the ball perfectly in the middle of the park, only for the referee to call play back with another of those ‘what’s he doing there?’ calls. Perhaps looking to make up for the phantom penalty (Again: Why???), the referee decided this was actually serious foul play by Minshull, and sent him off. ‘play on’ would have been the correct course of action in this situation, but this clown genuinely believed it was a dangerous challenge. If that was the case we should have been at seven a-side at that point, as he would have had to send off those responsible for more serious offenses earlier in the day. A quick review of the tape should ensure Minshull won’t have to serve a ban, but that didn’t help the Dons see out the last ten minutes or so a man short.

Southport gave us a few nervy moments in the final stages, a mishit shot across the face of Sebb Browns goal that he locals got pretty excited about, a smart save down to his right by Brown following and a hopeful appeal for a penalty that might have carried a bit more weight had both players not been holding each other… Southport might consider themselves a bit unfortunate, and they may be able to channel this into a sense of injustice that carries them through the next couple of games – but this is a big strong division, with tougher sides than Wimbledon… Big, cynical teams that will play for the decision, and I’m not sure Southport can live with that. Having said that, there is enough driftwood making up the numbers at the bottom of the table for Southport to be confident of staying up – as well as the usual financial basket cases that make the last two relegation places redundant most seasons.

As for the Dons, well there’s no point saying we need to play better against the bigger sides in the division, I presume that’s what Terry Brown was doing at full-time with the lads on the pitch. We can at this stage only look for the positives. We learned some lessons, and we did so while also taking three points with us back down the motorway. Histon and Tamworth shouldn’t scare us, despite their respective positions of second and first in this very early season table, and we can look forward to seeing the Dons play their football on the bowling green that is Kingsmeadow. Beyond that, we can be confident, but in terms of a promotion push? It’s still very much ‘wait and see’…

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2 thoughts on “Southport 0 AFC Wimbledon 1

  1. maliniok says:

    “I should have celebrated Jolleys winner by stripping to the waist and invading the pitch – that would have been a story for the grandkids to be proud of!” Well, that’s Anon Don at his best form!!! Great report!

  2. combyne says:

    The big oaf in the Southport defence who handled three times in one move was Number 5 Earl Davis.

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