Be honest, you felt a little guilty coming away from Stonebridge Road last night (or turning your TV over for the busier/lazier among us…). It wasn’t as if we robbed a five-year old on his birthday, more we claimed victory almost on a technicality. Ebbsfleet had the game won. If there was any fairness in the world of football it would be them and not us preparing to host Stevenage on national TV in little more than a weeks time.
Fortunately for the Dons, football is all about moments, and Sammy Moore came up with two of them last night in the most unlikely manner possible. While the Dons weren’t as bad as I will possibly go on to suggest, they seemed to have missed their best chance of getting back into the game, Ebbsfleet were confident and had spent three of the four minutes stoppage time holding the ball in the corner. This was a game waiting to end. Dons fans, while not exactly streaming through the gates, were edging in that direction in order to catch the early train home.
Then Luke Moore got hold of the ball, a perfectly measured cross and a delicate finish later, all of a sudden previously resigned Dons fans found themselves bouncing around the away end, facing up to an additional half hour of football that no-one could have seen coming just seconds earlier.
It had all started pretty well. Stonebridge Road is a proper football ground, it was a pleasure to walk down the hill towards the ground before kick off, floodlights shining through the darkness, huge queues at the turnstiles pointing the way. Inside, the ground felt full despite the relatively small crowd, an atmosphere helped by the low roof on the side terrace. Dons fans were allocated a small section of this stand, and the noise the minority made was louder than that the bulk on the open terrace made, all noise dissipating into the night on a classic open away terrace.
Pre match my quiet prediction was the Dons would grab an early goal to kill the nerves, and it will all be comfortable after that. I was half right, at least. Ryan Jackson had the running of Derek Duncan all night (another of my predictions, albeit from the first game…), and floated a ball over to Yusseff. Toks header didn’t seem to be going anywhere but was enough to get Ebbsfleet keeper Edwards heading off towards his left post. Mark Nwokeji, making the most of a rare start, found himself in the right place at the right time to wrong foot the keeper and hand Wimbledon the initiative.
Not that they held it for long of course. Ebbsfleet proceeded to tear into the Dons, although the visitors suffered a huge amount of misfortune with both efforts that ended up in the back of the net. First, an Ebbsfleet player that thanks to Youtube turned out to be Tom Phipp burst into the box. Andre Blackman tracked him, before Phipp, well to be polite he just fell over. The referee seemed quite happy to buy this, and Ashley Carew, victim of a poor refereeing decision himself in the first game, rolled past a wrong footed Sebb Brown. With Christian Jolley still serving his ban and Carew yet to start his, it seems as though the only team to benefit from Carew’s red card will be Bromley – never a good outcome…
Carew was now naturally full of confidence, and just minutes later he was instrumental in Ebbsfleet taking the lead. As Fraser Franks prepared to clear another Ebbsfleet ball into the box he slipped, and the ball struck his arm. For one horrible moment you thought the referee was going to give another cheap penalty, but there was no need as Carew struck a fierce one past Brown. Looking back at the goal it looks really good from the TV camera angle, like he curled it into the far corner, but in reality his low effort bounced up off Sam Hattons attempted block and away from Browns reach.
It was mainly Ebbsfleet after that, although the game was blighted by few clear cut chances. Sebb Brown made an excellent low save to his left, I believe from that man Carew. At the other end the Dons completely failed to get back on the front foot, a Toks effort that flew too high was as close as they got. By half time it had all got a little too much for me, cock-eyed fan logic suggested I must have been standing on the unlucky side of the ground, so I took up position in the corresponding position on the opposite side of the goal. Which didn’t have the immediate impact I thought it would, but I’m prepared to accept the credit for my part in the performance.
Whenever you find yourself going out of the FA Cup you seemingly always find yourself looking back at one key moment, one chance that if put away would have changed the game. During the last five minutes or so of the game I chose to dwell on Danny Kedwells miss earlier in the half. It wasn’t an easy chance, although the goalkeeper was nowhere he was at an angle and had to get some power on it to be sure of beating the man on the line… unfortunately getting too much on it sending it over the bar.
Kedwell himself wasn’t having the happiest of evenings. He seemed unable to go near an opposition player without the referee blowing for a foul, and later in the half found himself in the book after the referee had decided to blow for one non-foul too many. Finding himself pulled out of position, the majority of half chances fell to midfielders filling the gap, Sammy Moore and Wellard among those finding themselves in decent shooting opportunities but not hitting the target.
The chances had gone. The game was all but up, at least in my mind we were out of the competition. I was weighing up whether to go to Fleetwood when I noticed Luke Moore had picked up the ball in a bit of space, moved inside and floated a lovely ball in for Sammy Moore. The ball came to him at an awkward height but the finish was expertly guided into the bottom corner. On the terraces, for a moment no one dare move, until the net rippled sparking wild relieved celebrations.
Then, somehow, we were playing extra time. I’m sure most of us, players included, were wondering what we were still doing there. As the first period progressed, it was obvious things had changed. Wimbledon were now well on top against a tired, presumably mentally shot Ebbsfleet team, and created a couple of chances that should really have had the game won long before it was. The best fell to Luke Moore, doing everything right in blasting his effort at the near post, somehow kept out by Preston Edwards.
It looked like the Dons would pay the price, as Ebbsfleet found a second wind and came back hard. While I would quite happily have taken penalties half an hour earlier, as time ticked down I felt we had missed our chance somewhat. One final effort was required, a ball heaved into the box but easily cleared to Luke Moore on the edge of the box. I remember wanting him to get the ball under and shoot, but it just didn’t sit right for him, so he hoisted a high ball onto the penalty spot.
As a tired Ebbsfleet defence pushed out, Sammy Moore turned back in and no-one went back with him. As Ebbsfleet hands raised for a flag that was never going to come, Moore took the ball down on his chest and rolled it into the corner before the keeper had even thought of moving. Once again, disbelieving Dons fans bounce around the away end. The game kicks off and Ebbsfleet get the ball forward quickly, you wonder for a split second whether the win might be stolen from us as we had taken it so cruelly earlier in the night. But the final whistle brings the third great celebration of the night. All thoughts of Fleetwood are put to one side for another time, the Dons are in R2 for the first time in the AFC era.