That was a close call. This was a classic game of two halves, the Dons had the game won after one of the most impressive 45 minutes of football you’ll see from a Wimbledon side, hell, a side in this division. Yet it almost wasn’t enough. A goal early in the second half gave Kettering hope, it was game on at 3-2 with ten minutes left, and only the reactions of Sebb Brown kept us ahead at the end, where nerves threatened to throw away two points.
Sunday football is weird. I never really got used to it in the nineties, and on the rare occasions we have to play now it just messes with my weekly pattern. I like to keep to some type of schedule, and Sunday is reserved for the well-earned treat of doing fuck-all. And ironically public transport is twice as busy, as it takes twice as long for buses to turn up and South West Trains decide to half the length of their trains despite there being no significant reduction in the amount of folk out and about for the day.
The Dons were rewarded for switching the game with the lowest crowd of the season turning out, and the atmosphere was a bit lacking, too many people either full of Sunday lunch or empty and longing for their dinner. Even the promise of Stevenage tickets being on sale didn’t boost the attendance, not that the decision helped me in any way as I didn’t find out until I actually got to the ground, and hadn’t brought enough money with me. Which kind of serves me right for being too lazy to walk down the ground on Saturday when they were openly available.
Still, the Dons punished those unable to attend with the sort of first half display that makes you wonder whether we might just be playing our way out of recent indifferent form, just in time with some difficult looking fixtures on the horizon. Ricky Wellards low raking cross field ball found Luke Moore in plenty of space, after teeing up Thursday nights late pair Moore showed the composure to slot the ball under Kettering keeper Jack and into the bottom corner. Wellard had a superb game, especially in the first half where he looked the best player on the pitch. It sums up why we get so frustrated with Ricky sometimes, I’m sure the manager must too, because when he is on his game he’s one of the best midfielders in the division.
The Dons grabbed a second when Kettering’s Nick Green simultaneously obstructed his team mates attempt at challenging Sammy Moore, while managing to knock the Dons midfielder literally flying into the air. In Danny Kedwells absence Luke Moore tucked away the spot kick, the Dons were looking comfortable now. In fact, the rested Kedwell wasn’t missed at all, Moore having a fine game on the left and Jolley – looking well rested after his three game ban – almost unplayable on the right. In fact, Wimbledon almost looked like scoring every time they went forward.
Well, not really. I mean we all know how many chances the Dons can create for themselves only to find the reward for their efforts wasted through poor finishing, so it was almost a pleasant surprise when the third came. Nwokeji found himself through on goal, his stabbed effort was blocked by Jack only for Jolley to nod into the empty net. Jolley should have got a second for himself and really finished the game before half time when his effort smacked off the bar, and the Dons were buzzing. After the other two members of the runaway top three posted big scores yesterday, you wondered how many the Dons would get as the teams departed at half time. Matching Luton’s five at least? Six? Seven???
Something changed though, and it happened before half time. Sam Hatton was removed after another excellent performance, and Ryan Jackson replaced him for what should have been a comfortable fifty minutes or so at right-back. The back four had looked pretty solid up to that point, repelling rare Kettering counter attacks with ease. Yakubu and Harris looked unbeatable, and while he gave the ball away cheaply on a couple of occasions, Bush looked capable defensively on the left.
Kettering created the goal they needed to build a comback on ten minutes into the second half. It was a very defendable goal, the sort of sloppy effort conceded by teams who are a little too overconfident of holding onto a big lead. Just a simple ball into the box from the left, nodded beyond Brown by Solkhon who had the space and time to make it look easy. A classic consolation goal, really, or so it should have been if the Dons had regained the initiative. They threatened to, but the old problem of overplaying in the final third reared its ugly head, Jolley and Yussuff being two in particular who found themselves hustled off the ball when they really should have got a shot away earlier.
At the back, Wimbledon seemed to have weathered the storm, but that all changed when Ryan Jackson had to hobble off injured. Fraser Franks came on to fill in at right back, but from that point on the Kettering winger could beat him for fun. The threat of Kettering’s pace caused Wimbledon to defend deeper and deeper, to the point Paul Furlongs half way line flicks to nobody were now taking place on the edge of the Dons box, causing more than a few heart attacks.
Kettering seem to have made an effort to be a little more pleasing on the eye following Marcus Law taking over, but the robust side of their game seems to have remained. By ‘robust’ I of course mean ‘thuggish’, they managed to pick up five yellow cards but it could have been so much worse for them, a couple of assaults on Sebb Brown while he lay on the floor with the ball in his hands went unpunished.
Going into the last ten minutes, the Dons looked absolutely shattered. The prospect of a week off must be appealing to them before Stevenage! It was almost no surprise that Kettering made a real game of it courtesy of Furlong scrambling home. Sebb Brown then had to be at his absolute best to claw out a fierce Furlong effort that seemed to be heading for the top corner. It’s at moments like that you realise how important Sebb Brown is to us. That save was every bit as important as a goal to us, and ultimately it won us two points. There was one last worrying moment, where Noubissie threw himself to the floor in the box in stoppage time. The referee blew, and for a split second you wondered whether he had fallen for it, but fortunately the yellow card was waved in the Kettering players direction, and the Dons had not just escaped, but returned to the top of the table once more.
You get the impression Crawley and Luton must be looking at our young, inexpensively assembled squad, wondering what the hell we are still doing above them in the table? I still feel the resources of those two sides will be enough to see them clear of us post-Christmas, until then we will do well to put as many points on the board as possible. Just being top once more is a fantastic achievement, and we can now look forward to our FA Cup tie with Stevenage, and perhaps show them how much we have improved since last April?