Braintree were a solid enough side, they worked hard, but the quality gap was evident when the Dons got the ball down and played it around as evident in the opening goal, and when they went down to ten men the Dons should really have run away with the contest. That it needed a couple of late goals to wrap things up probably summed up the performance, chances were missed earlier in the game that if taken perhaps would have glossed over the performance, as it was it was almost as if the Dons players considered the game wrapped up at 1-0… very much in the same manner we ended up being eliminated from the tournament last year at the hands of Workington. It could have happened yesterday – undoubtedly few would have shed too many tears if we had gone out, only 1201 bothering to turn up for a competition that at least during the early stages fails to capture the imagination of Dons fans.
The Dons had a few more breaks than said Workington game, and were assisted by a particularly toothless Braintree front line. Although I have to say the Dons back four were pretty faultless throughout in restricting the opposition, somewhat overworked thanks to the midfields insistence on turning the ball over to their opponents at every available opportunity, particularly in the second half. It was rather frustrating to watch, although its slightly easier to take when you’re winning football matches, you do wonder what Wrexham will do to us if we continue in the same fashion next week. And the really annoying thing was it came after such a promising opening period for the home team, capped off by an impressively worked goal after eight minutes. Some great interplay on the edge of the area saw the ball fed to Chris Bush, bursting through down the left channel. While he had a shooting opportunity he intelligently squared for Christian Jolley to firmly place the ball into the bottom left hand corner.
The visitors best chance of the game came later in the half, Sebb Brown deciding to come for a high ball into the box but beaten to the ball by Braintree striker Marks. His looping header was goalbound, but hooked away from under the bar by Yakubu, who had taken a position in the line to protect his goalkeeper. And the game seemed to be up for Braintree minutes later when a long clearance was chased down by Danny Kedwell, who positioned himself between ball and man, yet as he prepared to apply the finish he was crudely bundled over by Micheal Alaile. The referee had the red card out immediately, much to the frustration of some of the kids in attendance who were looking forward to their moment of pantomime chanting ‘Off! Off! Off!’ (I have to say I never thought the day would come where I’d get to criticise a referee for lack of showmanship…).
Naturally the Dons went on to dominate the remainder of the half, failing to extend their lead despite a couple of decent efforts falling to Sam Hatton, first he was played in by a clever ball by (I think) Luke Moore, only to see his firmly struck right foot effort across the keeper creep narrowly wide of the left post, then a fierce strike from twenty yards out in the right channel that appeared to bounce off the outside of the near post. You got the impression if one of those had gone in, the Dons would go on to run up a big score, but the small crowd were otherwise satisfied with the first half display.
I’m not sure what went wrong in the second half. The game was pretty much in the home teams pocket, but at least for the first half hour of the second period was characterised by some really sloppy play, the ball being given straight back to the opposition two, sometimes even three times in quick succession. As I’ve already said, the back four were doing a pretty good job of taking the ball back from Braintree, only to see their colleagues further up the field waste their efforts. To be fair, Braintree didn’t look like doing anything with it, but it would only have taken a fluke or a mishit to sail in, and the Dons could have been looking at the possibility of an unwanted replay on Tuesday night.
Eventually Terry Brown lost patience, putting Mark Nwokeji on up front with Danny Kedwell, Jolley and Jackson (who had replaced Luke Moore earlier in the half) ‘dropping back’ although in practice this meant a front four pushing on to Braintree’s tiring back line. As the visitors pushed forward, Wimbledon finally looked like they might put them out of their misery. The goal eventually came only four minutes from the end of normal time. The Dons won a free kick on the edge of the Braintree area, and as the visitors stood either arguing with the referee or pulling their statue impression, the home side were getting on with it, Sammy Hattons clever ball put Nwokeji through, as he took it round the keeper you wondered whether he had taken it too far wide, but he expertly converted from a tight angle to win the game. Two minutes later Kedwell gave the scoreline at least a satisfying gloss, a quick interchange saw him blast the ball into the bottom corner, the keeper getting a hand to it but the ball having far too much pace on it to keep it from bouncing off the upright and into the net. In fact there could have been further goals, as Nwokeji saw an effort clip the outside of the post.
Ultimately, despite the poor performance, a win is a win, and a place in the next round is all you can ask for. We were perhaps fortunate that no matter how bad we were, Braintree were a lot worse, as shown by their inability to create a goalscoring effort in the second half despite being gift-wrapped possession on a regular basis. Tomorrows draw will give us a game slap bang in the middle of January, a month that will go a long way towards revealing just how serious our promotion challenge is. With trips to Newport, Darlington, Fleetwood, Bath and Gateshead, as well as the 1st February York game, sods law suggests the draw will give us another long away trip. While picking our strongest eleven was a given on Saturday, by the time the Second Round rolls round and injuries and suspensions take their toll, we might not have that luxury.