Congratulations to all of you who made it down to the ground early, shovels in hand, ensuring this game went ahead. I would have joined you but I was otherwise engaged, travelling back down on the morning of the game from visiting family in the north. It wasn’t the worst journey in the world, the service between Doncaster and Kings Cross is pretty good, the only problem being for the third time in a row on that particular service I had to explain to someone who boarded the train earlier exactly how the seat numbering system works…
It may be worth my while in future to produce an explanatory pamphlet and have it posted to all residents of Wakefield and Leeds to ensure I don’t have that sinking feeling of seeing someone in my seat followed by five minutes of arguing before I can finally sit down and enjoy the journey, except even that might not help… the last guy I ‘helped out’ had found himself in the correct seat – sadly in the wrong carriage…
The final ten miles of the journey proved more problematic than the previous 180, upon realising at Vauxhall that South West Trains will not be providing anything resembling a service, and it was a frazzled Anonymous Don who arrived at Kingsmeadow with a new-found respect for far-flung Dons who make such journeys on a regular basis… frazzled and confused to be more precise, as to why the programme sellers all appeared to be on strike?
Fortunately the full story was explained to me later (for those of you who don’t know the Conference have decided to withdraw punishment for not producing a programme as too many clubs are losing way too much money on unsold copies after recent postponements). And the lack of an official programme can only be seen as a Good Thing from an Anonymous Don perspective, as it was my turn to offer the editorial for the Xmas edition of the WUP, and thus my offering was in a more prominent position than it normally is. How great it was to see those of you who normally stuff the WUP in your back pocket for use later as toilet paper/reading, actually reading it in the stadium… if I had known that I would have written it a little differently i.e. good. Two years ago the WUP produced a substitute programme for a South London club who could not produce their own due to financial problems… plus ca change, as the Romans would have said…
More evidence that we had somehow overnight turned into a Sunday morning pub side was provided upon hearing the team lineups… only one centre half and three on the bench, on of whom was Jack Turner. Apparently a virus has struck down the squad, leading to six members of the side to phone in sick with a couple of those who actually made it onto the field showing symptoms… at least that was their excuse.
Then finally… we saw some football, the first time a Don had kicked a ball in anger in a Conference game for over a month – and yet we were still top of the league prior to kick off despite Newports earlier victory… weird. Naturally there was some rustiness, and although the Dons looked on top they didn’t quite threaten the visitors goal with the frequency we would expect given the amount possession was dominated. In fact it was Frazer Franks who struck the bar with the home teams best effort in the first half hour, with Jamie Taylor threatening for the visitors with a floated effort that struck the top of Sebb Browns crossbar.
The Dons were playing more of an orthodox 442 with Nwokeji up front alongside Kedwell and Jackson and Yusseff patrolling right and left wings respectively, Jackson more out-and-out winger with Toks willing to come inside and allow Chris Bush to bomb past him and get the crosses in. The switch to 442 was probably dictated by who wasn’t available than a definite change in tactics from Brown. The fact we can play either will help mix things up a bit going into a heavy January, Danny Kedwell has seemed a little isolated chasing lost causes of late, and it helped knowing Nwokeji was there to provide an outlet.
And it was Nokkers who had the Dons next best chance, put through by a well weighted Wellard through ball, he was either cynically hacked down for a penalty or just fell over depending on your view of it. I was looking side on so couldn’t really tell, which must have been a similar position to the referee who failed to point to the spot or sho Nwokeji a yellow card. Of course if Nokkers had kept his feet he could have scored, why would he go down in that position? But then footballers do the strangest things some times, particularly those who are yet to find the net in the league (as of that moment…).
I have always regarded Eastbourne as likeable if combative opponents, with the obvious exception of their pantomime villain ex-franchise striker Richard Pacquette, who was receiving the sort of stick you would expect of someone who had taken Their coin. More experienced players than Pacquette have fallen victim to the antics of the Tempest (hello Frank Sinclair!), yet few have resorted to the sort of studs up outrage that poor Sebb Brown was victim to.
Pacquette, with blood visibly rushing to his head, raced on to a through ball a bit too soon and was caught offside. With the whistle already gone and the ball safely back in Browns hands, Pacquette took four or five steps before launching himself at the defenceless goalkeepers head. The red card was immediate, although amazingly Eastbourne manager Wilson thought it acceptable to defend his player. His precise quote was ‘he just tried to win the ball and there was no intent to hurt the goalkeeper’. Really? I can only presume he was looking the other way when the incident happened, the ball was in Browns hands so how exactly was he planning on winning the ball?
Unfortunately the only conclusion that can be drawn was Pacquette had every intention of taking the Dons goalkeeper out of the game. Under these circumstances it might be wise for Wilson to sit down and watch the incident again (he might want to pour himself a stiff drink first…), and reconsider his comments. Under the circumstances an apology to the young Dons keeper might be in order, but I doubt he’ll see one, but Wilson might want to refrain from idiotic comments in future, especially if he is still interested in taking a certain clubs talented fringe players on loan…
Sebb Brown showed great bravery in continuing, particularly considering the blood he shed leading to stitches being required for a punctured cheek as well as an eye wound. Fortunately the Dons did their best to ensure the stopper had a quiet afternoon from that point on, with much of the game except for a ten minute spell in the second half taking place in the Eastbourne half. Yet it took until the last-minute of the half for the home side to break the deadlock.
A short corner routine almost broke down after Sam Hattons low cross was blocked by an Eastbourne defender, but the ball simply bounced off him and rolled invitingly across the six yard line for Nwokeji to slam home. Yusseff had another chance to extend the lead in injury time but blazed over when well placed, and the Dons had to accept a single goal lead going into the break.
Steven Gregory seemed to pick up a knock earlier in the half, and was obviously unable to run it off as he was withdrawn at half time replaced by Reece Jones (Jon Main being the other outfield substitute). The only previous league appearance I remember Jones making was at Rushden, when bought on to change the game only for it to pass him by a little. Yet here Jones really excelled, presumably the spell on loan at Lewes had given him the taste for first team football, he moved the ball around nicely and was willing to get himself forward wherever possible – in fact he came very close to extending the Dons lead twice in quick succession, denied on both occasions by the quick reactions of Eastbourne keeper Rikki Banks.
With certain Dons players starting to tire, presumably due to the twin effects of virus and lack of recent match action, Jon Main was brought on to give Ryan Jackson a rest, with Nwokeji moving out to the right to accommodate him. To be fair Main wasn’t fortunate enough to get the sort of chance Nwokeji had earlier in the game, and will have to accept he is further down the pecking order now Nokkers is fit and scoring goals. You still get the impression if he gets a few starts he will score goals, he did look hesitant when in possession but that’s only to be expected. I still believe Jon Main will have a big role to play later in the season if he can grab a few goals from the bench, but he was to be frustrated once more during this cameo.
In fact the Dons had to wait until ten minutes from time before doubling their advantage, Wellard found all alone in the penalty area as the Eastbourne defence pushed out too late and stood static waiting for a flag that was never going to come. Wellard shrugged his shoulders, scratched his arse, adjusted his shinpads before finally deciding to slide the ball into the bottom corner.
The aforementioned Main was involved in the third, unable to get his shot away, the ball broke nicely for Toks who did what he failed to do at the end of the first half, curling the ball into the top left corner of the net beyond a helpless Banks. The late goals gave a pleasant gloss to the scoreline and was no less than the Dons deserved, although the score and performance in general was probably as good as the Dons could have expected given the circumstances.
So the Dons end the year top of the division, an immense achievement. With so many games to follow in January logic suggests our monied rivals will have the edge, but if Brown can reinforce in the right areas, who knows? While we remain top of the league the dream continues, and long may it do so…