I’ve done my fair share of moaning about the Premier Sports deal, but if the weather next Saturday is anything like it was for this one I’ll be grateful the kick-off has been moved back to the cooler early evening. Having said that, it’ll probably rain, and it doesn’t exactly make up for having to shift the Kidderminster game to a Sunday, or those Friday night fixtures… Under those circumstances I reserve the right to rail against an inappropriate kick-off time, particularly considering the game is extremely unlikely to (a) be shown on said channel or (b) affect in any way the game they do choose to screen (my best guess at the moment would be Cambridge v Fleetwood, possibly deciding a playoff and relegation place…).
To be fair, temperatures like these are not unknown for football, just normally we experience them in pre-season or August/September time… so early in the year we haven’t had time to acclimatize yet. For some reason I decided to soak up the sunshine pre-match by the Coronation Stone – the riverside and market place were packed, and I couldn’t go straight down to Kingsmeadow as I had to get measured up for a suit for my mates wedding.
This was a bad move for a couple of reasons – firstly, the measuring process took a lot longer than I thought, so I had to rush to the ground, ensuring I arrived later and hotter than I previously thought. Secondly, in these superstitious times, I’ll invariably find myself having to visit the bloody Coronation Stone before the play-off semi… and if that goes in our favour, well I can’t exactly go before Manchester as I’ve already made plans to be in the north that weekend (for family reasons, Football Gods!!!). I’ll probably end up trying to chip a bit off to take with me, not a sensible idea as its right opposite the police station, and I’ll miss the our ascension to the Football League due to being up in court facing charges of damaging a priceless ancient artifact… still, if it means we get promoted, you gotta do what you gotta do, right?
The clubs decision to offer cheaper terrace tickets seemed to have paid off judging by the busier than normal Kingston Road End, at least proving that no matter how unappealing or weak an offer may initially seem, people will buy into it if there’s a chance there might be a slice of pizza in it for them. A higher than normal percentage of season ticket holders had turned out too, which always makes the eventual announcement of the crowd figure seem lower than it looks, due to the weird way football clubs work out crowd figures based on number of tickets sold rather than how many people are actually in the ground.
Mansfield turned up in their away kit, a very English looking red cross on a white background which kind of reminded me of the Inter centenary shirt, but also the England Rugby League shirt circa the mid nineties… On the whole the visitors play mainly resembled the latter more than the former, although the opening goal on the quarter-hour would have graced the San Siro… Ok, a couple of Dons players stood off and watch the guy hit it, but it absolutely flew in the bottom corner and gave poor Jack Turner no chance.
After the Hendon game I wrote about how Jack needed a league game for experience, and it must have been a little frustrating for him… picking the ball out of the net was pretty much the first time he touched the ball, and he wasn’t called upon to make another save all day. The problem is the Dons defence are in mean mode, a good thing for our playoff chances, and the only other big chance Mansfield created came via Turner himself, blasting a clearance against an onrushing forward the ball bounced high and seemed to take forever to come down – fortunately landing on the roof of the net rather than gifting the visitors a two goal advantage.
Before all this happened, the Dons had actually started really brightly and could have been a couple of goals up before eventually falling behind. Mo squandered the two best opportunities, although the first wasn’t really his fault… tugged back by the last man and only able to stab the ball into the keepers grateful arms – even if the referee couldn’t see it the linesman certainly should. His second effort followed some wonderful one touch passing from the Dons around the edge of the area, and when clear saw another tame effort, this time under no pressure, that was pretty much a back pass.
Sam Hatton fired a free kick that had to be turned under the bar as the Dons ran the game early on, Reece Jones integral to many moves in the first period. On his full, Jones turned in the sort of performance that makes you regret that he didn’t get more first team chances this term, like Jack Turner he is a great prospect for the future. Which makes it all the more disappointing that Terry Brown made the announcement post-match that most of us probably expected – the reserves will remain part-time next season, and thus will stay in the Suburban League. This is a prudent decision, I don’t think we’ll see a move to a higher standard of reserve football until at least a season after we join the Football League (whenever that may be…), but it means Jones and Turner, along with our other fringe players, will surely have to head off for an extended period on loan next term.
Once Mansfield got their noses in front, I got the impression the Dons would have great difficulty finding their way back into the game. The stale atmosphere didn’t help, it felt more like a pre-season game at times… and I suppose that’s pretty much what it was, as both sides head onto bigger things in May. But as half time came and went, Dons fans forgot about plans to join the ticket queues and remembered there was a game on, as their team started to gain the upper hand against rapidly tiring opponents.
Being able to introduce players of the quality of Minshull and Jolley probably helped. Jones was made way in midfield, presumably pre-planned prior to heading off for international duty after his two hours of football in the week, and Minshull immediately began to stamp his authority on the middle of the park.
Wimbledon got on level terms in fairly simple terms, a deep corner from the left swung over everybody and was bundled in at the far post by Jamie Stuart for his first Dons goal. The game could have petered out into a predictable draw from there, had it not been for the enthusiasm of Christian Jolley, who could have given the Dons the lead seconds before he actually did after seeing his header cleared somewhere close to the line.
Almost immediately after he stopped what was quite a long enquiry with the linesman over whether his previous effort had passed over the line, Jolley picked up the ball on the right inside the box and drilled an effort towards the near post. Somewhere along its trajectory the ball struck Bret Johnson, enough for there to be some doubt over who the goal should be credited to, but the more important statistic was the Dons claimed their 26th victory of the season, to move within a point of guaranteeing a second place finish.
Almost immediately Dons fans started to file out in their dribs and drabs, not in order to get home any quicker but to join the ever lengthening queues clutching voucher E in order to pick up tickets for the playoff semi final. More time spent in the hot sun, a few Dons fans will have spent the evening picking dry, dead skin off themselves. The Dons now have another two dead rubbers to encounter before the fun starts, and at the end of this long weekend might have more of an idea what faces us in May.