After the drama of the FA Cup it was back to League action on Saturday, and a fantastic away following of around seven-hundred saw the Dons turn in one of their weaker performances of the season. Not that the turnout should make any difference (they should be performing at least at 100% every week – or even those mythical performance figures bandied about in post match interviews… 110%, 150%, 200%, 1000% seems to be the scale that most managers work on depending upon circumstance).
I mean, you follow the Dons on the road and you at least expect them not to lose. Not after our first trip down to the coast, anyway. Even if we don’t win, you expect an epic fight back to steal a point. With our away record standing at won five, drawn two, lost one plus our record of being the divisions highest scorers away from home, our hosts must have at least worried they might be on the wrong end of a thrashing, particularly after their four goal home drubbing by Barrow the previous Tuesday.
Yet this Wimbledon side is full of young players, the inexperience of youth that can lead to inconsistency, as harsh but invaluable lessons are learnt usually in return for a heavy cost in terms of dropped points. But this was what we signed up for, wasn’t it?
What a bad day to turn in that kind of performance, what with the Millwall game looming large. It was almost as if no Dons player dared to make a mistake, which of course led to dozens, all over the pitch. No change there of course, but we want to see possession being given up in the right areas of the pitch, if it has to happen at all. For example, we can play twenty passes around midfield including a couple of cross field balls, and that’s great football. But certain players need to know when the right time to play the incisive ball is, rather than passing the responsibility over to a colleague in a worse position or playing it back and forth amongst themselves until the opposition has packed out their defence and eventually we play one pass too many and find ourselves on the back foot.
But back to the ‘experience’ of the day. Chester’s ground initially looks like a larger version of Kingsmeadow, a typical first generation ‘new’ style non-league ground. Then you remember that this was meant as a replacement for their former ground Sealand Road back in the late eighties, and you wonder how this could ever have been planned as a League ground? Its looking a bit frayed around the edges these days, especially the running track behind the goals and the worn down safety markings on the concrete.
With your average Chester supporter reluctant to enter the ground these days, and even those who do are on the whole openly showing their dissatisfaction with the clubs ownership (with the obvious exception of those that sat in the stand bearing the owner’s name – be that himself, his son, his dog, you never can tell judging by his previous form…). Despite the large away following, and the PA guy openly admitting they had given away 200 tickets to a local youth club, the crowd was announced at under 1700. Perhaps this shows the success of any unofficial boycott, or the damage caused by negative publicity and the effect that had on the towns occasional supporters.
This meant the thousand or so home supporters found themselves stretched around two and a half sides of the ground, creating very little in terms of atmosphere. The Dons fans could almost turn it into a home game (bearing in mind at home they are used to one end giving them full support with the three remaining sides moaning at them…). So it was ironic that Chester managed to ground out what was probably their biggest result of the season.
Straight from the kickoff, Chester showed they were going to be no pushover. As early as the first minute Adam Kay blasted over Pullen’s crossbar when well placed, and moments later Nick Chadwick flicked a free header over the bar as the statuesque Dons defence watched on. Wimbledon tried to battle back, forcing a few corners, generally giving the visiting supporters the feeling the worst of the opening Chester onslaught had been dealt with. Don’t you just hate it when you get it all wrong like that? The next ten minutes were extremely depressing…
First on eleven minutes Micheal Coulson surged down the right channel into the box, as Jamie Pullen came to close down the angle he struck it past him into the six yard box, where Chadwick was on hand to tap home. It wasn’t the cleanest strike in the world, but to be fair all the hard work had been done by Coulson and he probably could have let it hit him and it would have bounced in.
A big shock but nowhere near as bad as what was to follow four minutes later, this time Mark Beesley smashing in a low cross. Unfortunately it was Paul Lorraine who managed to turn the ball home, I had to check that myself as the same ‘it all happened so fast…’ explanation that Lorraine probably trotted out to his team mates referred to me as well, which probably goes a long way towards describing just how unfortunate the goal actually was.
With the lead doubled, it was the Dons turn to go forward, after some good work from Kedwell released Nathan Ashton in space. The Dons debutant full-backs cross deflected off a Chester man, sitting up nicely for Steven Gregory who seemed to slightly miss hit his shot towards Chester keeper John Denby who gathered easily.
Wimbledon failed to turn the screw during the first half, the many forced changes seemed to have a great effect on the side. Especially unfortunate was the debut of Nathan Ashton. He looks a decent player who is suffering from a serious confidence crisis at the moment, which perhaps is to be expected from a player who made an appearance in the Premier League relatively recently and now seems to have plunged five levels and joined a team that is technically part-time. Not only that, but news of his signing didn’t exactly have the fans laying out the red carpet for him.
It was late into the second half until he realised if he actually knocked the ball past his man he would win a foot race every time. He seemed more surprised than our opponents as the movement and pattern of play of the Dons side seemed to catch him off guard regularly. But if Ashton is going to come good at this level, he could have done no better than join the Dons. He seems to have the building blocks required to fit into the side, given training and match time I’m sure he will fit in just fine.
The Dons took another ten minutes to create another chance, Wellard chipping behind the Chester defence for Main to run onto. Denby managed to close him right down, leaving Main to wave a foot at the ball, only succeeding in lobbing it into the keepers hands. Like clockwork, another Dons chance came on forty minutes, Ashton swinging a high cross in from the left that was knocked down by somebody (don’t blame me, the Chester pitch is huuuuuge and the action was taking place at the opposite end…) for Main on the edge of the six yard box to scuff towards goal, Denby once more easily collecting.
It was only three minutes later when the Dons, gradually edging closer to goal, had a Wellard effort kicked off the line. As the half edged into stoppage time, Wimbledon finally struck to put themselves back in the game. A twice taken Wellard free kick (the first one was on its way to being wasted) was deflected into the path of Paul Lorraine, who partially made up for his o.g. by flicking the ball into the path of Jon Main. This time, last seasons top scorer, who has now truly recovered his goalscoring touch, guided the ball past Denby.
The happy half time Dons fans seemed to sense the goal had turned the game, even in the smokers section (i.e. the car park) where an impromptu game of keepie-ups began involving dozens of Dons thanks to a conveniently liberated football. Of course the Anonymous Don doesn’t get involved in such horseplay, preferring instead to smoke my cigarette and make calls to those fortunate enough not to be there. For some reason I took a few photos (there should be one used in this very article showing the man they call Tintin performing an excellently executed ‘eyes shut’ header…), before I noticed the ball coming my way dropping at head height.
At the last minute I realised I couldn’t simply nut it back, so using the sort of calmness you only really get when you have no time to think, I leant forward, allowed the ball to drop behind me, and flicked it back over my head with my right heel. A couple of Dons fans made the moment complete by chanting ‘sign him up’ – thus the Anonymous Don managed to tick off an unexpected ambition on the ‘Things I Must Do Before I Die’ list. Next up – steal a policeman’s helmet…
Those who merely ‘thought’ that Wimbledon might come back and gain points before half time were presumably trying to get their bookie on the phone ten minutes in, trying to put their house on it. Two minutes in, Chester failed to clear their lines as three players showed how little they wanted the ball before some great hustling by Luke Moore won the ball back for the Dons. Main and Wellard had efforts blocked before a Gregory effort deflected safely back to Denby.
Five minutes into the half, a good Dons break culminated in Main smashing an effort towards the top left corner that produced an improbable looking save from Denby (at least improbable from where I was sitting…). The Chester keeper stretched to his right and just got enough on the ball to divert it over the bar. Looking back, this was probably the moment that won the game for Chester. If Wimbledon had scored at this point, they would undoubtedly gone on to claim the game, perhaps even racking up a Forest Green-esque away scoreline in the process. Denby’s save just cranked the pressure up on the Dons, another good chance passing by.
From the corner conceded, Steven Gregory had another pot shot that was (surprise, surprise) deflected wide for another corner and from this one, the referee gave a Chester man the benefit of the doubt as Lorraine climbed above him to head home. To be fair this was not as game turning as it sounds, as although it was one of those 50/50 Lorraine had his hands on him/their guy was backing in-type incidents, how often do you see the referee give them in the attacking teams favour?
Ten minutes into the half, Danny Kedwell picked up the ball in the right channel and surged into the box. Reaching the bye-line he smashed it across goal, in almost a carbon copy of Chester’s first goal, however this time Luke Moore could not apply the finish. Moments later a Kedwell cross from the left was met in the air by Jon Main (strange things were happening…) who nodded down for Luke Moore to strike over. Still Wimbledon couldn’t find the equalizer.
To cap a crazy five minutes, Kedwell had a shot well saved to Denby’s right, and to prove the world really had gone mad Alan Inns popped up on the left-wing to send over a delightful deep cross that Kedwell met on the volley, his effort smashed towards goal from a tight angle only to shave the top of the bar on its way to the Dons hordes behind the goal. The power of hindsight allows me to reveal now that Wimbledon ran out of steam slightly after this, but at the time the Dons domination showed no signs of slowing.
But slow it did, and perhaps buoyed by reaching this stage of the game and still leading, Chester started to pick the visitors of on the break. With twenty minutes to go, an unidentified Chester player (again – large pitch!) smashed a speculative effort from the left edge of the box across Pullen, who was grateful to see it hit bar then right post before bouncing clear. A minute later Beesley raced clear after an absolutely dire attempt at a back header. Fortunately, Lorraine raced back to hold him up, only to pass to another unidentified colleague, this time said player is probably grateful to me as he dragged a woeful effort past the left post.
Two huge wake up calls for the Dons, who just couldn’t get the momentum to swing back in their favour. And on 77 minutes, substitute Gregg Blundell shot into the bottom right hand corner of the Dons goal, which eventually won the game for Chester. I say eventually, as even then I still held out hope the lads would dig deep for one last onslaught, but it wasn’t to be. A last chance in injury time saw a frustrated Lewis Taylor slip when in a good position to shoot, consigning Wimbledon to their heaviest defeat of the season – the bottom club becoming the first to defeat the Dons by two clear goals this term.
So in the end, can we blame it all on bad luck? Well the side took a while to get going, and we can blame nothing else for Sam Hatton’s illness that prevented him starting. Yet it was still a strong lineup that the Dons named, and lets not forget that they created enough chances to win two games. Not all of those failed to hit the back of the net thanks to misfortune. Ultimately a sorry defeat as it was, what a great time to lose – our last game before Millwall. Win, lose or draw there (and I think we know which is more likely), how many of us will remember Chester come next April?
And lest we forget, our hosts are still in all sorts of problems financially, and this coupled with what seems like criminal mismanagement could cost them their place in the Conference sooner than any of us would like to see. The bitter pill for diehard Chester fans will be a shot in the arm to the Dons playoff hopes, with the likes of Luton and York losing points gained. Although it seems a bit cynical to be talking of it now, perhaps news of Chester’s demise will be keener sought by Dons fans than any of us choose to admit.