AFC Wimbledon's seven year climb to the summit of non-league football was all-but assured after this hard-fought, nerve-fraying, incident-packed draw at the Beveree.
The Dons went into the penultimate game of the season knowing that a draw would be good enough to win the Blue Square South title at the first attempt. Barring a mathematical miracle on the final day of the campaign, which would have to see the Dons lose at home to St Albans and Hampton win at Maidenhead with a goal difference swing of 13 in Hampton's favour, a single point, something that they had never achieved in two previous visits to their nearest neighbours, would be enough.
Terry Brown has made a habit of pack-shuffling of late but his team selection for this game would have been almost impossible to predict. Out went Chris Hussey, Tom Davis and Jon Main; in came Jason Goodliffe, Michael Haswell and Lewis Taylor, as Brown reverted to his early season 4-3-3 formation, utilising the heading ability of Goodliffe and the height of Dwane Lee in midfield to counteract Hampton's almost entirely six-foot plus side.
If ever the Dons needed an early goal to settle their nerves it was today and they were a whisker away from scoring in the first 60 seconds. Taylor avoided what must qualify as the worst-timed tackle of the season by McAuley down the left, got to the byline and picked out Sam Hatton at the back post, but the midfielder miscued his shot badly and the ball ballooned over the bar to safety.
Within a minute Hampton's Hodges was firing narrowly over from six yards after he turned Judge and from then on the sides were stultifyingly evenly matched. First Godfrey and Kedwell had close range efforts smothered by Lovett and then Pullen had to be on his guard to thwart Quarm and Knight. Hampton's long throws weren't causing the Dons too many problems but one of them led to a corner which really should have resulted in the home side taking the lead. Lake's cross evaded the entire Dons defence but Hodges, booked earlier for a late lunge at Pullen, failed to connect at the back post, much to the travelling Dons fans' relief.
The bumpy pitch, cloying heat and intensity of the situation were hardly conducive to free-flowing attacking football, but the fans of both sides hadn't come to see Barcelona v Real Madrid and the 3,225 people packed inside the Beveree like slowly roasting sardines were doing their level best to match the efforts on the field.
The Dons needed to keep it tight at the back for the first 15 minutes of the second half but only managed to do so for nine. Despite having nine players back for a corner, Lake took it short, passed it simply to Quarm and the impressive midfielder had time to pick his spot and sidefoot the ball past Pullen to give Hampton the lead.
Beavers' boss Alan Devonshire sensed that the Dons were feeling the pressure and made two attack-minded substitutions. Terry Brown countered with two of his own, Main and Finn coming on for Taylor and Lee, and his charges reverted to 4-4-2. Hampton sub Yaku hit a fine snap shot that just skimmed past Pullen's left hand post. At the other end Kedwell missed a great chance when he swivelled onto a loose ball but hammered it high over the massed ranks of Dons fans who were now starting to think that a win against St Albans next Saturday was going to be required to win promotion.
The Dons, with Finn prominent, were now causing the Hampton rearguard some problems, and only a series of last-ditch clearances by the three home centre backs prevented Main and Kedwell from testing Lovett.
With 12 minutes to go Main burst through two defenders and squared the ball across the box but first Godfrey and then Hatton were denied by a phalanx of Hampton legs and Lovett's body - easily the Dons best chance of the half and one that was begging to be taken.
With three minutes to go, the Dons' luck, missing in action over the past month, returned. Goodliffe spotted Hussey wide on the left and pumped a long ball out to the full back. Hampton's Fernandes and Scarborough attempted to cut the ball out but succeeded only in smashing into each other and a flailing limb deflected it out for a throw. Everyone expected the referee to blow up to allow the Beavers' players to be treated, but Mr Mason continued his policy of stopping the game only for head injuries.
From Hussey's short throw, Kedwell sent over a pinpoint cross for Main to head back across Lovett and into the far corner - his 33rd goal of the season and an almost exact replica of his first at Newport 8 months ago. The Dons fans went crazy and seven minutes of injury time later Mr Mason's final whistle signalled AFC Wimbledon's fourth promotion in seven seasons. Probably.
It was not the prettiest of games, but what a beautiful outcome...