Match report by Jason Baskaran
With the Dons riding high on the wave of three successive away wins, a midweek must-win game had the hallmarks of disaster written all over it. The Dons line up against Ash had changed somewhat to that of the match at Young's Drive back in August. This was revenge for the Dons, and a lesson in football is what they dished out.
From thestart, the intent was clear, as Bolger and Frankum pushed the midfield forward, and for the first time this season: the distribution of balls to the left and right flanks, goals were bound to come. With the West Bank in full voice, Andy '80's Reject, Nice Barnet' Hunt was in for a torrid time. The first opportunity of a shot on goal came on seven minutes as an Ash defence was left standing: Cooper, being man marked by Hanning was given the ball from Sheerin, 30 yards out. Cooper headed the ball down to his feet, where he immediately struck with the outside of his right boot from the most peculiar of angles, a good six feet wide of the left post. Keeper standing, the ball miraculously curled into the top corner, sending the West Bank into a frenzy. The panache that the goal was struck with is a definite contender to goal of the season.
For the second time in as many games the Dons had taken the lead, and indeed this is where they intended to stay. Wave after wave of free flowing moves from right to left, allowed the Dons to slice through the Ash midfield at alarming ease. The Ash wingbacks were left pressurised as Cooper, Sheerin, Sullivan and Sidwell forced throw in after throw in. On 17 minutes a corner from the left allowed a salmon like Keith Ward to head down for Everard to knock over the line in an Ash mix up. At Ash United, it was said that Everard averaged a goal every five games, and this goal took his Dons' tally up to three goals in six starts.
It wasn't so much of a lull that resulted in the Ash goal, but moreover that of bad communication amongst the defence, and a slicing pass from midfield to Joyce, who neatly lobbed the advancing Merry. The back four was different from the previous two games, as Ward had replaced Robson; Daly moved over in place of Towse, as Oakins took central defence with Everard. Personally, I felt the back four of the previous games was far superior in distribution and efficiency.
Half time came, and with Ash only a goal behind some were fearing the worst- possibly the fight back of August 26th. As the second half commenced the Dons started in full glory, immediately harassing every player with the ball, passing confidently, and finding space for one another. It took a mere four minutes for the third goal to go in, as Sheerin played a cheeky back heel that by-passed Ash's Stuart Woodhouse, allowing a running Frankum to take the ball and cross it square into Cooper's path, allowing him to knock home. At 3-1 up the Dons looked in full control, yet were not breaking a sweat.
A brief moment of panic as Ash went to the other end, and in a move similar to their first goal, had Merry beaten, only for the post to provide salvation and maintain the lead. Daly cleverly took it past an advancing forward, played a neat ball to Everard, who in turn passed it to Frankum. Frankum took the ball to Ash United's semi-circle, where by he chipped the ball over Bonner, and into the path of Joe Sheerin. With Hunt advancing out of goal, Joe released the trigger only for the ball to be spitefully parried onto the post. Even though the goal was not to be, the move showed great promise as the Dons have really discovered that they are a team.
Again, the Dons swarmed forward, with Everard commanding the back four, pushing the Ash forwards almost into their own half, and allowing Frankum and Bolger to supply the flanks as Cooper and Sheerin continued to do the business. Again, Cooper showed why he'll be up for 'player of the season' come May, as he cutely set himself up by zigzagging through an Ash defence like a hot knife through butter, only for his resulting effort to be knocked high into the air. Sidwell rose majestically, and the faintest of knocks sent the ball over the line, as the keeper was sprawling.
At 4-1, Sheerin was taken off for Passmore, allowing Bolger to go upfront with Cooper in hope to continue his rich vein of scoring. Frankum, yet again showed why he should be with the Dons next season, as he played a sublime ball to Sullivan, allowing him to skip through the midfield and onto the defence, only for him to be slide-tackled by Hanning, where the ball was not even touched, but kneecaps were indeed lost. Cooper lined the ball up, and struck it hard and along the ground, with it bending round the Ash wall. The ball curled into the bottom right of the goal, and sent the Athletics end into a roar. At 5-1 it looked like game set and match, and Eames found it safe to take off Frankum and Everard, probably the two most important players on the pitch: one providing tantalising passes, and the other not letting anything get new Merry's sticks.
With Everard off the defence looked somewhat clueless, and a scramble allowed Jamie Horton (Ash's player-manager), to rocket the ball, only for Merry to save it, and for Horton to knock the initial save into the roof of the net.
The Dons continued to press forward, but to no avail, as Ash, never relenting, claimed a dubious penalty. Woodhouse converted; sending Merry the wrong way, and leaving the score line a little flattering for Ash. 5-2 would have been a more appropriate score, as although Ash were not as solid as our previous encounter, they did have the ability to break quickly, and prove a threat.
This test (or lack of), showed the players and fans how far the team has come as a whole. This is down to the way that every player fights for one another, knows where the other is, and tracks down any player with the ball. For the whole evening, Ash were denied free runs at goal. The performance was solid, Cooper's hatrick sublime, and the central midfield partnership flawless. Everard again asserted himself as one of the key signings of the season. We have a good team here, a very good one indeed.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Kevin Cooper – after four dry games, he comes back with a hatrick. His first being an awesome long range effort that showed what a versatile striker he has become, and how his game has developed: he can run round defenders, knock on to other players, set up goals, score free kicks, and now score curling drives from 30 yards out. Next mission: to score a header.