Match report by Ross MacLagan
Let’s face it, AFC Wallingford are a class act, they scored 134 goals in the 2001/02 season and amassed 104 points, so far this season they have scored 114 goals and had 97 points to their name prior to kick off. In the away leg at Hithercroft, the Dons played some superb football and had Wallingford on the ropes for considerable periods, but they had the experience to turn the game in their favour. The 3-0 victory, however, did flatter them slightly.
This match, however, was going to give us a strong indication on how we have developed as a team and it was going to take one hell of a performance to beat them!
The conditions for the game were just about as good as it gets. The sun was beating down; the pitch had been watered and looked far less dusty than it had for the mid week Merstham game. The sizeable crowd waited in tense anticipation for the kick off and I for one was happy to see that Steven Cook was the referee for the day, a man, judging from previous performances, who could handle the big match occasion.
From the off the match started at a frenetic pace. Wallingford, however, seemed to take an age ‘to get out of the blocks’ and were soon under intense pressure. The fervour from the crowd drove our boys forward and it was evident that some of the younger Wallingford players were struggling to come to terms with the situation. After only 2 minutes, a Daly cross from the by-line was put wide by Cooper and a few minutes later further pressure from the home side lead to the Wallingford no.7, Mckinney being booked for not retreating at a free kick. Well done Mr Cook.
The Dons were looking lively and it appeared to be ‘one way traffic’, but Shane Small-King, the Wallingford no.8 had other ideas. A free kick was awarded outside the box on the right, as Merry lined up the wall, Small-King took the free kick early, leaving Merry wrong footed, the shot blasted into the top left corner of the net. 0-1 Wallingford.
The Wallingford goal, however, seemed to spur the Dons on, Sheerin was winning a lot in the air, Sullivan had a header saved by Strudley, Daly shot over the bar from a free kick, Everard and Oakins were marshalling the dangerous Shildrick. This pressure lead to a number of corners in quick succession, on 16 minutes Sullivan scored direct from a corner. The ball went through a melee of players past the unsighted Strudley. Game on.
Minutes later Wallingford’s no.11, Hancock was booked for a late tackle on Daly and Cooper had a shot charged down as he closed in on goal. The Wallingford back line conceded another corner, Shildrick headed clear, only for Daly to return the ball with his left foot, Sheerin rose above all and with an exquisite header guided the ball in to the top left hand corner with Strudley well and truly beaten. 2-1 Dons, the crowd went delirious. Wimbledon’s work rate was immense, Wallingford were harried whenever they had the ball and were given no time to settle. Their cause, however, was not helped by injuries to their Captain, Gary Stevens and their full back Marc Champion.
With minutes to go before half time a free kick was conceded by Wimbledon, this allowed Small-King to step up once more, from 30 yards out, he unleashed a venomous curling shot into the top left hand corner of the net. 2-2. Just before half time both Bassey & Daly were booked after some robust challenges. Confusion, however, at the heart of the Wimbledon defence lead to the ball being headed past Merry, goal bound. Wardy hurtled back and somehow managed to hook the ball clear via the cross bar. What a game!
The second half was slightly more subdued than the first as both teams settled into the game. A free kick on the left, after 55 minutes went long, Cooper picked the ball up and unselfishly lofted it to the back post, Everard made no mistake as he headed past the flailing Strudley. 3-2 Dons and 100 League goals scored this season!
Oakins & Shildrick were booked after a minor altercation that the referee dealt with efficiently and calmly. From the free kick Cooper was sent clear, but couldn’t get his shot away as he drove wide. Sheerin with his job done was substituted for Graham; Bolger pushed up front and was soon joined by Russell, who replaced Cooper. Both Russell and Bolger had good opportunities to add to our tally but failed to capitalise when through.
With only minutes remaining on the clock, a free kick awarded in Wimbledon’s favour lead to an impetulent reaction from Hancock as he threw the ball away, leaving the referee with no option but to award him his second yellow card and send him off. Minutes later the final whistle blew and the crowd roared with delight.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Terry Eames.
An exceptional performance by all of the team left the vocal match sponsors, PISA, with no option but to award the ‘Man of the Match’ to Terry Eames as it would have been unfair to pick one player out. This was a true team performance on the pitch and in the crowd! Well done AFC Wimbledon!