Wimbledon got the final home game presentation party underway with a comprehensive 3-0 demolition of Cray.
Dave Anderson pushed Rob Ursell up front alongside Shane Smeltz as the 3-5-2 formation was retained once more. And the Dons? Cup Final prospects were given a boost by the presence on the bench of the recuperating Richard Butler and the back-from-QPR-duty Sonny Farr.
Cray formed a guard of honour as Wimbledon ran out onto the Kingsmeadow turf as Ryman League champions. And their generosity extended into the match itself, as Northwood gift-wrapped a chance for the Dons to take an early lead.
Rob Ursell raced into the penalty area and was crudely upended by the goalkeeper?s lunge. A penalty could be the only outcome and Ryan Gray calmly dispatched it high to the right of the goal for 1-0 in the seventh minute.
Northwood made amends with 16 minutes gone, throwing himself to his left to brilliantly palm away a fierce Ursell snapshot from a Ryan Gray pullback. Ursell got to the rebound, but a second goalbound effort was deflected behind as it struck the bald head of Ian Rawlings. Antony Teflon Howard headed over from the corner.
Having ended the Dons? proud unbeaten League run in Hayes Lane back in November, Cray certainly hadn?t turned up to just to make up the numbers. Some neat interplay cut the Dons open down their right flank and it took an excellent sliding tackle from Jon-Barrie Bates rushing back to deny Phil Collins.
Rather oddly, one player from each side took a shot after being given offside in quick succession, but only Michael Woolner had his name taken by the referee. Perhaps that was because he sent a late effort well over the bar, after Wood had reacted to being given offside in the other penalty area by hammering a shot into the back of Naisbitt?s net in vain.
Wimbledon regained the ascendancy and Howard headed just wide from another corner. Smeltz then curled a shot from the edge of the box which had the stranded Northwood beaten all ends up, only to strike the outside of the post and go behind. On a rare Cray attack, Naisbitt clung on well to a low drive from Lover.
With seven minutes to go before half-time the Dons doubled their advantage. Ursell sprang the offside trap again, evaded a last tackle and stood for what felt like five minutes in front of Northwood performing step-overs. Eventually he tired of such frippery and laid the ball square for Smeltz to gleefully bundle the ball home. 2-0.
Only a last-ditch tackle prevented Ursell from returning the favour to Woolner with a well-worked one-two. Northwood then saved well low from Ursell and clung on to Smeltz?s attempt to turn the rebound goalwards. Cooper blocked well at the other end when danger threatened in the form of Lover.
With the second half ten minutes old, Dave Anderson replaced Smeltz and Bolger with Farr and Richard Butler. Hammond drew a tip-over from Naisbitt with a free-kick but Farr got quickly into action immediately afterwards. First a seventy-yard run won a corner and then a mazy dribble took him into the box, but his pull-back was blocked as he attempted to find Butler or Ursell.
When Farr threatened again, he was left on the ground by a hard but fair tackle. Ryan Gray raced through to win the ball back and stormed into the penalty area. His square pass found Richard Butler with acres of both space and time. Butler opted for a slow but placed low shot, which Northwood got a hand to but somehow succeeded only in palming the ball into the back of the net for the Dons? third goal.
As Cray waited to take a free-kick, an unseemly scuffle broke out in the Dons penalty area. A Cray player appeared to throw punches, but the only action the referee took was to book Bates.
The Dons continued to string together some flowing passing moves. Farr and Ursell combined and the latter jinked across the box before laying the ball off for the onrushing overlapping full-back in the manner of Brazil in the 1970 World Cup final. Sadly Antony Howard doesn?t possess the shooting boots of Carlos Alberto and hammered the ball high, wide and less than handsomely over the bar.
Cray tried desperately to get back into the game and as a corner was cleared to the edge of the box, only a combination of Ryan Gray and the crossbar kept a screaming volley out.
But Wimbledon were not to be denied the chance to unleash a varied repertoire of flicks and tricks. When Jon-Barrie Bates lays the ball into Ryan Gray?s path with a deft backheel and Mark Cooper starts spraying 30-yard passes out wide to overlapping wingers, it seems safe to say the team are enjoying themselves. Bates and Ursell both had shots from distance saved.
Pleasing though the win was in itself, some excellent football suggested that the squad are remaining focused and determined to avenge the Walton defeat in the Surrey Senior Cup final. Still, that?s ten days away, so let?s have a party for now.