The Dons resurrected their winning form on Easter Monday with a 2-0 victory played through just about every weather condition imaginable. Steven Ferguson’s first strike arrived on 23 minutes in a snow flurry; he would muster his second in the bright sunshine of stoppage time. Once again, though, the Dons failed to turn an abundance of scoring opportunities into goals, but there was plenty of endeavour on show – exactly what was required on a sodden, bumpy surface that would limit the quality of the football.
More changes had to be made to the starting eleven. The manager had hinted at some rotation over the Easter period but his team sheet indicated forced modifications had overruled tactical switches. For starters, the back four was almost completely different. Luke Garrard’s injury shuttled Mark Beard out to right full-back, pushing Robert Quinn back into midfield. Marcus Gayle took the vacant centre half role, while Chris Hussey returned on the other defensive flank for Michael Haswell. Robin Shroot came in for Tony Finn as the Dons set up in a 4-2-3-1 that utilised Daniel Webb as a focus for the longer ball, with Ferguson, Alfie Potter and Shroot running off him. There were just four substitutes available.
Former Don, Robert Ursell lined up for the hosts, with another ex-Womble, Dwayne Plummer, warming the bench. The Robins had won just 2 of their previous 11 fixtures and were languishing just above Leyton, so there was no guarantee of points for the Dons based on their previous record in this kind of match-up.
Appalling weather conditions dictated the playing style – long ball. It took some time for either side to get going. Robins’ striker, Phil Ruggles, was the first to work keeper James Pullen, denied from eight yards after Richard Carpenter’s initial effort was charged down.
The Dons were nearly ahead moments afterwards. Richard Barnard flapped at Shroot’s hopeful punt into the area and Potter’s header was cleared off the line. Hussey and Shroot worked a half chance for Webb, but the forward couldn’t finish it off.
At the other end, Ursell used one of his customary drag backs to create a yard of space, but fired wide of the left hand post.
Hatton’s deft volley threaded Ferguson in on goal but he was thwarted by Barnard. The wide man retrieved the loose ball provided a cross for Potter, who also failed to hit the net.
On 23 minutes, though, everything finally clicked into place for the visitors. Hatton’s quick thinking sent Potter down the left. The former Havant man drove the ball across the area and Ferguson pounced to fire past Barnard for 1-0.
Three minutes later the Wombles should have extended their advantage. Shroot flicked Jason Goodliffe’s clearance into Webb’s path, but the target man almost had too much time to consider his options and thumped his shot well wide.
Ferguson got behind the Robins’ back four again, racing past Barnard only to find Lewis Gonsalves’ there to spare his keeper’s blushes.
Hatton and Shroot both wasted opportunities before half time, and Hussey darted into the box, via a neat one-two with Shroot, and then dragged the ball past the post with his less favoured right peg.
The rain / sleet / snow ceased by the second period, but the Dons picked up where they left off – wasting more chances to make the game safe. Shroot arrived to meet Hatton’s corner, turned his man but hooked the ball up and over the bar.
Pullen hadn’t been that busy during the first half but was alert when he needed to be, tipping over Simon Cooper’s sliced cross.
Quinn and Webb engineered space for Potter to take a swing from 20 yards but it failed to trouble Barnard. Ferguson did manage to test the keeper a few minutes later but his attempt was scant reward for Hussey’s excellent through ball.
Haswell joined the action midway through the second half, replacing Potter and pushing Hussey up to left midfield, a strategy that fans have been interested to see Terry Brown try recently. Shroot moved to right wing and Ferguson joined Webb up front to terrorise the Carshalton defenders with his pace and tenacity.
Almost immediately the shuffle paid dividends. Shroot and Beard combined to present Hatton with a point blank header that beat the keeper, but also the left hand upright.
Still just the goal down the Robins kept plugging away. Substitute, Zac Graham missed a similar headed opportunity, putting James Adams’ cross wide with plenty of time and space to pick his spot.
Yet more chances went astray. Shroot forced Barnard into another decent parry and then headed Hussey’s far post cross against the bar when it seemed easier to score. Gayle powered a Hussey’s corner goal bound but it was blocked on the line and Carshalton somehow survived the skirmish that ensued. Barnard was in action again on 85 minutes, palming away Hussey’s strike. Ferguson then found Hatton arriving in space on the edge of the box but the keeper was clearly in no mood to concede a second.
As the clock ticked into injury time, Carshalton made that one inevitable heart-stopping opening to nab a point. Pullen appeared to be fouled during a corner routine but play continued and Gonsalves’ header was cleared off the line by Quinn. A second scramble came and went with visiting fans wondering where all the stoppage time had suddenly come from. There had been no second half stoppages.
The sighs of relief were audible in the away section then, when the Dons broke away and a headed exchange between Ferguson and Hatton put the Scot through to fire the visitors to victory on a pitch now bathed in glorious sunshine.