A cutting edge eluded AFC Wimbledon as East Thurrock completed a victory double over the Dons for this season. After failing to make the game safe going forward, defensive concentration went walkabout during the closing stages of this match and Terry Brown’s side paid the price. Alfie Potter’s early strike was all that separated the teams as the clock ran down, but home fans would have fancied their side, placed second in the Ryman Premier, to hold firm against a relegation-threatened opponent reduced to ten men following Craig Barrett’s dismissal.
And yet the unthinkable happened. Max Cornhill’s headed equalizer was bad enough, a hopeful dead-ball delivery from deep that nobody took responsibility for; but when substitute Ben Boyce larruped the ball past James Pullen in the final minute, following a defensive howler, the mood around the Fans’ Stadium turned every bit as dark as the weather.
Illness and injury continued to ravage the squad. But this defeat had little to do with depleted numbers. Goals, so easy to come by in recent weeks, just wouldn’t materialize in a second half devoid of any significant attacking class. For the record, striker Luis Cumbers had returned to Gillingham during the week and, with Jon Main and Romone Rose unavailable, Daniel Webb was the only recognized forward available. Steve Ferguson took on striking duties with Alfie Potter coming into the side on the left. Rob Quinn deputized for Marcus Gayle at centre half, allowing Mark Beard to return into his more familiar midfield role.
Yet, the Dons began the match brightly, creating a number of chances; the best of which fell to Daniel Webb whose left footed drive was turned away by keeper Shane Gore.
Loan signing Potter gave the hosts the lead on seven minutes, darting on to Michael Haswell’s pass down the left, breezing past his marker and driving the ball underneath the keeper, who really should have done better.
Mysteriously, the Dons went off the boil almost as quickly as they had got going. Tony Boot nearly put the visitors back in the game, taking a pot-shot from the edge of the box and curling over the bar when perhaps another touch was available to him. Moments later, the same player arrived in the box but headed Steve Wareham’s cross straight at Pullen.
Good work from Potter, Hatton and Haswell down the left flank engineered a chance for Daniel Webb, but Gore made a fine stop to deny the Dons target man.
East Thurrock’s Chris Newby was replaced by Ben Boyce just before half time, with the full back carrying a knock. As it turned out, that particular cloud had a silver lining for John Coventry’s men.
Wimbledon were unlucky not to extend their lead on 52 minutes. Webb’s flick-on sent Ferguson to the by-line; the Scot centered for Hatton arriving on cue and, after rattling the cross bar with his first attempt, the young midfielder stooped to nod in the rebound only to see Gore spring to his right and turn the ball round the post.
The Rocks continued to beaver away in the hope that something would break for them. Steve Harrison tested Pullen from distance, the former Eastleigh keeper saving well low to his left.
But the match looked to be slipping away from the visitors when they were reduced to ten men. On 65 minutes Chris Barrett came on for Wareham. He received a straight red 16 minutes latter for clattering Jason Goodliffe.
The Dons had laboured for much of the second period to put the result to bed, maintaining pressure and possession but demonstrating poor decision making and a lack of quality final ball when it mattered. Robin Shroot, Webb and Ferguson all squandered opportunities to extend the hosts’ lead, but they were half chances at best.
To cap the lacklustre nature of their performance, the Dons then gifted their opponents a late goal. Ashley Dumas’ punt into the box from deep wasn’t dealt with and Max Cornhill looped his header over Pullen to ensure the visitors a hard earned point.
The Dons frantically tried to wrestle back the advantage, finally upping their tempo and causing problems for the visiting backline. Shroot fired wide and then Hatton grazed the left hand post from close range with seconds remaining.
It got a whole lot worse when East Thurrock turned their one point into all three. A defensive mix up involving Goodliffe and substitute Steve Gilbert presented Boyce with a shooting opportunity. He won’t conjure up a better strike all season; swinging through the ball from 25 yards and seeing it crash in off the upright – a vital goal for the Rocks that would propel them out of the relegation zone.
AFC Wimbledon, meanwhile, continue to under perform against the basement battlers. Seven of Wimbledon’s nine defeats this year have come against sides in the bottom half of the table – a foreboding statistic considering Carshalton Athletic are up next. Hayden Bird’s squad now resides where East Thurrock did in the table prior to Good Friday, and must surely fancy their chances.