For the second time this season, the Dons scored a late goal to frustrate Billericay, but this time they took all the points thanks to Robin Shroot’s well-worked winner.
Despite all the last minute signings, there was only one new player, Elliott Buchanan, in the starting line up, plus Lewis Christon making his second appearance at centre back. Nonetheless, the team was much changed from the one that slumped against Horsham, with Hatton at right back, Gayle returning for the injured Goodliffe and Hussey dropping back into the left back slot. In midfield Leberl returned and Rose dropped back to make space for the return of the much-missed Luis Cumbers.
Despite (or possibly because of) these changes, Wimbledon started much as they left off against Horsham, with uncertainty and confusion at the back. As a result, Billericay could have had three goals in the first 20 minutes and only two superb saves by Pullen kept the score down to 1-0. The goal itself was a direct result of non-communication in the centre of defence when Hodges, who had tormented Sweeney and Salmon in successive seasons at New Lodge, brought his skills to bear at Kingsmeadow. He took advantage of some space on the left wing to lift a pinpoint cross for a run by Bricknell which was not picked up by anyone; Bricknell eased the ball past Pullen for a deserved lead after 15 minutes.
At this stage Billericay were passing the ball neatly and quickly, in contrast to their reputation as a big strong team who get the ball up to big men as early as possible, and Hodges was at the heart of many of their moves. But gradually Wimbledon’s central midfield got a grip while Hatton made his presence felt on Hodges, who wilted under the attention. As the half progressed, Ferguson made a series of strong runs down the left, mirrored by Rose on the opposite flank. By half time, despite having created very few chances, the Dons were back in the game.
Another new signing, McDonnell, was introduced for the second half while Rose stepped down. This was hard on Rose, but too much of the first half play had been high balls aimed at forwards who were not designed to compete for them. McDonnell, who looked some distance from match fit, was clearly brought on to address this problem and to allow Buchanan to play wide left, where he enjoyed most of his successes at Northwood.
Suddenly, Wimbledon were all over Billericay. Leberl and Quinn bossed the midfield and Buchanan and Ferguson, until he went off with a hamstring strain, ran at their full backs and created chance after chance. Billericay, especially the impressive Blewitt, defended well with many desperate blocks at the edge of the penalty area. When these failed, there was Worster to beat and he was inspired, making two close range saves that were scarcely believable.
It was after one of these saves that Wimbledon finally broke through. Cumbers’ close range shot was pushed round the post by Worster but Gayle rose unchallenged to Hatton’s corner and the net billowed to make it 1-1. Despite this, a winner wouldn’t come. During the half, Christon hit the goalkeeper with a close range effort, McDonnell was bemused by the uneven bounce in the sandy goalmouth and missed the ball completely when he looked a certain scorer, he had another close range effort saved, and Cumbers blasted over from close range. It looked as if all the pressure and chances would lead to nothing.
Then Shroot went on a mazy run that ended with him being brought down. Quinn took a quick free kick out to Hussey on the left. Hussey slipped the ball to Buchanan who beat his man and hit a hard low cross to the near post where Shroot had timed his run to perfection. So it was 2-1 and no time left for Billericay to respond.
And so Wimbledon’s run of two successive home defeats was ended by a second half of unrelenting pressure that, in the end, gained its just reward. To force a good side like Billericay to defend so desperately has to give the team confidence and self-belief - and the performance was all the more impressive after such an inauspicious and nervous start.
With a play off place as good as certain now, Terry Brown has a week to get the defence, which remained uncertain to the end, back in shape and to make sure that the new players settle into the team. But with Little, Goodliffe, Garrard and Main all close to fitness, he has good cause for optimism.