AFC Wimbledon 1 - AFC Wallingford 1
THE AFCWs proved beyond doubt that they are the best two sides in the CCL this season, but shared the spoils in a tense but enjoyable game at The Fans' Stadium ? Kingsmeadow. Nicky English restored Gavin Bolger, Matt Everard and Joe Sheerin to the line-up and opted for Paul Scott to partner Sheerin up front.
Kick-off was delayed by 15 minutes to allow Wallingford's players to arrive, but it was the Dons who started brighter. Paul Strudley in the Wallingford goal had a busy evening, starting in the first minute when he clung on to Matt Everard's header from a Steve Gibson cross.
At the other end, Spence and Beavon showed off their much-heralded pace, with Standen first in action on nine minutes to block from the former. The big keeper then palmed a shot wide he really should have held, but atoned by claiming the corner with ease.
Darren Dobinson laid the ball up to Sheerin, who set Ryan Gray scampering away at pace with a delightful flick. Gray's looping effort had Strudley scrambling back but dropped over. John Partridge then almost caught his keeper out with a strong header goalwards under pressure from Scott, but Strudley held it well.
The minutes ticked by in a tight encounter, played at a faster pace than most CCL games. Spence set up Beavon who was totally free in the Dons area, but Standen beat his shot away for a corner.
Yet another home corner saw Wimbledon take the lead on 32 minutes. Dobinson's low corner bounced on the edge of the six-yard box and found its way past Strudley and into the net, possibly thanks to the slightest of touches from Danny Oakins. Almost immediately, Spence wriggled clear of the Dons defence once more. This time he rounded Standen, but ran out of room and fell over as the ball crossed the line for a goal-kick.
The Dons enjoyed a spell of possession until half-time but Bolger and Oakins were unable to capitalise on half-chances and Favata drove well over once more.
Strudley continued an impressive display at the start of the second-half, holding on to a Bolger effort, before a tiring Sheerin was replaced by Kevin Cooper. Not for the first time, the Cooper-Scott partnership failed to fire and, with the ball not being held up, the midfield came under renewed pressure. The Dons' free-kick nemesis from last season, Shane Small-King, had been quiet in the first half, but came increasingly into the game in the second, pulling the strings behind Spence and Beavon as Wallingford looked to create chances on the break.
But they needed further good work from Strudley to stay in touch and, when he was finally beaten, Cooper's shot was cleared off the line. Favata found his range at last and Strudley tipped his hard drive over. It proved to be Favata's last action of the match as he was replaced by Gareth Graham with thirteen minutes remaining. His first touch was a shot from distance easily held by Strudley.
On 80 minutes Wallingford produced an equaliser. Like the Dons, it was a corner that provided the breakthrough, after Small-Kings shot was apparently deflected wide. Partridge's looping header cleared Standen and the linesman ruled that it had cross the line before Gray hooked it away. It would have been immaterial in any case, since Bryan incontrovertibly headed the rebound into the net.
The Dons looked for a winner and Everard went close from a couple of set pieces, but the final score stayed 1-1.
In a foretaste of what the Dons can expect at a higher level, the game was far tenser and closer than the home fans have grown accustomed to. Wallingford played extremely well to stay in the game at only one-nil down and, whilst the manner of their equaliser was disappointing, Wimbledon knew they should have been more than one goal to the good by then. For their part, the visitors could point, with some justification, to profligacy from Beavon and Spence in the first half. So a draw was a fair result, which leaves AFC Wimbledon still well on course for the league championship.