The occasion didn’t quite mirror the achievement, but the Dons made it through to the first round proper of the FA Cup, and a home tie with League Two leaders Wycombe Wanderers, with a narrow victory against Ryman League Premier side Maidstone United.
Terry Brown’s starting line up had a familiar ring to it, being unchanged for the fifth game in a row. The reprieved Jake Leberl lined up alongside Ben Judge in the centre of defence. Again Terry chose not to name the seven subs allowed, choosing just six potential replacements but in Pullen, Goodliffe, Inns, Godfrey, Haswell and Sullivan the Dons bench was probably the strongest it’s ever been.
The Dons seemed content to let Maidstone have the majority of the early spoils, presumably in the hope that the home side would tire quickly on one of the bumpiest pitches a Wimbledon side have played on since their Combined Counties days. With former Merstham striker Meschach Nugent and the pacey Lloyd Blackman up front, ably supported by former Wimbledon and Arsenal midfielder Ian Selley and ex-Gillingham defenders Ian Cox and Roland Egde, the Stones proved to be a strong side but lacking the quality that Dover showed in the previous round. The Dons defence weathered Maidstone’s attacks with ease without looking overly dangerous at the other end, save for a long-range Sam Hatton effort that bobbled harmlessly into Walker’s arms and a Tom Davis volley from 12 yards that the former Bromley keeper scooped up comfortably.
With their passing game proving impossible to play thanks to a combination of the pitch and the swirling wind, coupled with an oddly muted atmosphere, the game had most of the ingredients of an upset. Thankfully, one ingredient it did lack was a Maidstone goal, made all the more important by Sam Hatton’s 34th minute strike. For the first time in the half, Tony Finn and Danny Kedwell combined superbly on the edge of the box and the former threaded an inch-perfect through ball for Hatton to run onto and chip over the advancing Walker.
Neither side looked capable of adding to the half’s single goal tally in the remaining 11 minutes but when Blackman went down under a solid-looking Leberl challenge in the box, the Dons’ collective hearts were in their mouths when the referee blew his whistle and pointed to the spot. Luckily, he was pointing at the spot where Blackman had dived, awarded the Dons a free kick and booked the dumbstruck Maidstone striker. On blowing for half-time three minutes later the officials left the pitch to a chorus of boos followed by 11 rather relieved-looking players in blue and yellow.
With Maidstone’s noisier supporters crammed into a tiny covered stand behind the goal they were now attacking, the second half began in similar fashion to the first. Selley and Pinnock’s probing being countered by the ubiquitous Kennedy Adjei but too often the young midfielder’s good work was undone when the front three failed to hold the ball up and the defence were placed under often-unnecessary pressure. Fortunately, Garrad, Judge, Leberl and Hussey rarely looked anything but capable of dealing with anything the Stones could throw at them, and when the home side did manage to get in a cross Andy Little, looking back to his best, snaffled up any potential danger, including Maidstone’s best effort of the day, a 20-yard Selley free kick.
As the game wore on a Maidstone equaliser looked less and less likely, but in truth, no less likely than a Dons’ second. Jon Main was being kept quiet by a combination of the experienced Cox and the combative Lewis, Kedwell was finding himself being drawn deeper and deeper in search of the ball and when Finn did get possession, he invariably lost it on a frustrating afternoon for the newly-contracted front man. Both sides made changes, with Alan Inns returning from injury for a six-minute midfield cameo and Chris Sullivan having even less time to impress Terry Brown after replacing the tiring Main, but Hatton’s 34th minute strike proved to be the tangible difference between the two sides and the full time whistle was greeted with audible sighs of relief rather than the mass celebrations a place in the first round of the FA Cup would usually bring.