Yet another Jon Main brace secured a hard-fought win for the Dons as they took another step towards the Blue Square Premier.
Despite their early-season form, which had seen Hayes & Yeading deservedly beat the Dons in September, the home side went into the tricky looking encounter 17 points ahead of their visitors. However Terry Brown, a former Hayes manager, knew only too well that any lapse in concentration and form against Gary Haylock’s side could have longer-reaching consequences than just the loss of three points.
As has been the norm of late, the away side started the stronger. The Dons, minus the injured Dwane Lee, had Jake Leberl in the central midfield holding role but it was his counterpart James Mulley who took control of the early exchanges. Mulley twice won possession from the Dons number 4 and fed the dangerous Josh Scott out on the left but on both occasions his crosses were expertly dealt with by Ben Judge and Jason Goodliffe, ensuring former Dons striker Scott Fitzgerald was starved of any decent service.
The Dons seemed to be making little headway but on 14 minutes they were the beneficiaries of what can only be described as a schoolboy error. Jon Main, chasing a long ball into the penalty area, was preparing to shoot when Steve Perkins closed him down – Main elected instead to chip the ball over Perkins head but took too strong a touch and the ball sailed easily into goalkeeper Aaron Howe’s hands. Inexplicably, the ball squirmed out of Howe’s grasp and fell invitingly for Main to tap into an empty net from all of 4 yards out for his 26th and easiest goal of the season. The Dons were fortunate to be 1-0 up.
Four minutes later, they nearly weren’t. Perkins headed a Chris Hussey corner clear but straight to Tom Davis who took an unusually heavy touch and within seconds three Hayes & Yeading players were bearing down on James Pullen’s goal at the other end of the pitch. Fitzgerald had Palmer to his right and Scott to his left and a simple pass to either of them would have put them through on goal but, selfishly, he ignored them both and shot tamely wide.
The Dons were still struggling to take control of the game and Andy Sambrook’s pulled hamstring on the half-hour didn’t help matters. Michael Haswell came on in midfield and Sam Hatton dropped back into the right back berth. Haswell’s presence seemed to add some much-needed steel to the midfield and after Davis was booked for tripping Gregory the Dons doubled their lead.
Cadmore lunged wildly at Hussey near the corner flag to earn the Dons a free kick in a dangerous position and with Hussey off the pitch Elliott Godfrey drilled a cross into the box that Howe could only palm away. Spinning round MacDonald’s hand caught the ball and after a short delay the referee awarded a penalty. Main despatched it to Howe’s left for his 14th goal in 10 games and his 10th since the turn of the year.
Brown had praised his back four of late but he would surely have been exceptionally proud of the way Goodliffe and Judge dealt with the visitors onslaught in the second half. Sensing that they didn’t deserve to be two goals down, Hayes & Yeading started the second half in a similar vein to the first, attacking the Dons from the first whistle, but Goodliffe and Judge, seemed to have magnetic qualities. Any ball that came anywhere near them was despatched from whence it came with whatever part of their body they could reach it with and there seemed no way through for Fitzgerald, Palmer or the impressive Scott. Most of the Dons forward manoeuvres were spawned by defensive interceptions or tackles but too often the final ball wasn’t up to the same standard. The Dons flowing football of the last two months just couldn’t get going and for the first time since his arrival five months ago Danny Kedwell was barely getting a look-in. On the odd occasion he did, he failed to take his opportunity. First he brought a fine save out of Howe after he turned smartly 12 yards out and then shortly after, Main’s pinpoint cross found him in a yard of space but his header went narrowly wide. The search for a third goal gave the visitors the opportunity to get back into the game and a good move involving Gregory and Mulley set substitute Omari Coleman free for a one on one with Pullen but the Dons keeper smothered the striker’s effort bravely as the game entered its fourth quarter.
With 10 minutes to go a great bit of interchange between Hussey and Haswell set the latter up to send in a peach of a cross but Main sent his header from the edge of the six yard box inches wide of the near post. A third goal would perhaps have been cruel on Haylock’s men as they certainly had the lion’s share of possession in the second half and Coleman’s introduction on the hour had given them an extra injection of energy, but the Dons resolute defending denied them the goal their sharp approach play deserved.
The final whistle was greeted with as much relief as it was elation that the Dons had extended their lead at the top to six points but with Hampton and Eastleigh looking to be in ominous form, and with the Dons due to visit them both in the final third of the season, no one is taking anything for granted. But with Goodliffe and Judge in imperious form at one end and Main at the other, the Dons opponents are going to have to be at the top of their game to topple them.