The Dons threw away a fantastic opportunity to progress to the quarter-finals of the FA Trophy as Blue Square North mid-tablers Workington left Kingsmeadow with a deserved victory, twice having come from behind.
Seb Brown’s superb double save after just five minutes, first parrying the unmarked Jonny Wright’s point-blank header and then leaping athletically to tip away Shaun Vipond’s half-volleyed rebound, should have given the Dons ample notice – not that they should have needed it – that this was not going to be quite the stroll that some had predicted. Workington had disposed of the Blue Square Premier’s form team Rushden & Diamonds in the previous round, and their intentions were pretty clear: they had not made the trek from Cumbria to defend, they were here to win.
Wright looked a handful, but his prowess in the air was causing Ben Judge and Brett Johnson far greater problems than he was entitled to expect – the Dons central defenders got in each other’s way on three or four occasions and as a result made things worse by leaving too much space between themselves and full-backs Sam Hatton and Danny Blanchett. Judge and Johnson hadn’t looked this ill at ease all season, Johnson in particular appearing very uncomfortable.
With 15 minutes on the clock, the Dons took the lead. While this was not exactly against the run of play, Workington were slightly the better of the two sides in the opening sixth of the game. Nathan Elder met Danny Kedwell’s cross with a powerful header that nestled into the corner of former Carlisle keeper Tony Caig’s net. Only a bizarre bounce of the ball prevented Kedwell from making it 2-0 shortly after, and Ricky Wellard shot weakly when well placed some 20 yards out. But it was now beginning to look as though class would tell.
Blanchett and Wellard began working well down the left, and the Peterborough loanee was presented with a great chance to find Kedwell or Elder in the six-yard box, but his low cross was easily cleared after he had again combined with Wellard. Elliott Godfrey’s two quick-fire attempts at doubling the Dons’ lead both ended up in the gardens of the houses behind the Kingston Road End, but it appeared that Wimbledon had weathered workmanlike Workington’s storm.
Just after the half-hour it became evident that they hadn’t. Kennedy Adjei’s flying header from an inswinging corner set up the Reds for another corner, from which the yet-again unmarked Wright was able to stoop and head the ball past Brown from six yards. And it was only the intervention of the assistant referee’s flag that prevented Workington from taking the lead, when a deep cross was headed past Brown by the unmarked Gareth Arnison, who had only narrowly strayed into an offside position. A theme was developing.
Terry Brown’s half-time team talk would have been an interesting monologue to listen to, but whatever the message, his charges summarily failed to heed it. Wimbledon players were taking it in turns to give the ball away, with Adjei, Blanchett, Hatton and Johnson fluffing simple passes and playing their team-mates into unnecessary trouble. Equally as unnecessary was the challenge on Kedwell just after the hour mark when the big striker was wrestled to the ground in the penalty area. When Kedwell himself coolly converted the spot-kick, there should have been only one team in it from there on in.
There was, but it was Workington. Rather than looking likely to increase their lead and take the game away from their lower-league opponents, the Dons seemed to think that the game was won, and the constant concession of possession was now visibly and audibly riling Messrs Brown, Cash and Bassey, not to mention the Dons fans, who were becoming more and more frustrated by their players’ inability to keep the ball or look likely to win it back.
With nine minutes to go, Workington (and the Dons) got what they deserved, but the manner of their equaliser will probably give Terry Brown nightmares for weeks to come. Blanchett was faced with some routine defending, 30 yards out, facing his own goal, Wright closing him down. He had two options: either pass back to Seb Brown, whose kicking had been inconsistent throughout the game, or simply knock the ball out for a throw. Inexplicably, Blanchett instead tried to flick the ball up, presumably with the intention of volleying it clear, but Wright intercepted it and his cross-cum-shot from wide on the Workington right floated over Brown’s head and into the far corner of the net.
The Dons had failed to clear the danger on at least half a dozen occasions in the lead-up to the goal. Solid and unspectacular Workington were playing like a side in the middle of the Blue Square North table, and not having to do any better to be more than a match for their hosts.
When Nathan Elder raced away down the left and was halted only by a brilliantly timed tackle, it at last appeared that the Dons were not going to be happy with a Tuesday replay – as one suspected the Reds would have been – but it proved to be something of a false dawn. With four minutes of normal time left, the two-goal Wright chested a harmless-looking ball into space behind Blanchett in the penalty area, and though the Dons defender was favourite to reach it first, he allowed Vipond to nip in and hammer the winner inside Brown’s near post.
Five minutes of added time only prolonged the Dons’ misery. Workington looked more likely to add to their tally, and the home fans became increasingly vocal in their disappointment. The final whistle saw the Reds players run to their 100-strong band of supporters, whose 350-mile journey back to the Lake District probably passed more quickly than the Dons players’ inglorious trudge to the dressing room.