Two injury-time goals finally gave the Dons all three points after Histon’s dogged determination had threatened to tarnish an at times thrilling performance from the home side.
José Mourinho once complained that Spurs had come to Stamford Bridge to “park the bus” in front of goal without any intention of playing football. Quite what Mourinho would have made of Histon’s attempts to thwart the Dons’ potent attacking force is anyone’s guess, but they very nearly paid off despite a first-half hammering that could easily have seen them four or five down by half-time.
With Terry Brown having named an unchanged starting XI and Rashid Yussuf coming in for the suspended Lee Minshull on the bench, the Dons tore into financially troubled Histon, who had pulled off the surprise result of the weekend with their 3-1 win over Barrow. Within 10 minutes, Jon Main, Danny Kedwell, Ricky Wellard, Andre Blackman, Sammy Moore, Luke Moore and Ismail Yakubu had all had efforts on goal, with Stutes keeper Welch pulling off a couple of excellent saves and midfielder Danny Mills deflecting a Wellard free-kick over his own bar.
It wasn’t just the glut of chances that the Dons were creating that was delighting the home fans, it was the manner in which they were created. Histon simply had no answer to AFC Wimbledon’s slick attacking manoeuvres, whether they came down the left via the marauding Blackman or down the right thanks to the combined efforts of Hatton and Luke Moore.
Steven Gregory was the fulcrum for virtually every passage of play, ably supported by the energy of Sammy Moore and the enterprising and skilful Wellard. The Dons midfield were happy to bide their time, passing it between themselves with accuracy and confidence, waiting for Kedwell or Main to find space.
It was all Histon could do to chase their shadows, but the Dons just couldn’t find the finish that their fine play deserved. Ilesanmi’s lunge on Sammy Moore that earned him a yellow card was a sign of how difficult to handle the home side were. And Histon didn’t help themselves by failing to even remotely find team-mates with a series of horribly misplaced and overhit passes, much to Beck’s increasing ire.
It’s not overstating the case to suggest that the opening 45 minutes of this match rank among the best of AFC Wimbledon’s eight-year life. Although, to quote Alan Shearer, you can only beat what’s put in front of you, the Dons were in complete control and playing some exhilarating football. All that was missing was a goal, and as the half drew to a close Luke Moore’s angled drive to the far post was the closest they came to breaking the deadlock.
When Beck failed to appear for the second half (it later emerged that he had been banished by the referee for an incident as the players left the pitch for half-time), it shouldn’t have made any difference to either side’s performance. But a weak Sammy Moore effort on 47 minutes apart, the Dons somehow lost their impetus. Histon’s players had mystifyingly remembered how to play, and actually seemed to be enjoying themselves – which certainly couldn’t have been said about them in the first half, in the more direct presence of the vociferous Beck.
The visitors even mounted an attack, and though it came to nothing when substitute Sagna, who was later subbed himself, made a mess of the final ball into the box, it at least showed that they weren’t intent on hiding their ability for the entire 90 minutes.
The Dons kept at it, and Blackman in particular looked dangerous going forward and supremely confident on the odd occasion when he was required to do any defending. Brett Johnson and Yakubu were imperious at the back, and even now that they occasionally had something to do, they rarely looked anything other than completely at ease. It was surely only a matter of time before Wimbledon took the lead, and even though their second-half showing wasn’t as free-flowing and coherent as it had been in the first, they were hugely on top and were forcing Histon deeper and deeper.
A double substitution with 24 minutes left saw Christian Jolley and Ryan Jackson come on as pair, as they had done to such great effect at Southport, once again replacing Luke Moore and Jon Main. Despite the extra pace the two new boys added, clear-cut chances were still at a premium. Sammy Moore ballooned a glorious chance over the bar from 12 yards out, but the Histon defence stood tall and repelled everything the Dons threw at them, and the impressive Welch made another superb stop, this time from a close-range Kedwell header.
In the last 10 minutes Terry Brown threw on Rashid Yussuff for his league debut in place of Sammy Moore, and the former Gillingham man’s guile and eye for a pass were soon to have the desired effect – but not before Histon’s time-wasting tactics got the better of them. Ilesanmi needlessly kicked the ball away after his side were fortuitously awarded a goal-kick, and referee Atkin had no option but to show him a second yellow card. Ilesanmi took nearly a minute to trudge off the pitch, and as the game edged into time added on, that minute was to prove crucial.
When Yussuff fed Kedwell in the penalty area, the Dons skipper turned Clerima inside out and the Stutes defender couldn’t resist lunging for the ball. Kedwell tumbled over his outstretched leg, and Atkin pointed to the spot with 92 minutes on the clock. Kedwell dispatched the spot-kick past Welch with supreme confidence, and the Dons had the victory in their grasp. Just to make sure, Yussuff’s pinpoint cross from the right was side-footed home by Wellard just 60 seconds later, and the Cambridgeshire side’s resistance was well and truly broken.
It was no more than the Dons deserved, and was just reward for some excellent, patient football that the home crowd certainly warmed to.