In this fixture last season it was Dons keeper Seb Brown who grabbed the headlines with two stunning penalty saves in the final ten minutes, following a first-half strike by Danny Kedwell, to secure three points. That win was the only highlight in a very disappointing end-of-season run.
Six months on, the whole team made the headlines – ahead of Mansfield’s new owner, John Radford, who had recently purchased the club for £1 and secured their future. A season’s best crowd of 2,699, including 209 Dons supporters, had come to see the new dawn, but by the end of the 90 minutes they could all see that there was much work to do.
A young Wimbledon side gave a five-star performance at Field Mill as they put poor Mansfield to the sword. Early strikes from Sam Moore and Christian Jolley set up Wimbledon for their biggest away victory since Forest Green Rovers last season, almost 12 months to the day.
“It was a fantastic game of football,” said Terry Brown afterwards. “The Mansfield substitutions livened it up for them – Kedwell’s goal didn’t feel like it killed the game off. I didn’t feel that comfortable, to be honest, but when the fourth and the fifth went it was clear that it was our day. Mansfield may think they didn’t play well against us, but we got off to the sort of start that would knock the stuffing out of most teams.”
The perfect start came after a mere 11 seconds, with the quickest Dons goal since the club re-formed in 2002. Jolley’s run down the left found a cold Mansfield defence slow-footed, and the summer signing from Kingstonian cut back the ball from the byline to Sam Moore, who netted from close range.
It got even better for Wimbledon nine minutes later. The visiting fans called for a foul after Seb Brown was upended by a robust challenge, but a fine advantage – the first of many played by referee Billy Khatib – set up a fast Dons counter-attack. Mansfield defender Chris Smith misjudged his header to keeper Alan Marriott, leaving Jolley to pounce and loop over the stunned stopper.
The passing of the Dons was sublime: as crisp as anything seen this season, and a marked improvement on the previous Saturday. There was still the feeling, though, that for all their possession Wimbledon might fail to hammer home their advantage. That feeling was reinforced just after the half-hour mark, when first Luis Briscoe and then Paul Connor forced Seb Brown into action during a period of Mansfield pressure.
On 33 minutes, Mansfield got the goal their play had been threatening. Connor’s back-post header after a fine cross by Ashley Cain arched over Brown and put the Stags back in the reckoning. The home fans sensed a revival, and led by their flag-waving mascot, they upped the noise.
To Wimbledon’s credit, they started to press forward again straight away, and the decisive blow came with two minutes of the half remaining. Kedwell was fed through the middle by Ricky Wellard, despite claims of handball against Steven Gregory, who had just broken up a Mansfield attack, and the Dons’ top marksman rounded the onrushing Marriott to slot home his tenth goal of the season. The home fans were furious; the travelling support were joyous.
The second half got under way with Neil Collett replacing Alan Marriott, who suffered a groin strain in the first half, in the Mansfield goal. The Dons began the half in the same commanding way that had characterised the first 45 minutes, with precise and incisive passing, and movement off the ball creating many openings.
Even so, there was still a feeling that a fourth goal was needed to kill the game off. This came just after the hour, when the impressive Sam Moore put Ryan Jackson through with a neat chip over a static defence from the halfway line. The 20-year-old sped into the box and smashed the ball past the helpless Collett. It was no more than the Dons deserved, and soon afterwards home fans began to head for the exits.
Terry Brown’s men still had to be wary of Mansfield, with substitute Luke Medley beginning to menace the Dons defence. However, it was the Moore combination that gave Wimbledon’s performance a five-star rating. With just over a quarter of an hour remaining, substitute Luke crossed for Sam, who poked home for his second of the evening.
The hosts scored a second in the 84th minute when Briscoe rifled his shot into Brown’s top-left corner. The home sponsors gave Briscoe the man of the match award, while Sammy Moore gained the accolades from the Dons with his display of tireless running, his two goals and an assist for another.
While the Mansfield mascot bravely tried to wave his big flag to motivate the departing home fans, Wimbledon supporters needed only their team’s five-goal performance to make the journey home easier.