Terry Brown finally laid his Church Road hoodoo to rest, but that was about the only positive element of a disappointing night as his league leaders were held to a goalless draw by relegation-threatened Hayes & Yeading.
Brown, a former Hayes player and manager before they merged with neighbours Yeading in 2007, had taken visiting sides to his old stamping ground on four occasions – including the last two seasons with the Dons – and come away empty-handed every time, and the Dons boss was left scratching his head and wondering how on earth his charges failed to come away with three valuable points. The answer is quite simple: AFC Wimbledon came to life only in the last few minutes.
It could have been rather different had Drewe Broughton, making his first start, not headed straight at United keeper Delroy Preddie with only five minutes gone, Fraser Franks’ pinpoint cross all but begging to be powered home. But that miss somehow set the tone for an evening when, with better finishing, the Dons could have come away with a handsome victory, although Hayes & Yeading weren’t without their own chances. Jefferson Louis tested Seb Brown’s reflexes with a low angled drive, and Bradley Pritchard’s pot shot at least gave the Dons keeper something to think about, but at the other end of a surprisingly green pitch the Dons were doing their level best to keep the scores even.
On numerous occasions in an otherwise forgettable half, Wimbledon overworked and overthought what to a mere spectator seemed to be simple moves, and when shooting opportunities arose, James Mulley, Rashid Yussuff, Kirk Hudson and Danny Kedwell all chose to find a team-mate instead of firing at goal, much to the frustration of the Dons management team and their 500-plus supporters. On each occasion a pass was the wrong option, but Wimbledon seemed determined to walk the ball into the net – though with United’s Charlie Wassmer and Adam Bygrave in such commanding form, that was becoming increasingly unlikely. Arsenal play like Arsenal for a reason.
Steven Gregory came closest to opening the scoring when his swerving 25-yarder almost deceived Preddie, but it was the home side that fashioned the best opportunity of the half. With Mulley lying injured in the centre circle and the Dons asking for the ball to be put out of play, United refused and played on. From the move than ensued, Louis’s volley from Nathan Webb’s cross was superbly saved by Brown, and then Pritchard reacted quickest with a twisting volley from 12 yards that Brown did superbly well to tip onto the post and clutch at the second attempt.
Terry Brown was clearly unhappy with his side’s showing, and 15 minutes into an equally unpromising second half he made two changes in quick succession that ultimately almost paid off. Ryan Jackson and Christian Jolley replaced the ineffectual Hudson and Broughton, and although both started quietly, the final quarter of an hour at least provided some excitement for the spectators on what was now a bitterly cold evening.
Andy Yiadom and Louis had both forced Seb Brown into comfortable saves, but the Dons were not even getting as far as testing Preddie as time after time they gave the ball away in promising circumstances. Jolley was guilty, three times in five minutes – each time Gareth Gwillim played a simple ball to his feet and it bounced off the winger’s shins. But as time ticked by, and with only Jamie Stuart’s header that had been cleared off the line to show for their efforts, something happened to the former Kingstonian man. It was as if his confidence had been switched on as all of a sudden he found he had the beating of his man and just as suddenly the Dons looked likely to sneak a winner.
However, they still had to get over the Arsenal factor. First, Jolley set up Mulley with a shooting chance, but with the ball at his feet in the D he took far too many touches, drove himself wide and ended up dribbling the ball out of play. Jackson finally got free of Webb’s attentions and found Jolley unmarked with a cross to the far post, but the winger hammered his shot over the bar after some neat control. Jolley was involved again when Kedwell found him with a neat pass, but Bygrave got back in the nick of time and then Jolley’s cross to the far post was only narrowly headed wide by Yussuff, arguably the Dons’ best player on the night.
However, it was a stumble on the halfway line by Bygrave with only 10 seconds of the four added minutes left that presented the Dons with their final chance. Steadying himself to launch another long ball in the direction of sub Ben Wright, Bygrave slipped and Jolley pounced, racing clear of the United defence and leaving four of them in his wake, but just as he shaped to shoot. Wassmer stuck out a foot and hooked the ball out for a throw. It was a superb piece of defending, and quite out of keeping with a disappointing game in which the home side’s attempts to squeeze the life out of the Dons was executed expertly. But it did little to enhance the spectacle, and one imagined that Garry Haylock was rather more pleased with his point than his opposite number was.