The Dons maintained their three-point lead at the top of the Blue Square Bet Premier thanks to Danny Kedwell’s first hat-trick for the club – a feat he had dreamed of performing the night before . . . as, bizarrely, did your reporter.
In my dream, the Dons emerged from today’s game 6-1 victors with Kedwell clutching the match ball. In the AFC Wimbledon captain’s, he went one better and scored four, and but for a world-class save by Altrincham keeper Craig Dootson, Keds’ dream would have come true. But enough of our night-time imaginings.
Terry Brown kept faith with the starting XI that had trounced Tamworth and wobbled against Wrexham in the hope that Tuesday’s poor performance and lack of creativity and cutting edge had been a rare off-day. But in the opening, rain-soaked half-hour it was as if the Dons were suffering a collective hangover from their midweek disappointment.
Whereas Wrexham had closed the home side down and allow the Dons’ ball-players no room, Altrincham came to defend from the off. The likes of Rashid Yussuff and Steven Gregory found that Alty’s 5-4-1 formation allowed them all the time in the world, but their final balls, aimed typically at Christian Jolley and Kirk Hudson, found their intended targets closely marked and forced back inside.
Altrincham offered very little going forward, but with the supply largely cut off, neither did the Dons. The home side had managed five attempts on target against Wrexham, and in the first half-hour of this game they failed to add to that total. Despite the crowd’s patience, it was evident that the Dons needed to produce a bit of magic to break down Ken McKenna’s side.
And Hudson did just that. Receiving a Sam Hatton pass just inside the Altrincham half, he bamboozled his marker with a beautiful spin and drag back and clipped a lovely pass into the path of Yussuff. Toks took it under control and slipped Kedwell in behind his marker, Greg Young, and as Dootson came out to narrow the angle, Kedwell slipped the ball past him and into the far corner of the net for his 18th goal of the season.
Although the rain got steadily heavier, the gloom that had threatened to envelop the Dons’ title challenge after their midweek slip-up lifted completely just before half-time when Yussuff and Kedwell combined to great effect to double the lead. The Alty midfield stood off Yussuff as he collected a James Mulley pass 40 yards from goal, and the former Gillingham man danced past two rather limp challenges before his reverse pass found Kedwell unmarked in the box. From 15 yards, the AFC Wimbledon No.9 netted his second of the game, giving Dootson no chance with an assured finish as the angle narrowed.
What had threatened to become a frustrating first half turned out to be a highly satisfactory one, and it was Kedwell’s brace and not the erratic display by referee Mr Collins that proved to be the half-time talking point. The Dons knew that a third goal would all but render further debatable decisions irrelevant, but despite some early pressure that saw Jolley and Hudson’s influence start to grow, the visitors held out for a quarter of an hour.
Steven Gregory had once again succumbed to a groin injury, and at half-time Terry Brown had thrown on Drewe Broughton up front and rejigged his formation to give his side a 4-4-2 set-up for an entire half and a chance to play with two strikers for more than a few minutes. On the hour, Brown’s decision paid off. Gareth Gwillim dinked a high ball to Broughton, who dummied it, taking two Altrincham defenders with him, which allowed Kedwell to latch onto the ball, beat two defenders as he shimmied his way across the edge of the penalty area, drop his shoulder, shrug off a third challenge and complete his hat-trick with a fine finish from 15 yards.
Kedwell’s 20th goal of the season was quite possibly his best, and it should have killed the game off. Somehow, though, it didn’t. Nine minutes later, Hatton needlessly gave away a corner, and Brett Johnson nodded it behind for a second one; this time, Wes Baynes’ inswinging cross found Marc Joseph at the far post, and the big defender nodded in past Seb Brown and the two Dons defenders on the line.
What should have been a consolation goal seemed to affect the home side’s confidence, and all of a sudden passes were going astray, Seb Brown and his defenders were giving the ball away at the back, and Mulley and Yussuff were in danger of being overrun in midfield. How one scrappy goal could have such a negative effect on the Dons, only they will know, but Alty failed to capitalise.
Ten minutes from time, Steve Connors’ scissor tackle on Sam Hatton earned the volatile midfielder his second yellow card of the half, and the visitors were now two goals and one man down. Within two minutes, they were three goals down, and within another minute they should perhaps have been two men down.
First, Hudson and Kedwell combined superbly to set up Broughton. The loan striker bided his time, cut back inside Joseph and produced a curling, right-footed shot from 15 yards that was edging low inside the far post until Young got a boot to it and deflected into the top of the opposite corner to put the Dons out of sight. (Hudson and then Broughton should have applied the finishing touch to a much simpler chance shortly before.)
That was game over, but five minutes from time it looked as though it might be season over for the unlucky Ismail Yakubu. He had been on the pitch for only ten minutes after replacing Jamie Stuart when Alty sub Michael Twiss caught the former Barnet skipper with a late lunge as Yakubu cleared the ball upfield. He landed heavily on his shoulder, and first reports were that he had dislocated a collarbone.
There was still time for Kedwell to almost add a fifth, but Dootson pulled off a wonderful save, tipping the striker’s thumping drive from the edge of the box onto the bar. A well-deserved three points were in the bag, the Wrexham result was a fading memory, and the short trip to Hayes & Yeading now couldn’t come quickly enough.