The Dons crashed out of the FA Trophy in almost identical manner to the way they did last season – by the same score, to a team a division below them and in rather disappointing fashion, with a performance riddled with costly individual errors and despite a Danny Kedwell penalty giving them hope.
After the Luton game the previous Wednesday, Terry Brown declared that he thought his side would be considered favourites to lift the Trophy at Wembley, after Crawley’s exit in the First Round Proper and because of what he referred to Luton’s “attitude” to the competition – meaning that they placed far more importance on winning promotion. Presumably Terry had relayed this message to this players, but if the first half-hour was anything to go by, it seemed as though he hadn’t.
Just three minutes of jittery defending had elapsed when Fraser Franks elected to play a ball out of defence to the feet of James Mulley, when the Dons midfielder was clearly not in a position to receive it. Woking left-back Aswad Thomas nipped in to intercept and fed Moses Ademola on the edge of the box, and the chunky winger took one touch before clipping an unstoppable left-footed drive beyond the despairing dive of Seb Brown. Hardly an ideal start for a competition your manager thinks you should, rather than could, win.
Woking clearly hadn’t come to nick a draw – manager Graham Baker had brought his troops from Kingfield to Kingsmeadow to win, and they almost made it 2-0 before the Dons had time to mount a serious attack of their own. Ricky Wellard lost possession in midfield to Lee Sawyer, and former Fulham and Leicester striker Elvis Hammond latched onto his pass, broke into the box and drew back his right foot to slot the ball past the onrushing Brown – but Franks made up for his earlier error, sliding in with perfect timing to toe the ball away. The danger was still present, though, as Dons debutant Gareth Gwillim reacted slowly to the loose ball, allowing Hammond to get to it first and tee up Sawyer, making a late run into the box, but just as it seemed that he would tuck the ball into the unguarded net, captain for the day Sam Hatton slid in and blocked manfully.
Woking were full value for their lead, but the Dons didn’t seem to possess the creative spark required to force an equaliser, try as they might. Christian Jolley and Kirk Hudson were struggling to get into the game, and Mark Nwokeji, leading the home attack instead of the rested Danny Kedwell, was getting very little change out of his marker, Joe McNerney. To be fair to the diminutive Nwokeji, his team-mates seemed to be forgetting that he’s a fair bit shorter than Kedwell, and the forward spent much of the first 30 minutes having to compete for high balls he was never going to win.
However, eight minutes before half-time, Nwokeji finally got a clear sight of former Dons keeper Andy Little’s goal, and he made no mistake. Hatton’s clipped pass into the box eluded Thomas, Nwokeji’s chest control was exquisite, and before Little could set himself the ball was nestling inside his far post thanks to a crisply executed half-volley.
Both sides now strove to take a lead into half-time. The Dons looked the more likely to when Jolley and Hudson combined with three minutes of the 45 to go. Jolley did well to dispossess Richard Anane on the byline, and his chipped cross was begging to be headed home, but Hudson’s flicked effort drifted harmlessly wide.
As the fourth official raised his board to display a dazzlingly bright green 2, the Dons carelessly went a goal down. Sawyer’s through-ball evaded Hammond and Ademola and bobbled harmlessly through to Seb Brown. But the Dons keeper dithered in possession, and instead of playing an easy ball out to either Franks or Gwillim he tried to find Jolley with an overambitious pass. Brown’s miscued ball instead found Sawyer, who controlled it and played it square to Hammond, and he turned sharply just inside the box and forced Franks into a rash tackle that gave the referee no alternative but to point to the spot. Ademola despatched the penalty high and wide of Brown to give Baker’s men a half-time lead it was hard to begrudge.
As has often been the case this season, the second half was a completely different story, though on this occasion it didn’t alter the result. Presumably Terry Brown and his staff had made it clear that they were not happy with the performance in the first half, particularly the Dons’ lack of cutting edge and inability to get in behind the full-backs – something that players with the pace of Jolley and Hudson should have been doing. Whatever the coaches’ message, it had clearly got through as Wimbledon now tore into their Blue Square Bet South opponents.
Jolley and Gwillim began combining to far greater effect, and Nwokeji suddenly had Luke Moore for company after the latter’s anonymous first 45 minutes, but despite their best efforts they couldn’t break Woking down. Mulley and Moore both had shots from just outside the box deflected for corners, and from one of these corners, something of a mis-hit from Hatton, Hudson stole in at the far post and should have buried his unchallenged header, but he mistimed it and his weak effort struck Nwokeji and was pushed around the post by Little.
Terry Brown made a double substitution, withdrawing his two wide men and replacing them with Danny Kedwell and Sammy Moore. It probably wasn’t coincidence, but within seconds of the change being made the home side looked considerably stronger and more compact. Woking had barely mounted an attack worthy of the name in the first 20 or so minutes of the half, and it did seem only a matter of time before the hosts would bring the scores level again.
When they did, it was no surprise that Kedwell was involved. His first-time reverse pass from Wellard’s through-ball found Sammy Moore in acres of space on the right of the penalty area, and when a Woking hand deflected his cross away from danger the referee had his second easy penalty decision of the day to make. Kedwell made no mistake with his 14th goal of the season, hammering the spot-kick past Little to even the score.
There was now surely only going to be one winner, despite Hammond being unlucky to see his volley on the turn blocked by his own player with 10 minutes to go. Wimbledon turned up the heat and tried to put the tie to bed. A succession of corners and free-kicks were cleared with increasing degrees of difficulty by Woking, but Wimbledon just couldn’t find the killer touch – Luke Moore, Mulley, Wellard and then Sammy Moore all had efforts repelled by the Cards’ defence.
The Dons appeared to get even stronger as the game wore on, but just when it seemed as though battle would have to recommence the following Tuesday, another piece of Dons dithering put paid to any hopes of reaching the Third Round for the first time (at least legitimately). From a Woking corner the Dons failed to clear three times; when sub Rashid Yussuff’s hack was miscontrolled by Mulley some 40 yards from his own goal there appeared to be little danger, but Sawyer’s ball out wide to Thomas was well taken by the full-back, who whipped in a cross that found Hammond on the edge of the six-yard box with his back to goal. Ed Harris seemed to have the situation covered, but Hammond took the ball beautifully on his chest before turning and hammering an acrobatic volley just inside Brown’s near post.
Woking’s 327 travelling fans were still celebrating when the Dons missed a gilt-edged chance to equalise for a third time. Kedwell’s neat pass into space on the edge of the box found Hatton running onto it. But the usually calm right-back rushed his effort and instead of finding the back of the net, his delivery evaded all three Wimbledon players inside the six-yard box and slammed into the advertising hoardings, sounding the Dons’ exit from the Trophy to a lower-division club for the third year in a row.
If Wimbledon do end up in a play-off spot at the end of the season, the benefits of an early cup exit might be more easily explained away, but the look on Terry Brown’s face at the end of this tie certainly wasn’t that of a man who was now happy to concentrate on the league.