After AFC Wimbledon’s narrow defeat at the hands of Bristol Rovers in their first Football League game the previous week, the consensus was that the club’s debut season would be shaped by how long it took Terry Brown’s side to claim their first three-point haul. That it took until only their second game, and that it was a largely comfortable 2–0 victory against another side that had been plying their trade against the likes of Southampton and Brighton last season, would have left the Dons’ management team, not to mention the thousand vociferous supporters packed into Victoria Road’s away end, feeling confident about the nine months ahead of them.
Defensive mistakes, elementary ones at that, had cost the Dons dear in the previous two games, but for the visit to Dagenham & Redbridge Terry Brown made two changes to his attacking options. Christian Jolley and Ricky Wellard were the unlucky ones to miss out, with Charles Ademeno and Lee Minshull, who had combined to great effect to fashion the equaliser against Rovers, added to the starting line-up.
In the first twenty minutes it seemed that the indecision that blighted the otherwise promising displays had returned – twice the Wimbledon defence let harmless-looking long balls bounce in the penalty area – but thankfully Sam Williams’ finishing didn’t cut the mustard on either occasion, the home side’s number seven blazing high and wide when well placed.
Daggers should have taken the lead shortly after Williams spurned his second chance, with Abu Ogogo and Gavin Tomlin exchanging passes on the edge of the penalty area before Jamie Stuart and Brett Johnson both backed off and allowed Jon Nurse the space to turn and get his shot away, forcing Seb Brown into a smart, low save.
The Dons were looking promising with the ball. Gareth Gwillim was working well with Rashid Yussuff on the left, and Sam Hatton and Lee Minshull were doing likewise on the right, but it was up front where the visitors were having the upper hand. Ademeno was a constant pest to the Daggers’ defence, not giving Scott Doe or Mark Arber any time to dwell on the ball, and the tireless Jack Midson was holding the ball up intelligently.
And it was Midson who had the Dons’ first clear opportunity to take the lead. Ademeno, not for the first time, robbed Doe and bore down on goal, but seeing Midson haring into the box he elected to pick out the former Oxford man. Although his cross was delivered at the perfect height and pace, Midson couldn’t keep his shot down and the chance was gone. It seemed that attack would be the best form of defence for Wimbledon as Nurse and the dangerous Williams attempted to profit as the Dons backed off again, but fortunately Stuart and Johnson were starting to get a foothold in the game and repelled the danger expertly.
Referee Madley was not to be denied a few minutes in the spotlight and took centre stage with two key decisions in the space of two minutes. The first was when Midson controlled a Gwillim cross inside the Daggers box; as he turned, it looked for all the world as if Arber grabbed him round the waist and threw him to the ground, but Madley waved the appeals away.
Then Max Porter’s through ball saw Midson race away from the Daggers defence. Arber just managed to keep pace with Midson, but as the Dons striker reached the D, the former Barnet defender sent him crashing to the ground. At least 958 of the attendance, sitting behind the goal in Dagenham’s magnificent new stand, expected a free-kick for the Dons and a red card for Arber, but Madley again waved away the appeals and allowed play to continue.
Seven minutes before half-time the referee, in the Dons’ eyes at least, redeemed himself when he spotted Doe’s right arm snaking out near the penalty spot to control Lee Minshull’s flick on from Sam Hatton’s long throw and awarded AFC Wimbledon their first penalty as a League side. Luke Moore calmly placed his spot-kick past Chris Lewington and, with no further moments of excitement at either end, the Dons trotted off at half-time with a lead they just about deserved.
As often happened in the latter stages of last season, the second half was almost entirely a different story. The Dons looked fit, strong and hungry and, significantly, tighter at the back in the opening exchanges, as the Daggers began to run out of ideas with 45 minutes of the game left to play. John Still’s side had all but handed the initiative to the Dons by the time that, with half an hour still to go, Yussuff doubled Wimbledon’s lead.
Minshull flicked on Seb Brown’s huge goal-kick and the man better known by his middle name of Toks took control of the ball some 40 yards out and weaved his way towards goal practically unchallenged. With Ademeno screaming to be played in to his left and Midson demanding the ball to his right, he elected to ignore both of them and hammer an unstoppable left-footed drive into the roof of the net from the edge of the D to give the Dons an unassailable advantage.
Any resistance that the Daggers were putting up pretty much evaporated there and then. Moore curled a twenty-yarder narrowly wide of the static Lewington’s left post after Hatton, Yussuff and Porter had fashioned the chance. Minshull and Hatton then provided Yussuff with the opportunity to double his tally, but Arber bravely blocked the eighteen-yard piledriver before referee Madley stepped into the spotlight again.
Midson got the better of Phil Walsh, the unlikely brother-in-law of Frasier star Kelsey Grammer and, as he shaped to shoot, Walsh appeared to haul him back by the arm – but the referee saw nothing wrong. Walsh clearly fancied his chances: in the next Dons attack, Yussuff’s incisive pass into the area saw Midson latch onto it before being sent crashing to the ground by Walsh’s challenge. For the fourth time, Madley waved away the Dons’ strong appeals with an extravagant double-arm motion, much to the bench’s audible amazement. Maybe one penalty was enough.
For the last minutes of the game, the Dons were as dominant as a side that had just come up from the Conference could expect to be as visitors to one of the sides relegated from League One, but a third goal just wouldn’t come. Sub Christian Jolley step-overed his way into the box twice but couldn’t get his shot away, and Arber and Doe were working overtime to keep their side in with a chance of hauling themselves back into the game. Even a series of six corners in succession didn’t fashion a clear chance for John Still’s men, and when Walsh somehow headed wide from four yards after yet another corner with two minutes of added time remaining, it was clear that this was going to be the Dons’ day.
Terry Brown and his side now head for Devon to take on a third relegated side in succession, hoping that a tighter defensive unit, a creative and combative midfield and a tireless, penetrative attack should serve them well against more tough opposition.