AFC Wimbledon came from behind to win for the third game in succession, Sammy Moore’s 88th-minute winner clinching all three points against a tenacious Macclesfield Town.
With Jason Euell still troubled by the ankle injury sustained at Port Vale, Terry Brown named the same starting XI that had came back in magnificent style at Priestfield, the only change being Christian Jolley’s return from suspension on the bench at the expense of Chris Bush.
Wimbledon almost took the lead inside the first minute after Byron Harrison found Luke Moore inside the penalty area, but Moore couldn’t keep his shot down and blasted the ball over the bar from 12 yards. It was the sign of things to come, though.
Buoyed by those two consecutive wins, the Dons confidently took the game to the Silkmen, who had trounced Brown’s side 4–0 at Moss Rose in August. The Dons’ tormentor-in-chief that day, Emile Sinclair, has since departed for Peterborough, and with a lengthy injury list including influential midfielder Ross Draper and striker Ben Tomlinson, Macclesfield’s manager Gary Simpson could easily have been forgiven for coming to Kingsmeadow with a draw in mind. However, but for better finishing his side could have been several goals down by the break.
Moore’s early effort was followed in quick succession by a Jack Midson shot that Jose Veiga saved superbly, and three times Harrison worked his way into the area only to be denied by some last-ditch defending. Harrison really should have opened his account for the Dons on 10 minutes, when Billy Knott’s floated cross picked him out brilliantly, but the former Ashford Town man’s air-shot saw the chance go begging.
Town’s George Donnelly fired narrowly over Seb Brown’s bar at the other end when the Dons defence backed off him, but the keeper was largely untroubled in the first half as Wimbledon dominated proceedings with some enterprising football, much of the good play going through Knott.
Clear-cut chances were few and far between, though, as Macclesfield’s defence held firm, Veiga dealing comfortably with another Midson effort but then flapping wildly at two corners. George Moncur had to be replaced by Rashid Yussuff shortly before the break after suffering from breathing problems, but the West Ham youngster’s absence was barely noticed as Yussuff started from where he left off at the weekend with an energetic display, combining well with Sam Hatton down the right on several occasions, although most of the full-back’s crosses were easily dealt with.
The game remained scoreless at the break, but the Dons had played well for almost the entire half, and there was promise of goals to come in the second period. But the first 15 minutes of the second half turned out to be something of a surprise.
Anyone entering the ground at half-time would have thought that Simpson’s men had been having the better of the game, as they had the Dons on the back foot right from the restart. With the supply line to Hatton and Gareth Gwillim cut off thanks to a half-time reshuffle, the visitors had the home side penned into their own half.
The Dons weren’t helping their cause – time and time again they contrived to give the ball away from their own goal-kicks, only adding to the pressure that Macclesfield were already exerting. As the home crowd grew restless at what they perceived to be a case of inviting trouble, the Silkmen grew in confidence, and as well as their opponents had played in the first half, it now seemed only a matter of time before the visitors scored. And they did, on 58 minutes.
Yussuff dallied on the edge of his own box, and although Mat Mitchel-King half-cleared the danger, the ball was pumped back into the box before being half-cleared by Callum McNaughton. Shaun Brisley dinked the ball back over the Dons defence at the second time of asking, and debutant Dwayne Mattis held off Hatton, controlled the ball and fired it past Seb Brown and into the far corner of the net. Town deserved that goal on the balance of the opening quarter of an hour of the second half, but on the balance of the first 60 minutes the Dons could count themselves unlucky to be behind.
They weren’t behind for long, though. Just two minutes later Knott held off a challenge on the touchline near the halfway line and fed Sammy Moore, who found Sam Hatton in space in a central position. Hatton laid the ball back to Knott, who jinked outside his man and unleashed a howitzer of a shot from 30 yards that tore past Veiga’s outstretched left hand into the top corner and almost ripped the net off its moorings.
The on-loan Sunderland teenager is quite clearly a Premier League player in waiting, and as the John Smith’s Stand broke into a chorus of “You’re Just Too Good For Us”, Knott gratefully took the applause and bowed. You don’t get that playing for Sunderland reserves, with all respect.
The Dons now had the wind in their sails and saw their opportunity to win a home game for the first time since that extraordinarily hot opening day of October. The game was there for the taking, but a series of defensive near-calamities came very close to costing Wimbledon all three points, let alone one.
Brown gave the ball away from a goal-kick and had Mitchel-King to thank for rescuing him. But now that the Silkmen had rumbled the Dons’ habit of playing the ball out neatly from the back, they sensed that a mistake was on the cards – a fair assumption, given that Mattis’s effort was the 30th conceded in 14 home games this season.
McNaughton, Gwillim and Sammy Moore all conceded possession within 30 yards of their own goal as Donnelly and Ben Mills pressured the Dons into rushing their passes. Seb Brown’s rolls out to Sam Hatton, with Midson and Harrison calling for a thump upfield 60 yards away, were met with anguished cries from large sections of the home support.
It was then the Dons’ turn to press Macclesfield, and despite attacking with gusto it didn’t look as though a winning goal would come. Veiga dealt comfortably with a Midson header, Luke Moore and Yussuff had shots charged down, Hatton saw two excellent crosses into the area headed away, and sub Jon Bateson made two fine tackles to deny sub Christian Jolley when his trademark jinking runs into the box had looked threatening.
After such a long winless run at home, a draw would not have been such a bad result, but Terry Brown’s last throw of the dice, replacing Luke Moore with Brendan Kiernan, proved to be something of a masterstroke. With less than two minutes of normal time remaining, and having been denied by some resolute defending, the Dons made the breakthrough their attacking play had so richly deserved.
Midson and Kiernan played in Sammy Moore, and as the keeper rushed out, Moore lifted the ball over him. A Macclesfield defender tried to hook the ball out, but the referee adjudged that it had crossed the line, and the Dons had their three points. It was almost 3–1 a minute into time added on when Midson’s cross on the run seemed destined to be headed in by Jolley, but Diagne’s touch was enough to deny the returning striker.
The final whistle was met with a mixture of delight and relief. Nine points out of nine, all won by coming from behind, if nothing else speaks volumes for the new-look Dons’ team spirit.