Match report by Mark Lewis
Sooner or later, we all knew that the warm weather and warm welcomes at opposition grounds would end and the hard graft of picking up points in the CCL would have to begin. This process started on an overcast Bank Holiday Monday, just a short trip down the A3 at Ash United.
Buoyed by the last minute victory over Cove, over 1,000 AFC fans had made the journey looking for another scalp. However a quick look at the programme indicated the size of the task in hand. Not only did Ash finish close runners up in last years CCL, they scored 137 goals in the process!
Early on it was clear that Ash were a side confident in their own abilities, very stocky and rugged in the tackle. They had the only early chance when Mitchells shot was deflected onto a post. It took the Dons at least 15 minutes to get into their stride but gradually the Sheerin / Cooper partnership sprang to life to create three half chances in quick succession.
Whilst Ashs forwards looked nimble and quick on the break, it was the antics and erratic nature of the referees decisions that caused the Dons most problems in the first half. Keith Ward and Andy Sullivan were both booked for fairly petty offences, whilst the referee seemed incapable of either keeping up with play or consulting his linesmen at all.
Both sides had traded half chances throughout the half, but it was AFC Wimbledon who came closest to breaking the deadlock when Simon Johnstone saw his header cleared off the line following a Sullivan corner close to half time.
The second period sprang to life quickly as the Dons attacked the clubhouse end from the off. Kevin Cooper had once again looked constantly sharp and he showed his alertness to profit from confusion in the home defence and slot home a flick from Sheerin on 48 minutes.
The home defence looked ill at ease as Sheerin & Cooper poured forward at will and Lee Sidwell should have done better than side foot over from 8 yards when Sheerin played him in.
Soon after though this miss looked academic as Sheerin and Cooper combined again and Sheerin stumbled over keeper Hunt in the box. Despite denying Sheerin a clear goalscoring opportunity, Hunt was only booked. Even so, as Cooper confidently dispatched the penalty, AFC Wimbledon were sitting pretty at 2-0 with 30 minutes left.
Ash had no choice but to go for broke, throwing on Wilson wide on the right and pushing skipper Everard from centre back to centre forward.
This attacking ploy soon paid off as Mitchell broke away from Danny Roberts down the right flank and set up Mitchell. The referee judged that Keith Ward handled Calverts shot on the line. Ward was automatically dismissed, Bonner converted the penalty and Ash were back in it.
All long suffering Dons fans know how their side like to try to sit on slender leads and AFC seem to play in a similar vein. Ashs tactics were basic enough as they continued to lump balls forward in the general direction of Everard and with just six minutes to go, he finally connected with one and Andy Bell had no chance of keeping his looping header out.
The 10 men of AFC Wimbledon were visibly tiring now and starting to lose their cool with the increasingly erratic decisions of referee Langley. They were undone by another long ball into the right back channel in the closing minutes, as Mitchell was allowed to run on, round Bell and slide in the third for Ash.
Despite some desperate late scrambles in the Ash box, a third goal was beyond the Dons and Ash ran out winners. Their conduct on the field however, including another red card for Calvert for a rugby style handoff in the closing seconds, left a lot to be desired.
If Ash are one of the best teams the CCL have to offer, AFC Wimbledon should feel confident about mounting a credible challenge in the top 3 this season. If Mr Langley is one of the better referees the CCL has to offer, then it could be a long and frustrating winter for AFC players, officials and fans alike.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Danny Oakins