Match report by Ray Armfield
Careless errors contributed to AFC Wimbledon slumping to a 0-2 defeat at the hands of fancied Withdean 2000 at a windy Woodside Road, the well-appointed home of Ryman League Worthing FC, in front of another large contingent of travelling Dons.
The loss of Kevin Cooper with a torn hamstring suffered at the ?Battle of Southall? forced Manager Terry Eames into a cautious 4-5-1 formation, with Simon Bassey returning to bolster the midfield while skipper Joe Sheerin ploughed a lone furrow up front.
With the kick-off put back by ten minutes to allow a coachload of AFC supporters entry after being delayed en-route, the Dons - facing a strong breeze and a seemingly never-ending pre- match rendition of the stirring ?Sussex-by-the-Sea? - gave as good as they got in the opening exchanges, with Bassey?s combative tackling earning him an early lecture by youthful referee Steven Cook.AFC put together the first piece of flowing football on the quarter hour when a four man move involving Danny Oaken, Lee Sidwell and Lee Passmore ended in a Sheerin shot. Both sides appeared to be feeling each other out and the overnight rain contributed to misplaced passing and loss of balance by both teams. With ten minutes of the half remaining, the dangerous Sam Francis - a shrewd signing from Ryman League Lewes - chased high through ball with Danny Oaken and both players claimed infringements in the box - Francis seeking a penalty as he tumbled, with Oaken appealing for a handball - but the referee awarded a goalkick. Just before the interval, sustained Withdean pressure was repelled by a fine Shimmel save from a Francis shot, to keep the sides level.
Despite Joe Sheerin clearly needing a partner, Emo persevered with a midfield ?five? and Bassey and Neil Robson both got into attacking positions, Robson going the closest with a 25 yard drive. This optimism was short-lived however, when the Dons defence and midfield over-passed once too often to present Francis with a clear run on goal after 67 minutes and the impressive front-man coolly slotted under an advancing Glyn Shimmel for the opening goal. Andy Sullivan replied with a snapshot, but Dons hearts sank again just a minute later when Sim Johnston felled Roy Pook in the area to concede a penalty. Oakins was booked for protesting, but the award looked valid.
Dominic Shepherd took the kick, but Shimmel dived low to his left to beat away the attempt and caused the biggest cheer of the afternoon among the visiting supporters. AFC rallied somewhat and forced their first corner on 75 minutes. A minute later, Glen Mulcaire replaced Lee Passmore and the Dons reverted to a more recognisable 4-4-2 formation, but ?Trigger? struggled to make much of an impact.
With five minutes remaining, Eames gambled again by introducing Tony Readings for Simon Bassey, with Danny Oakins pushing further forward as the Dons attempted to salvage a point but also began leaving gaps at the back. Once more the Dons vulnerability in the closing stages of matches was apparent when Francis again eluded the defence and was bundled over by Keith Ward. With Shepherd substituted, centre-back Glen Davies powered the spot-kick past Shimmel to secure the victory for Withdean. AFC?s discipline was tested with an altercation in the centre circle at the restart, but it was little more than ?handbags? although Davies and Ward both received bookings.
A disappointing end to a disappointing afternoon and the result and manner of performance must have given Terry Eames and his staff plenty to think about on the journey back up the A27. With the release of strikers Dean Martin and Ally Russell and the sorely-missed absence of Kevin Cooper, it will be interesting to see if the likes of Daniel Jones will be ?blooded? or if the club will enter the transfer market, but on the evidence of this display, Joe Sheerin clearly needs someone to share the striking load.
MAN OF THE MATCH: LEE SIDWELL
...the pick of the outfield players and a very unsung member of the side. Just edged out Glyn Shimmel - whose open armed ?What else could I have done ?' expression at the final whistle, summed up many people?s frustrations.