Match report by Justin Sythes.
‘Fortress’ Kingsmeadow took on a technicolour hue as AFC Wimbledon cruised to their 7th consecutive Seagrave Haulage League victory against the visitors from Cobham. The yellow and blue clad hordes (enriched by a cerise tutu and umbrella toting supporter on the West Bank) basked in glorious late autumnal sunshine and azure skies, whilst revelling in a master class of forward play from the white-booted Ali Russell.
Only 8 minutes of play had elapsed when a mazy Lee Sidwell run on the right resulted in a pinpoint cross, headed home by the ‘Tower of Power’ from 8 yards. Revelling in the responsibility of leading the line in the absence of the convalescing Joe Sheerin, Russell gave a fine combative display, winning virtually everything in the air. On 17 minutes the Athletics end of the stadium was treated to a strike that will surely rank alongside that of the 35 yard Sim Johnstone effort against Hartley Wintney back in August. A speculative punt from the Dons defence was headed clear by the lurid ‘Tango’ orange shirted Cobham keeper Macgregor, under pressure from Cooper. Russell, chesting the ball down, produced a deft turn and, in the same movement, unleashed a Beckham-esque volley from fully 45 yards which sailed over the hapless keeper and in to the net to be greeted by the euphoric cheers of the 3,000 plus crowd.
With the match seemingly already over as a meaningful contest the Dons relaxed, displaying some attractive flowing football and neat approach play. Cobham had little response to the left-sided combination of Bassey and Sullivan,whilst the spine of the side saw impressive home debuts made by Mark Nicholas at centre-back and the swashbuckling Gavin Bolger in midfield. The third home debutant of the afternoon, Ray Merry in the Dons goal, had very little work to do apart from deal with the occasional back pass, such was the paucity of attacks on his goal and the effectiveness of the well-drilled Dons back four.
A blistering six minute spell early in the second half finally put paid to any lingering Cobham hopes of salvaging anything from the game. Fine ambassadors for the scaffolding trade, Danny Oakins and Lee Sidwell were enjoying a fruitful relationship on the Dons right, and it was Oakins fine cross from this side that provided the irrepressible Russell with the simple task of nodding home from 3 yards to complete the historic first ever AFC Wimbledon hat-trick. Sensing the opportunity to significantly improve their goal difference, the Dons continued to pile forward. On 57 minutes a surging run by the impressive Bolger, was arrested only by a scything lunge from the panic-stricken Cobham defence. Up stepped Cooper to take the resulting free-kick, awarded 25 yards from goal. With a run up resembling that of an Olympic long-jumper, the ginger-haired senior marksman produced a high velocity strike swerving low to the left and nestling in the back of the net before Macgregor barely had time to move.
With half an hour remaining, manager Eames will be slightly disappointed that his team did not add to their tally despite their almost total domination of the match. Banished to the stands as part of his punishment for the fracas at Godalming earlier in the month, Eames still managed a rueful smile and acknowledgement of the noisy Dons hordes on the West Bank terrace.
With 10 minutes remaining a double substitution gave the Dons duo of Bolger and Russell a well-deserved breather and a chance to enjoy a standing ovation from the Kingsmeadow faithful. The replacements, newly-appointed player-coach Neil Robson and the fourth home debutant of the game Chris Theodore, demonstrated that AFC Wimbledon have an impressive squad at their disposal and will surely be providing a stern challenge to the league leaders in the months ahead.
With the game petering out to its denouement, the final minutes were enlivened by a Dons legend of yore. A wayward Cobham clearance into the main stand was plucked from the air by a certain Dickie Guy, his salmon-like leap reviving misty-eyed memories for the delighted onlookers. The hero of the famous Dons 1974 FA Cup team will surely have been impressed with another clinical and efficient AFC Wimbledon performance.
MAN OF THE MATCH: ALI RUSSELL
My vote goes to the rapidly maturing Ali Russell. The youngster is consistently impressive in the air and capped his performance with a strike that will surely have Dons fans reaching for the rewind button on the end of season highlights video.