Match report by Toby Trotman.
It wasn't supposed to be like this. This was shaping up to be one of those days that we've enjoyed so much this season. The sun was shining and the mild conditions reminded us of the glorious, heady early season trips to Sandhurst and Farnham, while hinting at cup finals to come in the spring. The village of Hartley Wintney basked in the warmth and if Wimbledon has ever played in a quainter location then I missed it. Rows of antique shops, a classical cricket ground (complete with Cricketers Pub), ancient church and medieval green all welcomed the large contingent of Dons fans.
The home side had gone to a great deal of effort to host the largest crowd in their history. Beer tent, portaloos and burger bars were all in place. The executive room had been freshly painted by two volunteers. The bar was buzzing. It was going very well indeed.
Then the game began.
I'll try to describe the pitch. If you've been to Lords' then you'll know what it was like. I'm sure that Yeovil's sloping pitch was like this. It was like a table with one leg chopped in half. One corner was especially boggy and the long grass made for heavy going.
The Dons kicked of going uphill (no 'left to right' in this match report!). Cooper partnered Petty upfront, Noel 'Frodo' Frankum replaced Sidwell on the right, Nicholas continued in his new midfield role, and Ray Merry took over for Shimell. Lawson continued to captain the side with Uncle Wardy on his left and Oakins at right back.
The first half hour was all huff and puff. Everyone was trying but just not achieving much. The referee wasn't letting anything go, Oakins and Frankum had one or two nice moments on the right, and Petty shot over the bar.
In the 31st minute everything changed. AFC finally created a clear opening. Unfortunately it was for the Hartley Wintney number 7, Ian Dorkin. An errant cross-field ball by Nicholas put Oakins under pressure, his back pass sold Merry short and Dorkin won the challenge with the Dons' keeper to slot the ball into the empty net.
Conceding the first goal is now a habit and most of the crowd merely shrugged their shoulders and reflected that this was probably what the game needed.
And yes, for the rest of the half we upped our game. The ball started going to feet and we began to pressure their defence. A couple of corners created mild confusion in the box but nothing dropped for AFC. The hosts had 8 men behind the ball and defended stoutly, well marshaled by their captain, Gary Parker. A trip on Petty just outside the box gave the Dons a late free kick but Hopkins saved Cooper's low shot, and he repeated the trick as Cooper broke through just before half time.
I'm pretty sure that Terry's half-time talk was as colourful as one would expect and he made a change for the second half. Bolger came on for the quiet Frankum.
AFC charged down the hill looking for the equaliser. On 51 minutes Nicholas was replaced by Robson who immediately sent in a free kick that was met by Petty's head and then by some part of a home player's anatomy. 'Hand ball!' shouted the crowd. 'Play on!' shouted the ref.
Bolger looked lively in the middle and Robson was showing class on the right. Passmore had a shot from the distance that was palmed over the bar by the 'now annoying' Hopkins. Surely it was just a matter of time before we scored?
Then came the 67th minute and the game's seminal moment. Cooper's run was crudely halted and we had a free kick on the edge of the area. Robson somehow talked Cooper out of taking it and struck a firm shot on goal. It was going in – we thought- but the bar had other ideas. The rebound went straight to Hartley Wintney and they broke swiftly down (actually it was up) the right. Orange streaks outnumbered blue and yellow flashes trying to get back. When the cross came in Alex Haddow had time to plant the ball to Merry's right and into the net. 2-0.
And that, was that. More pressure from AFC bore no fruit. It just didn't appear to be our day. Garner made his debut for Wimbledon, replacing Andy Sullivan, and showed some nice moments. Bolger got booked for talking back, as had Petty earlier, and their goalie saved from Passmore again. The final whistle was a relief for most and an excuse to go back to the clubhouse bar.
While we didn't play well and I hate losing, Hartley Wintney were well-organised, played with heart and spirit, and deserved to win on the day. They also seemed a lovely bunch of people. I'm planning to retire there.
MAN OF THE MATCH: W. Hopkins (Hartley Wintney)