Match report by Andrew Harris
Following AFC Wallingford's decision to withdraw their Ryman League application, it looked as though this was going to be our biggest game of the second half of the season. Lose this one, and despite Withdean's worsening fixture congestion, our chances of finishing ahead of them looked slim. The match threw together The League's two leading scorers, Withdean's Sam Francis with 28, and our own Kevin Cooper on 26.
The largest home crowd for almost 4 months welcomed the 12 supporters from the Bundesliga Div 2 club St Pauli who had made the long trip from Hamburg, and also Matt Everard who made his home debut following his impressive performance at the heart of the defence at Chessington & Hook last week. His contribution would clearly be important against a Withdean team who had won their previous 12 games.
Terry played the same side as last week for only the second time this season, and the Dons kicked off towards The Athletics End on a firm pitch very different to last week's quagmire. Within the first minute Withdean won a free-kick 25 yards out, and Glyn Shimell had to dive low to his left to tip a fierce left-footed drive past the post. In the 9th minute Lee Passmore was booked for a 50/50 tackle where he won the ball, and the Withdean number 4 stayed down. This seemed the first of many curious decisions from Mr. Mills who appeared influenced by the amount of time the Withdean players stayed on the ground. From the resultant free-kick, the Withdean shot sailed high over the bar. Shortly after the Dons had their first chance when Kevin Cooper laid the ball back to Gavin Bolger who shot high over. This was followed by Kevin Cooper also shooting wide from a half-chance.
On the quarter-hour mark a Matt Everard slip went unpunished when Francis shot over. In the 17th minute the game changed when Withdean pumped a long ball forward. Shimell came to the edge of his box and should have headed clear. However his hesitation allowed Francis to brush the ball past him. Shimell then pulled him down and clearly deserved to be sent off. This so incensed the other Withdean forward that he said something to the referee and looked likely to be heading off (aka Joe Sheerin at Wallingford), but he escaped with a lecture. Sam Francis made no mistake with the spot-kick. Within a minute Andy Sullivan was booked for following through on the goal-keeper, and Danny Oakins saw fit to run all the way from his position at centre-back to give the referee the benefit of his opinion. It wasn't until half-way through the half that the Dons had their first effort on target when Andy Sullivan had a header easily saved from a Sheerin flick-on.
Another odd referring decision in the 24th minute saw the impressive Withdean Number 5 booked for an innocuous challenge on Sheerin. From the free-kick Oakins had the ball in the net, but the effort was disallowed for a push in the box. The only other chance of the half fell to Andy Sullivan who was just about to volley a ball from 6 yards out when it was nicked away from him. Just before the interval, Sidwell was booked for questioning another debatable refereeing decision.
At half-time there was a bucket collection for York City who needed to raise £60,000 by Monday to avoid being wound-up. Just over £2100 was raised. An amusing event occurred when the officials were loudly booed as they walked out onto the pitch for the 2nd half, and Phillo had to explain that this wasn't directed at the mascot he was introducing at the time. Within 30 seconds of the restart an Oakins free-kick was saved to his left by the keeper. There followed the best period of Dons pressure with Cooper & Bolger doing much good work down the left, but without being able to produce anything that could not be easily cleared by the Withdean defence. From one Bolger cross the West Bank was treated to a unique event when Cooper headed a ball goalwards, but it lacked any power. A spectacular Oakins over-head kick was also easily saved.
Shortly afterwards a foul on Danny Oakins led to a 15 man brawl, in which it was hard to see exactly what happened. However their captain Damion Dobbin and Danny Oakins were booked and their centre forward Shaun Grice was sent off. Their keeper Ross Standen definitely threw a punch and was lucky this went unnoticed by the officials.
The Dons surged forward but couldn't find the break-through. In the 77th minute, an innocuous looking challenge between Sean Daly & the Withdean right wing left the Withdean man lying for several minutes on the floor, and led to Daly being sent off. Neither I or those around me could work out what this was for as only minimal contact appeared to have been made.
From a corner won by Gavin Bolger, Matt Everard made his only goal-bound contribution in the Withdean box, but his header was straight at the keeper. For the last 10 minutes Terry replaced Passmore and the again under-used Sullivan with Robson & Frankum. As the Dons pressed forward gaps appeared at the back and a quick Withdean break resulted in a shot from the left side of the penalty area. Shimell saved well but the ball fell straight to Roy Pook who made no mistake from 10 yards. Unfortunately a couple of delightful runs from Joe Sheerin came to nothing and the game ended with the Dons frustrated and scoreless.
All in all a disappointing day against a good side, in my opinion spoiled by the quality of the referring. No-one could question the passion & commitment from the players or supporters. The game turned on the penalty in the first half, and as in the Chipstead away game, Shimell's indecisiveness with a long through ball cost us. Both our wingers had quiet games and our best chances arose from opportunities created by Danny Oakins, Gavin Bolger & Kevin Cooper. However the fact that we only had 1 shot saved, and that from a free-kick, tells its own story. I feel we now have to win all our remaining matches and hope that the fixture congestion becomes too much for Withdean over the next 10 weeks when they will be playing 3 or 4 games some weeks. However they are clearly on a roll having won 13 in a row now. Terry and the team will need all of us firmly behind them for the rest of the season.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Danny Oakins
For once I agreed with the match sponsors. Brilliant in defence and set up several of our attacks, but when will he ever learn to stay out of situations he shouldn't involve himself in?