Match report by Geoff Hawley.
Was there a tense air about today? Was it the nerves from Terry's Airborne Division pervading the atmosphere due to their forthcoming Leap into the unknown or was it that Walton were on a roll of sorts and claimed the recent scalp of Wallingford on their own patch? Another recent scalp claimed was that of Andy Sullivan, the stocky winger's barnet having been ravaged with a very Marine buzz-cut. Too chilly to do that in the winter?
A picturesque cloudy blue sky with a spring sun shone done on the assembling crowd, with much talk of fund raising and the "Catch the Wallies" chase in the pre-match banter. The massed ranks of the Junior Dons' academy had their moment in the spotlight pre-match, a little trip out on to the hallowed turf in front of a sizeable crowd for those participating on the pre-match sessions. The newly adopted AFC Wimbledon ladies team also were introduced to the masses, after deciding to stay in the area from whence their name comes.
The teams took the pitch to appreciable noise and some could be forgiven for thinking that Viking Greenford had paid another visit, amber shirts must be fashionable at this level of the non-league pyramid.
The game commenced with the Dons attacking a busy West Bank, a strong breeze urging from their backs and this may have helped with the winning of an early corner. Whatever the reason, the die was cast.
Opportunities were fashioned at either end, with Cooper having shots spilled by the Walton keeper, Wheeler, before being gathered at the second bite or put over by the close-cropped Sullivan. Walton's Wynne also missed a chance, his header drifting wide from a free kick.
Play was then stopped for treatment to the unfortunate Gareth Graham after sending in a stinging shot, ultimately resulting in his replacement by Noel Frankum on 11 minutes, just after the hard chasing Gavin Bolger had forced Wheeler to slice a clearance scant yards from his area.
Most chances came to the Dons, but the finish wasn't there. The volume was slowly cranking up, mainly due to the increasingly lost at sea ref. His lack of vision was increasing tension on and off the pitch.
On 35 minutes, the game was marred by a multiple player get-together on the edge of the Walton box. On centre stage, the referee consulted with his equally poorly sighted assistant and deemed it necessary to dismiss both team's number 5s. Both Everard and Osikoya looking perplexed as to why, though mistaken identity was being claimed. More discipline was then meted out by the ref upon Joe Sheerin, his trip out by the touchline minutes later earning him a yellow card.
Come 43 minutes, the breakthrough arrived. Lee Sidwell surged down the right, cut inside his defender and sent an arcing shot across the face of the 6-yard box and into the far corner. The pent-up tension proceeded to be released through noisy celebration throughout the arena.
Approaching the end of the 5 added minutes from the officials, Walton were nearly back on terms. Shimell and Barrs-James contesting a high ball, the number 9's header ending fractionally wide.
The second half started with the Dons playing into the breeze, though the flow was generally toward the terrace nomads of the Athletics End after their long trek through Grolschland from the West Bank.
Nearing the hour there came one of those moments when time seems to stop flowing, Cooper's looping header soaring goalwards. Hearts skipped beats and breaths were held, then released as the ball nestled behind the net. Walton then replaced Collins with D'Rozario whose first involvement was to foul Neil Robson. Hardly an inspired substitution or an auspicious entrance.
Soon after came the pivotal goal. Just outside the Walton box, Sheerin prodded a pass into the path of the onrushing Sidwell. Brushing off a weak challenge, Sids advanced into the box, then drilled a low shot across Wheeler. The net bulged and dancing reigned supreme on the terrace.
A flurry of spurned chances then followed for the Dons, Cooper spun off markers twice but lacked the fortune to see goals as a product and Robson fizzed a freekick just wide.
On 73 minutes Cooper made way for Nicholas to leave Sheerin the lone gunman up top, whilst Garstin replaced Cooksley for the visitors.
Another 6 minutes passed before the contest was sealed. Another committed run from Sidwell was checked illegally. The faithful howled their appeals and waited seemingly an age for the ref to point to the spot. Sidwell dusted himself off and proceeded to blast the spotkick home for his hugely deserved hat-trick.
Ally Russell then replaced Sheerin and was welcomed by Wheeler dropping a poor clearance to his feet but, alas, could not profit.
As the crowd began to drift home, Russell locked on to a weak back pass but his hurried finish agonisingly dribbled wide. Moments later the final whistle sounded, welcoming another 3 points and another hat-trick. What could have been a banana skin was avoided but was soured by the sendings off.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Lee Sidwell.
Strong running all season long and today added a goalscoring side to his game.