AFC Wimbledon took their unbeaten run to 75 games and equalled the English senior record with an emphatic 3-0 victory over Fleet Town. But they had to work hard for it after a goalless opening period.
They made all the early running as Fleet sat back, playing the ball around in front of the away defence but struggling to create any clear chances.
From the Dons? first corner Martin Randall sent a flicked header across goal and wide. On 13 minutes Richard Butler shook off his man and fired in a low shot which the Fleet keeper Paul Smith (no, really!) parried. It was hacked off the goal-line by the left-back. An alert Chris Gell powered a header back goalwards, but Smith made it back in time to claim it. Smith then sliced a clearance behind as Butler pressured him, but the corner came to nothing.
Fleet finally mounted an attack on 17 minutes, but it ended with Keeping fluffing his shot well wide from the edge of the box. And the visitors grew in confidence for a brief period after weathering those early scares, as their wingers saw more of the ball. They won their first corner after good work by Hale, but the subsequent shot was blocked as the ball bobbled around the area.
As a Dons freekick was pumped clear of the Fleet area, Jon-Barrie Bates sent a lofted diagonal ball arcing into the area and Antony Howard was, rather surprisingly, the forward man who ran through. His hammered cross-cum-shot was blocked behind and the corner came to nothing.
Bates won the ball in midfield and another ball over the top sent Randall scampering away like an elderly ungainly gazelle. He laid it back to Micky Woolner and only an excellent last-minute tackle prevented Richard Butler bundling the ball goalwards.
The ever-industrious Butler then turned provider as he collected a Matt Everard channel ball, but Gell headed his cross over when surrounded by a crowd of players. Ursell enjoyed a couple of bursts of possession and the third of these ended in a cut-back to Randall, but his neat snapshot was well claimed by Smith.
As Fleet spent another lengthy spell trapped in their own half, Ryan Gray sent a vicious low free-kick into the area, but somehow the onrushing wall of blue failed to get a vital touch on the ball and it was hacked away once more. In injury time, Everard sent a header over the bar from another free-kick.
Half-time came with the Dons having exhibited all the industry and the forward play, but doughty Fleet defending successfully stemmed the yellow and blue tide in the opening 45 minutes.
Hans Segers was introduced to the crowd at half-time, although disappointingly failed to produce the traditional clenched-fist salute. He did find time to speak to the Sky cameras about his continued affection for the club and reminisce about his eight years as a Dons keeper with Mikey T live on Radio WDON. His glowing testimony in support of what the fans he knew had achieved wasn?t even spoilt by his choice of a Spurs coat as suitable evening attire!
Segers was back in his seat by the time the teams emerged for the second-half and it was Fleet who started the stronger. They mounted the first attack and sent a dangerous shot across Naisbitt?s goal and narrowly wide. Dons were quick to respond, but found the massed red ranks hard to penetrate. Ursell set up Richard Butler, but his shot was blocked yet again.
Butler then sprang the offside trap but took the ball too wide. As he was crowded out, Ursell collected the ball and laid it back to the blond frontman, but his eventual shot was blocked once more as he lost his footing. A Bates ball was flicked into Butler?s path by the head of Gell, but he could only drive over with a defender in close attendance.
Fleet won a corner as a freekick was nodded behind by Steve Butler but it was easily claimed by Naisbitt. They won another minutes later following a slip by Howard but it was cleared once more.
Finally, on 63 minutes, the Dons took the lead. Randall was fouled in the air about 35 yards out and Ursell chipped into the area for Steve Butler to power a header in at the near post.
Wimbledon won another freekick in a dangerous position two minutes later and Connolly was booked for his failure to retreat. Ursell curled the ball over the wall but it was easy for Smith to hold. An increasingly rattled Fleet conceded another free-kick when Darnton was lucky to escape a card for riding piggy-back on Richard Butler before dragging him down when he looked to break clear. Butler himself sent the final effort wide after more penalty-box pinball.
But he made amends just a minute later as an Ursell through-ball sent him away. He took it round the keeper and seemed to have gone too far wide, but squeezed a shot into the empty net of the inside of the post from a very tight angle for the cushion of a deserved 2-0 lead on 71 minutes.
Fleet?s Director of Football Andy Sinton, a man with an impressive scoring record against the Dons, entered the fray as Fleet were forced to chase the game. With the opposition finally pushing men forward, Wimbledon had the freedom to attack and Butler skinned his man again on a breakaway and hammered a shot at the top corner which Smith could only parry behind.
Dave Anderson sent new acquisition Gary Prigent, a forward previously on the books of Crystal Palace, on in place of Randall and Bolger replaced Ursell with 12 minutes remaining.
Fleet continued to strive to get back into the match and sent a header against the post from a free-kick. But a crowd of over two thousand, including not only Segers but also Glenn Wilson and Jay Conroy, were not to be denied the result they craved. Gell smacked a shot from the edge of the box straight at Smith, but the third goal duly arrived. Butler and Prigent broke at pace once more. Prigent?s cutback eluded his strike partner. Gray collected it and was brought down by the despairing young keeper.
With Ursell having missed on Saturday, Gray stepped up himself to smash the penalty gleefully home with two minutes remaining.
And that was that ? the record equalled. Bring on Bromley!