Despite enjoying almost all the possession, Wimbledon bowed out of the FA Cup to Conference South Thurrock. The visitors defended doggedly and took advantage of their extremely rare visits to the home penalty area on the counter-attack to secure the win against the run of play. But in truth, once they had scored twice, they were rarely troubled and closed out the victory in solid, if unexciting, style.
The game kicked off in driving rain, with Dave Anderson once more against higher-ranked opposition utilising Richard Butler as a lone frontman. Rob Ursell sat just behind him and Gavin Bolger, Jon-Barrie Bates and Chris Gell looked to keep things tight in midfield.
The Dons drew first blood, winning a corner in the second minute. Ryan Gray curled it to the near post, but the whistle blew before it was bundled home amid a crowd of players, with Bolger seemingly getting the final touch. Sadly the referee had already given a freekick for a push.
Thurrock replied in kind almost immediately and, as a freekick was only half-cleared, their captain Jimmy McFarlane sent a near-post shot into the side netting. Akurang was then picked out with a great crossfield ball but shot tamely at Danny Naisbitt.
The game?s end to end nature meant it continued to ebb and flow. Wimbledon won a second corner as Lawrence headed behind under pressure from Gray. McMahon punched clear unconvincingly. Thurrock won another free-kick and Naisbitt clutched a low skidding effort from Hodges gratefully to his chest.
Bates took advantage of the skiddy surface to fizz a low shot in from distance, McMahon scrambled across to tip it wide. Ursell?s corner was headed behind and Gray?s effort was headed away from under his own bar by McFarlane. Thurrock couldn?t clear their lines and conceded four further corners. There was a lengthy delay as Conroy was felled in the area after a clash of heads, but it was so off the ball no-one saw what had happened. He was eventually stretchered off and replaced by Nick Roddis, with Gell dropping back into the back three. Gray?s eventual delivery curled wickedly at the Thurrock goal and McMahon had to punch it clear.
As Wimbledon continued to enjoy the lion?s share of possession, Richard Butler laid off a Gavin Bolger pass to Ursell, whose first time shot fizzed just wide. Thurrock conspired to concede a ninth corner with some Keystone Cops defending, but Ursell overhit beyond the back post.
But Thurrock looked just as dangerous on their forays forward and, having weathered a sizeable storm, took the lead on 28 minutes form their first corner. Lawrence went round Antony Howard as though he wasn?t there and sent Naisbitt scrambling back to tip his curling shot over the bar. McFarlane jogged upfield to head the corner home across Naisbitt and into the bottom corner of the net.
Ryan Gray unleashed a snap shot after Butler had challenged for a high-ball but his goalbound shot was blocked by McFarlane. Ursell raced away on the right wing and his low ball was hacked behind for tenth corner of the first half off Butler?s feet. But Gray?s mishit effort hit the side-netting.
Butler went even closer a minute later. Gray broke at pass from a Naisbitt throw, he sent Roddis scampering through. Roddis? slide-rule pass sent Butler into a challenge with the onrushing keeper McMahon. Butler won the race and sent the ball goalwards, but a Thurrock defender made it back in time to hack it away for yet another corner. Purdie hammered a header behind for what should have been a 12th corner, but somehow the referee capped an idiosyncratic half by giving the visitors a goal-kick. Worse was to follow when McFarlane was given a free-kick for fouling Butler. Butler tried to check his rising annoyance at being on the wrong end of yet another questionable decision.
Gibson headed an Ursell curling cross back across the face of goal and it was headed behind off Butler?s head. The corner was eventually cleared and created a chance for the visitors. Akurang broke at pace from yet another spell of hands-to-the-pump defending and had Kandol free in acres of space, but Naisbitt claimed the low cross well. Ursell then had a shot on the edge of the box but sent it well wide.
The Dons continued to press and the corner count rose, but Thurrock continued to scramble the ball clear and look to hit on the break with long balls. Despite their best efforts, Wimbledon went in behind at the interval.
Worse was to follow as the second half got underway. From their next chance, it was Thurrock who scored again just six minutes in. The Dons were appealing for a freekick on the far touchline, but Kandol pushed the ball past Gell and ran through to send a measured chip over Naisbitt and into the bottom of the net, giving Wimbledon a mountain to climb on 51 minutes. Thurrock sat back deep and showed just why they are riding high in Conference South by being extremely hard to break down. Dave Anderson threw Jamie Taylor on for Bates and the Dons went for broke.
A wicked curling cross from Ursell resulted in another corner, but Gray?s back post effort was too deep. Wimbledon continued to play all the football, but the redoubtable Thurrock defence held firm. At times they had their entire team in their own half, but they stifled the Dons? attacks and were happy at 2-0 to hit on the break. The Dons tried to threaten from set pieces, but the giant nature of the Thurrock defenders meant that crosses were easily cleared. McFarlane had the next chance for the away team as they took a break from defending, but sent his header from a free-kick over the bar from six yards out.
Martin Randall replaced Rob Ursell in Anderson?s last throw of the dice. McMahon could only parry a Gray free-kick, but managed to hold the rebound under pressure from the Dons? most recent substitute. Despite the Dons? best efforts, they struggled to create as many chances in the second period as they had in the first. Buffong tried to add a third for Thurrock at the end of injury time, but was denied on the break by the backtracking Roddis.
The final whistle gave Thurrock the spoils and the higher-ranked side earned it for the hard work and persistence of their impressive front two and their solid defensive organisation. Wimbledon proved in the first half they could live with opposition from two leagues higher and play most of the football, but in the end the visitors outfought and out-thought the Dons to progress to the Fourth Qualifying Round.