Cray were their normal obdurate selves and the better side in the first half, but Wimbledon pulled together strongly and were good value for an entertaining comeback victory to march into the Quarter Finals of the Bryco Cup.
As Dave Anderson switched things around following Saturday?s goalless draw, the Dons emerged in a 4-4-2 formation, with Antony Howard and Mark Jones as the full-backs and Steve Gibson and Ryan Gray wide right and left respectively. Leon McDowall partnered Richard Butler up front and Jon-Barrie Bates was in the centre of the park alongside Chris Gell. Gareth Graham failed a fitness test and Rob Ursell was on the bench.
It was Ryan Gray who forced the first save from either keeper. His free-kick was blocked, but he immediately sent in a thunderbolt of a volley which Northwood spilled. The flag went up for offside as several Wimbledon players stretched for the rebound.
Bates then had a header easily saved, but it was the visitors who took the lead with 16 minutes played. Drew Watkins hammered a freekick from fully 30 yards into the top corner, leaving Cole no chance.
As the rain started to fall heavily, it was the Dons who looked swamped. Cole came out well to claim a high free-kick under considerable pressure. Mark Cooper then bravely slid in to deny an attacker a shot at goal and was landed on by the loan goalkeeper for his pains.
Wimbledon seemed to have continued where they left off on Saturday, struggling to hold on to the ball and string together spells of possession in the face of well-organised hard-working opponents. After good work by McDowall and Gell, Richard Butler stretched out a leg to send the ball narrowly wide.
As conditions became absolutely torrential, the referee added to the stormclouds of Wimbledon?s gloom by upping the lunacy quota of his decisions. Richard Butler beat two men ad was threatening on the edge of the box, when Luke Anderson ran 10 yards to poleaxe him from behind. Not only did the referee not give a free-kick, he even demurred at length as to whether the stricken Butler should be allowed treatment.
The crowd?s ire increased further when Cray were given a soft free-kick themselves shortly afterwards as Steve Butler was punished. But Watkins floated a cross-cum-shot wide. Jones then seemed to be fouled as he looked to clear his lines, but the resulting snapshot was sent narrowly wide. A lovely touch by Woolf on the edge of the box teed up Anderson, but he sent his shot well over the bar.
The Dons had a little spell of possession just before the interval, but couldn't test Northwood. Anderson had his name taken at last, this time for a trip on McDowall as he looked to break clear.
But Wimbledon regrouped well at half-time and had much the better of the second half. They set-up higher up the pitch, with Jones and Howard looking to get forward more. Ryan Gray was involved more as well, having a shot held by Northwood and sending a dangerous cross into the box, but Butler couldn?t quite connect with Bates? knockdown. His next cross was a little overhit and Howard could only head it back towards Gell. The midfielder couldn?t get any power as he twisted to strike the ball and it was easy for Northwood. Hall was then booked for kicking the ball away after fouling Gray.
Cray then seemed to decided the easy way to combat the Dons? presence in the penalty area was to push them over. Richard Butler was knocked down twice and McDowall once as Wimbledon enjoyed their best spell of the match. A lengthy goalmouth scramble followed, which ended with two Cray players lying on the ball, but it wouldn?t fall to a Dons player.
Bremner then lunged very late at Gray and was deservedly booked. Cray lent all over the Dons? attackers in the box once more, but were awarded a free-kick for a perceived transgression by Steve Butler. Dave Anderson decided more guile was needed to break down the stubborn Cray defence and sent on Rob Ursell in place of Leon McDowall.
Richard Butler was then knocked to the ground by a Cray defender as he challenged for a header, but the referee somehow gave the freekick to the visitors. Answers on a postcard for that one. I know it?s churlish to full a match report with a list of decisions the home crowd didn?t like, but he then halted a promising Dons break to give a freekick I ca only assume because Chris Gell was lying on the floor.
Better was to follow as he actually tackled Mark Jones himself, but then oddly gave the home side a freekick. To make matters worse for Cray, Gray stepped up to rifle home the equaliser as his shot flew into the net despite Northwood getting a glove to it.
Cray had proved at Hayes Lane that they could soak up pressure for long periods and hit on the break and they repeated the trick here. Just three minutes after the equaliser, a chaotic goalmouth scramble in the Dons area eventually saw the ball forced over the line, with the final touch coming from David Gray. Jake Cole had barely touched the ball all half.
But one bout of goalmouth pinball was soon matched by another. Richard Butler won a header on the edge of the penalty area and knocked the ball to Rob Ursell. After a little drop of the shoulders, his shot was blocked, but the rebound fell into the path of Butler to steer the ball past Northwood for 2-2.
With ten minutes remaining the Dons went ahead for the first time, and it was Ursell who sent them into the lead, picking up the ball about 25 yards out, pausing for effect and steering a precise shot into the bottom corner off the far post, with a crestfallen Northwood just standing and watching as it trickled in off the woodwork.
A tired Cray side looked to muster the energy to mount attacks of their own, but found Wimbledon in commanding mood. The home side swept up well and looked to make the game safe with a fourth. Richard Butler in particular was still full of running of deserved more reward for his efforts as he was a constant thorn in the defence?s side.
Ursell broke clear in injury time and beat two men for fun. Twice. But then shot narrowly wide. The referee kept the fans waiting with more than five minutes of time added on, and a late whistle brought the crowd to their feet, but it proved to be only for a freekick. Northwood came up to the Dons area for that one, and the subsequent corner, but Wimbledon were not to be denied a hard-fought and well-earned cup victory.