With two games left before the season?s opener, Dave Anderson used the trip to Conference challengers Crawley Town to take a look at Matt Fowler up front. Ryan Gray started at left wing-back, while Micky Woolner joined Barry Moore and Jeff Campbell in the midfield three.
And it was Wimbledon who took an early lead against a side two divisions above them. Shane Smeltz jinked and tormented the centre-back before his run was finally ended by a last-ditch challenge. Stefan Woj collected the ball on the edge of the penalty area, slalomed past one man and pirouetted round another before calmly firing past a stranded goalkeeper from level with the penalty spot.
There were just four minutes played at that point. Two minutes later good play by Woolner set up Fowler inside the area. The former Sutton man lost his marker well, but was denied by a good low save from Phil Smith.
But a second was not long in coming and duly arrived with just eight minutes on the clock. Fowler sent the ball back to Campbell, who chipped over the defence for his Kiwi counterpart. Smeltz needed no second invitation, holding off a challenge from Jenkins to steer a low shot into the bottom corner.
Crawley were shamed into action, with Chris Giles sending a fierce drive skimming over the bar. Neil Jenkins was then awarded the freedom of the left wing and sent in a dangerous cross, but Wormull headed over.
24 minutes in, the crowd were perhaps slightly surprised when the Ryman League Dons went 3-0 up against Conference Crawley. Smeltz flicked the ball on and Fowler did his chances of impressing Anderson no harm at all by lofting the ball over a static Smith with a deft chipped shot.
And the away team looked good value for their lead at that stage, controlling the majority of the game while Crawley were misfiring. Lee Blackburn released his frustration with a very late two footed attempt to launch Woolner into orbit, but the referee decided a quick finger-wagging was all the punishment the offence merited.
But the Dons were grateful for the referee?s leniency moments later as Crawley strung together their best passing move thus far. Mark Cooper was scrambling back and his tackle took out the onrushing striker when he was in the clear. Once more the referee decided a warning sufficed. Wormull grazed the post with a low free-kick.
But by now the hosts had finally got into their stride and a first goal was not long in coming. Quick passing caught the Dons? back three napping and Burton finished with aplomb, hammering a low shot across Little into the bottom corner.
A second quickly followed. A dangerous low Wormull free-kick appeared to have curled in front of all the players in the penalty area and snuck past Little untouched, but the home announcer credited Burton with a barely discernible touch.
Half-time came with the score 3-2.
The second half brought a goal even earlier than the first, but this time it was the Devils who notched. Burton completed his hat-trick when free in the area from a freekick. Finnie chased back and chested the ball on the line, but was unable to keep it out.
At this stage Crawley started to attack with the urgency and purpose you?d expect from a side whose league campaign starts on Saturday. Unlike Aldershot, they managed to cause the Dons defence problems while doing so, as Cooper, Finnie and Butler were given a much harder workout.
Smeltz spurned a glorious chance to fire Wimbledon back in front against the run of play. He did all the hard work as he stole a poor pass from the fullback, but having cut inside his man, and with the goal gaping, he fired over the bar.
Several substitutions followed in quick succession, with Crawley rotating shirt numbers as well as players, much to this reporter?s confusion. What was beyond contestation was the quality of the goal that sent the home side in front. Charalombous worked some magic on the right wing and sent in an inviting cross. Marvin Brown, for some reason wearing number 7, could hardly miss from the header. He didn?t, and that was 4-3.
More substitutes wearing the wrong number shirts arrived on the field amid widespread pressbox consternation. This was mirrored on the field by the consternation in the Dons? penalty area, as Crawley netted a fifth. Stuart Douglas attempted to cross for the man unmarked at the back post, but his curling effort eluded Little before dropping underneath the crossbar.
The concatenation of changes broke up the game?s earlier rhythm, but the goal supply had not dried up. Richard Butler was tripped on the edge of the penalty area and Barry Moore stepped up to curl a pinpoint freekick over the wall and in off the underside of the bar. 5-4 ? who said pre-season games were boring?
An entertaining evening then. Games thus far had shown the Dons to be strong and organised, but yielded few goals. This game showed that a quality, pacy strikeforce could well pose the defence a few problems, but on the other hand goals and chances flowed freely against a higher ranked side. Whatever else the implications or ramifications for the supporters to discuss on the way home, there was little doubt it was a useful workout for both teams and gave both managers points to ponder in advance of their respective promotion pushes.