Wimbledon huffed and puffed in the second half, but couldn?t find a winner in a combative encounter that showcased some eccentric officiating. In the end, a share of the spoils seemed a fair result for two evenly matched teams.
After the physical exertions required to overcome Slough Town, Dave Anderson employed a spot of squad rotation to ensure his players maintained their freshness for a second game in just three days. There were four changes to the starting line-up in all, as Antony Howard, Wes Daly, Barry Moore and Jeff Campbell joined the Bank Holiday fun. 3-5-2 was the order of the day, with Campbell at the apex of a midfield triangle providing support to the prolific front pair. Shane Smeltz and Richard Butler started their fourth match together having already netted six times between them in just three games.
The Dons took an early lead as a free-kick was whipped into the area after just seven minutes for a pair of Butlers to serve up an easy chance for Smeltz. Steve Butler looped a header into the six-yard box and Richard Butler outchallenged keeper Allaway's flap. The ball dropped to the Kiwi striker at the far post, and he calmly swivelled to sidefoot a volley back across goal and into the empty net.
The lead was nearly doubled immediately as Jeff Campbell chipped over the scrambling Staines defence to send Butler scampering onto a delightful through-ball. He managed to knock it past the goalkeeper, but with little power, before tumbling to the ground under a two-way challenge from a defender and Allaway. No decision was forthcoming from the referee and Staines gratefully cleared.
Barry Moore was then rightly booked for a late tackle, and Manuella had his name taken for a spot of retribution. Indeed, the game proved equally as fractious as Saturday?s. When Wes Daly was clattered on the halfway line, but the referee opted for merely a lecture, it was the visitors? 11th foul inside the first 20 minutes.
Staines made an early change as they altered their gameplan to combat the Dons? early threat. It almost broke immediate dividends, as Murphy stung Little?s fingers with a rasping drive from a free-kick. The Dons? keeper flung himself low to his left for an impressive save.
But it was the home side who generated the best of the chances until just before half-time. Corners and free-kicks saw Richard Butler go close, while Campbell teed himself up for a volley from the edge of the box, which eventually dropped into the grateful arms of Allaway. Smeltz nutmegged a visibly annoyed left-back, but overhit a cross aiming for Richard Butler?s head. Barry Moore sprayed a 30-yard pass out to the left for Campbell, whose deft chip was just headed away from an onrushing Butler.
Having defended so well when Staines threatened, the Dons? defensive unit was finally breached on the stroke of half-time. Jermaine Hunter took advantage of finding some space in the penalty area to steer a low shot past a helpless Little for 1-1. The score stayed that way at the break.
Staines nearly carved the Dons open with some excellent quick passing immediately after the interval, but Dave Sargent was able to clear Plummer?s pullback. Wimbledon?s counter-attack was halted by a linesman unable to distinguish between the time Smeltz started his run, and when the ball dropped to him feet several seconds and tens of yards later. A ludicrous offside decision was the inevitable result of his internal confusion.
Dave Anderson and the vast majority of the crowd suffered a major injury headache from the Dons? next attack, when Richard Butler went down under another Murphy challenge. The striker was eventually stretchered off the field with his right leg strapped up, clearly in some discomfort. Matt Fowler replaced him.
Fowler?s first touch was to send Wes Daly clear on the right wing, but his run was ended by another Murphy lunge. The Staines? number three was shown a yellow card for kicking the wing-back up in the air.
Wimbledon seemed fired up at this point, and stepped up the pace at the West Bank?s urging. Two corners were easily cleared and it took a superb sliding tackle from Newton to deny Campbell after good work from Fowler. A Moore cross beat the strikers in the centre and was sent flying over the bar by Sargent at full stretch.
Staines continued to look dangerous during their attacks as both sides searched for a second goal. Plummer shot well over from the edge of the area, De Lisser was denied by a Moore block and Finnie headed a Popovic header off the line from a corner.
As the game began to switch rapidly from end to end, Smeltz saw a shock blocked before Moore drove the rebound high and wide from close range. Howard went down clutching his leg with 14 minutes remaining and limped off to be replaced by Stefan Woj. The referee enlivened the closing minutes by awarding freekicks seemingly at random, with possibly the most amusing coming as Staines were penalised when Matt York trod on the ball. With five minutes remaining, Craig Carley came off the bench for his home debut, a mere three years after playing in the Dons? first ever pre-season.
The referee then produced an excellent block tackle to deny York the chance to go on a run, before booking Smeltz as he crossed the ball after an offside flag was raised. To prove he was at least even-handed if not eagle-eyed, he then awarded the home side a freekick after a Staines player stood behind Stefan Woj.
As Wimbledon stepped up the pressure in injury time, Fowler couldn?t quite control the ball inside the Staines area, before Smeltz was clearly kicked up in the air in the act of shooting. The offence was mere yards in front of the referee, who contrived to see no infringement. He then awarded a goal-kick when a Staines defender blocked a cross behind for a clear corner.
Moore, Daly and Sargent combined to win another corner four minutes into injury time, but it was hacked away after being headed back across goal by Finnie. That drew proceedings to a close as both sides were forced to settle for a point.