The Dons embarked on a trio of difficult League games as genuine underdogs for the first time since the slide to relegation from the Premiership in the year 2000. Part of the testing trilogy ended with honours even.
Dave Anderson kept the 3-5-2 formation from Tuesday night?s draw with Wealdstone as he sent his charges out to face the full-timers of Billericay. The only change came on the right, as Stefan Woj replaced Micky Woolner at wing-back.
It was Dave Sargent on the other flank who had the first chance of the match, firing just over after running on to a Matt York pass. Barry Moore then had the freedom of the penalty area after a run up the inside right channel, but contrived to pick out a defender rather than one of the three waiting blue shirts with his pullback.
Whatever adjective you might choose to describe the Billericay side, small would not be a option. Their all-white man-mountains towered over their hosts at times and they were one of the few sides at Kingsmeadow to opt for an attacking strategy. This nearly proved their undoing as Butler fed Butler on the break, but Richard?s low cross from Steve?s punt was fired wide by York from the edge of the area.
Billericay then won a freekick midway into the Dons half and the home defence seemed to go to sleep for what felt like an age. With grim inevitability, the left winger sauntered into the area and drew the ball inside to McSweeney, who would have had time for a pie, pint and perusal of thirteen chapters of War and Peace had he so desired before sidefooting into a horribly underprotected net. Not for the first time this season, Andy Little, and his manager, could justifiably ask questions about the concentration of those in front of him. Yet again, the Dons found themselves punished for a mistake after looking the better side in the opening exchanges, giving themselves an uphill climb against one the division?s most well regarded sides.
An uphill climb almost became a mountain as Elder and Wareham were hardly marked at all in the Dons? area, but Elder?s header went wide. A rather confusing corner decision was the result, but justice was done as it was sent straight behind. Another Ricay corner resulted in a game of head tennis, but Little claimed the ball well despite being sandwiched.
Richard Butler?s hard work won the Dons a corner at the other end, but neither Butler could get on the end of Moore?s cross. Moore then won a freekick himself, but wastefully scuffed his cross. He sent the ball back into the area for Antony Howard, but the Kent Womble fired wide.
Billericay may have looked surprisingly brittle at the back, but they also appeared threatening up front. Elder hammered a scorching long-distance volley arrowing towards the top corner, but Little flew into the air with the greatest of ease to tip the ball over the bar two-handed. Steve Butler then headed at Brightley from another Moore freekick.
Losing at the interval was painful enough, but the visitors decided physical pain needed to be added to mental anguish. Andy Little was felled by a horrific needless flying assault by Pat Sappleton having gathered the ball in both hands about five seconds earlier. For attempting to knockout the defenceless goalkeeper out from behind, the Ricay centre-back was shown just a yellow card. One dismissal did result, as a member of the away coaching staff was sent from the dugout for racing down the touchline to give the officials the benefit of his opinion on the assault and battery.
Even more oddly, the lengthy delay did not result in any injury time. The Dons went in at the break justifiably aggrieved at events late on in the half, but with only themselves to blame for the 1-0 deficit.
But within a minute of the restart, the Dons were back level. Richard Butler?s shot was stopped by a hand on the edge of the area and Barry Moore stepped up to crash home a freekick with not even a minute played. Matt Fowler and Sonny Farr had come on during the break as Dave Anderson looked to vary the plan of attack, with Wes Daly dropping back to right wing-back. Moore was booked during the Dons? celebrations for enjoying himself too vigorously in the vicinity of the Billericay bench.
As on Tuesday night, Fowler?s rambunctious combative style seemed to lift the tempo of the team behind him, and greater urgency characterised Wimbledon?s approach at the start of the second half. But Billericay defended well in numbers and continued to strike fear into home hearts with every break.
Matt York headed straight at Brightley from a Daly cross before Richard Butler came within inches of sending the Dons into the lead, beating the keeper but seeing his shot roll wide of the far post. A Finnie throw then caused confusion in the Ricay defence, but Fowler fired over at the back post. Steve Butler then headed a freekick into the six-yard box but Fowler was penalised for a push as he attempted to get on the end of it. Farr swung in an excellent cross after haring past the right-back, but Richard Butler?s leap was just too short to connect. Fowler then hit the post with a floated shot after an excellent Moore pass.
An excellent passing move started by Farr and Moore ended with an initial cross half-cleared. Richard Butler sent the ball back into the middle, Moore found Farr again, but the eventual shot went wide. Goals may be proving hard to come by at this level, but a 25 minute spell of attacking possession peppered with chances certainly showed that the Dons have the ability and commitment to compete against the best in the division.
Two spells of chaotic penalty-area pinball followed, with Brightley relieved his defenders headed clear after he failed to collect a high ball. Finnie?s long throws and Moore?s corners provided plenty of excitement, but few clear-cut chances. Two more Farr crosses almost brought dividends, but Brightley claimed both well.
Billericay still fancied their chances of nicking all three points having weathered everything the Dons could throw at them, and Sargent?s excellent tackle denied Lay when the Ricay substitute looked to have wriggled free in the area.
Fowler collected a Butler header as the Dons pressed to the last, but his cross was overhit for Farr. At the other end, an injury time Elder header had Little scrambling across his goal before dropping just wide of the goal. Another goalmouth scramble followed a Finnie doodlebug into the Billericay area, but Brightley eventually gathered well bravely at the feet of York.
The final whistle brought the curtain down on yet another draw, but a far more positive performance than against Wealdstone. Wimbledon may not have been able to find the second goal their play, on balance, deserved, but on the quality on their second half performance, the players proved a point to some of their critics in the crowd and, perhaps more importantly, themselves.