How Wimbledon came away with nothing from this match is a question that will haunt the players, management and supporters for weeks to come. The Dons dominated the match, carved out numerous chances and hit the woodwork twice, but a red card and two goals against the run of play gave all three points to Hampton & Richmond.
Micky Woolner and Barry Moore both passed fitness test as the Dons looked to be the first team to avoid defeat this season at the Beveree Stadium, while Matt Fowler was preferred to Shane Smeltz upfront.
Kick-off was delayed to allow the fans still queuing down the lane towards the station time to get in to the ground, but neither side wasted any time in getting going. Matt York?s volley from the edge of the box shaved Lovett?s crossbar, while Yaku fired over the bar from close range for Hampton.
Fowler continued in the impressive vein of form he showed on Saturday as a substitute and a neat backheel dummy sprang a static home defence. An excellent diagonal ball found Sargent free on the overlap, but Lovett ran out to claim the ball at the second attempt. Fowler then sent a shot over the bar himself from distance.
Wimbledon looked as positive as they had in the second half against Billericay and only the woodwork denied them the opener on 17 minutes. Moore?s low corner was hooked goalwards by York but, with Lovett beaten, the ball bounced off the inside of the post and landed agonizingly on the wrong side of the goal-line before being cleared.
Hampton?s attacks were largely of the aerial, not to say agricultural variety, but their first low passing move almost brought dividends. Andy Little got down well to tip a near-post shot behind.
Just before the half-hour mark, the visitors? attacking verve was given its just reward as they took the lead. York found Daly with a precise pass and his midfield partner took three steps before curling an unstoppable into the top-left corner of Lovett?s goal.
Two great Daly passes allowed Richard Butler two further chances, but Lovett denied him on both occasions. But a 1-0 lead was no less than Wimbledon?s overall play had deserved at the interval.
Whatever the Dons have done to offend the football gods, the second half quickly showed that luck is still not smiling on them. As Antony Howard headed a long ball back to Little, Steve Butler and the Hampton forward both tumbled to the floor. Not only was a freekick given, the Dons skipper was shown a red card for denying a clear goalscoring opportunity even though the ball was already in Little?s hands.
Worse was to follow as a poor freekick was fired back goalwards. A deflection saw the ball squirm to the suspiciously offside-looking Paris, who managed to steer the ball into the net off the post for the equaliser. Down to ten men and back level against the table-toppers within a minute was a bitter pill to swallow. Paris repeated his trick against the Dons from last season, when he scored an equaliser for Kingstonian after Wimbledon failed to clear a freekick.
The Dons? hard luck story worsened still further when Wes Daly, who appeared to have equipped his boots with laser guidance for the night sortie, had Lovett beaten all ends up with another scorching long range shot. Not only did the luckless midfielder see the ball rebound off the crossbar, it then struck the prone goalkeeper without trickling over the line. It would be truer to say Lovett eventually had the ball come to him rather than claim he managed to make a conscious save.
Having hit the woodwork twice and dominated the match, it seemed grimly inevitable that the next action of note would see the Dons fall behind for the first time. It didn?t make it any easier to take, but the second Hampton goal was of the highest quality. Godfrey remained on the edge of the box for a corner and smashed an unstoppable half-volley past Little to put the Beavers one goal, as well as one man, to the good.
To their credit, the Dons continued to play football as they looked for an equaliser. Moore fired a freekick into Harper?s face, but the defender?s unwitting intervention kept the ball out. Dave Anderson opted to chase the game in a more attacking manner, introducing Harvey and Smeltz for Moore and Woolner.
Howard set the Dons away on a break and Daly?s third pinpoint pass of the night set Richard Butler clear. You would put your house on the Dons? frontman to score in that situation, and he did indeed lift the ball over Lovett. But for the third time on the night, Wimbledon?s luck was out as the goalkeeper staggered backward and just managed to flick the ball away from the line. A Hampton defender hoofed the ball away as the vast majority of the record crowd swore audibly in disbelief.
Harvey teed up Richard Butler, but he was crudely upended on the edge of the box by Paris. The defender was deservedly booked, but he?d done his job. With Moore off the field, Daly?s shot was deflected behind for a corner that came to nothing.
Wimbledon persevered to the last, some frantic defending by Hampton eventually cleared the chaos caused by a Finnie long throw. Even Little?s presence in the opposition penalty area for a freekick couldn?t engineer an equaliser. Finnie headed a corner wide in the sixth minute of injury-time as Little was thrown up once more. But they couldn?t find the second goal that was the least their efforts warranted.
No-one could possibly claim the Dons deserved to lose the match, and it?s certainly getting wearing looking for positives after points have been dropped, but there was much to admire in a whole-hearted and skilful Wimbledon effort. Moral victories won?t take the Dons back into the playoff places, but the management will no doubt be reminding the players they outplayed the league leaders for the vast majority of this match as they look to pick up more points on a day when something, anything might fall the Dons? way.