AFC Wimbledon took all three points with an absolute cracker of a display against a Fisher side that could politely be termed physical. One goal was scant reward for their dominance, and it remained a mystery how the visitors finished the match will 11 men.
Nine months is a long time in non-league football, with both sides much changed since the away team?s London Senior Cup triumph in January of this year. Fisher started with just three of the 11 players who inflicted the biggest defeat of Dave Anderson?s AFC Wimbledon career last season, while Steve Butler, Antony Howard and Richard Butler (who came on as a second half substitute) were the only Dons out for revenge having been on duty that night.
Richard Butler appeared to be taking responsibility for avenging the defeat on his shoulders alone, causing the colossal Francis Duku early problems with some combative runs. But the first real chance fell to Barry Moore, who hardly tested Pullen with a weak shot from the edge of the penalty area. Dwayne Plummer had a similarly weak effort saved before the home side went even closer from a trio of corners. The second, from the right by Wes Daly, was clawed away from under his crossbar by Pullen. The Fisher goalkeeper needed a defender to intervene and head away the conclusion of the trilogy, swung into the same area from the left by Barry Moore.
Fisher?s style of play had undergone less of a transformation than their personnel since January. They looked to get the ball forward quickly and tried to unsettle the Dons with their pace and physical presence. In the early stages Wimbledon were unbowed, as Finnie, Howard and Butler repelled aerial assaults and the harrying of Moore and York restricted the visitors to set pieces and speculative long range efforts.
The referee posed the home side as many problems as their opponents, managing to miss several pushes and shirt pulls by Fisher, but producing yellow cards for a trip by Fowler and a reaction by Barry Moore to having his shirt tugged while trying to get on the end of a cross. Plummer finally won a freekick for being hacked down on the edge of the Fisher box, but a far worse tackle than Fowler?s somehow merited no card. Consistency, what consistency? Sargent?s low freekick was easily blocked.
Plummer set Fowler free on the right wing, who beat one man for fun and tried to tee up York, but the ball bounced awkwardly and we can charitably assume that?s why the ball ended up clearing the goal, the Kingston Road end and several terraced houses.
Richard Butler was then tripped on the edge of the penalty area before eventually tumbling inside it after further contact, but in keeping with his refusal to raise his flag at any point, the linesman, five yards from the incident, remained unmoved. Fisher, who were enjoying the luxury of being given freekicks for infringements occurring in their opposition?s half, carved out a free header, which was sent just wide.
The referee may have decided to give the Dons nothing, but fortunately James Pullen was in a more generous mood and the goalkeeper?s gaffe allowed the home side to take a lead they deserved on the balance of play. With three minutes to go until the interval, Matt Fowler cut inside from the right once more and elected to shoot from a tight angle. In truth, the effort should have been easily saved, but Pullen managed to dive over the ball as it slowly rolled over the line.
Fisher filled in the last few minutes of the half with another couple of fouls and the referee finally produced a card for Clancy?s umpteenth infringement, body-checking Plummer on the charge. Evidently he thought the Dons midfielder presented a clear and present danger. Barry Moore certainly presented one from the free-kick, beating Pullen all ends up with a freekick that cannoned off the crossbar. So Wimbledon had to settle for a one goal lead at the break.
Fisher made a double substitution as they looked to get back on terms, but continued to play the match in a similar vein, largely by kicking anything in a blue shirt and taking advantage of Ian Gosling?s leniency. Moore and York were both fouled in quick succession before the Dons finally got a freekick. Matters worsened when substitute Will Packham produced the worst challenge of the day before he?d even touched the ball. Andy Little claimed a cross, only for the Fisher player to launch himself into the air and kick the goalkeeper?s standing leg. The referee decided this terrible foul only merited a yellow card when a red was surely warranted.
Plummer was kicked on the edge of the Fisher penalty area again, but this time Moore?s radar let him down and he sent the freekick over the Tempest End roof. The oddest foul of the afternoon thus far followed shortly afterwards. Butler and Duku chased the ball back towards Pullen and the Dons man fell to the floor. No decision was given, correctly, but as the Wimbledon striker got up to his feet and appealed, Duku floored him with a bodycheck. Despite this occurring a good 20 yards from where the ball had been rolled out to the left back by Pullen, the referee opted once more to produce a yellow card when most interpretations of the rules demanded the red variety.
Ex-Wimbledon youth team and reserve team regular Lenny Piper came on for Fisher and Dave Anderson brought Shane Smeltz on in place of Matt Fowler. Smeltz?s first touch found Plummer in the middle of the park, who sent Richard Butler clear of the defence. Butler eluded the left-back?s challenge and dragged a shot across Pullen, but the ball rolled agonisingly just wide of the far post.
Butler was then fouled, AGAIN, by Clancy, when the Dons threatened once more, but in keeping with his no red card policy, the referee decided that the foul couldn?t possibly be a second bookable offence.
Chris Piper found himself free in space inside the Dons? penalty, but his first shot was blocked before he was robbed by a great tackle from Wes Daly. Danger threatened on the break, but Plummer sent a cross aimed at Smeltz too close to Pullen. With 17 minutes remaining, the highly impressive Plummer was substituted. Micky Woolner slotted in at right wing-back, with Daly moving in to midfield. Piper welcomed Daly into his more advanced role by flooring him as he challenged for a header. The referee allowed the advantage, but Woolner couldn?t feed the ball to Smeltz.
Fisher pressed more as the match entered the final ten minutes, but Wimbledon stood firm and threatened on the counter through Smeltz and Butler. Hearts were in mouths from a last minute Fisher freekick as the ball looked to have cleared Little, standing in an advanced position, but the Dons keeper scrambled back to hang on to the ball as he toppled back on to his goalline clutching it gratefully to his chest. Hamid Barr lived up to his name, sending a freekick high over the crossbar in injury time as the Dons looked for the final whistle. Finally it came, and the Dons had the victory they so richly deserved.
Make no mistake, this was a superlative Wimbledon performance. You couldn?t find any fault in any position with an outstanding effort from the entire team. All thirteen players not only played their hearts out, but every single one contributed hugely to a highly impressive, and disciplined display, dominating in terms of territory, possession and chances against the team tipped for the title. Andy Little mopped up crosses and loose balls with his customary unflappable efficiency, Daly and Sargent were defensive bulwarks on either flank, while Butler, Howard and Finnie refused to buckle under aerial and physical assaults. York and Moore fetched, carried, hassled and harried magnificently, while Plummer was at the heart of almost every chance the Dons created. And the forward trio each gave of their best: Fowler a constant nagging irritation and the scorer of the all-important goal, Smeltz tricky and full of guile and Richard Butler the physical embodiment of dedication and never-say-die derring do. Wes Daly took the man of the match award, but in truth 13 bottles of champagne could have been sent to the changing room and no-one could have quibbled.