An under-strength Dons side battled hard and dominated the match against higher-ranked opposition, but a Barry Moore own goal and two precise counter-attacks sent Conference South St Albans into the FA Trophy Second Round. It was an entertaining game packed with goalmouth incidents and talking points and Wimbledon could certainly feel hard done by not to have at least earned a replay.
With injuries, suspension and a mystery virus ravaging his squad, Dave Anderson was forced to throw short-term loan signing Tom Welch into the fray at right-back. Nas Richardson shock off a knock sustained in his debut against Ash to line up in midfield once more, while his erstwhile Harefield teammate Rob Ursell found a place on the bench after finishing his loan spell at Wealdstone.
St Albans arrived with injury worries of their own, but the Conference South high-fliers went into the match as strong favourites.
It was the underdog Dons who created the game?s first chances from two Barry Moore corners. The first dropped invitingly for Wes Daly near the penalty spot, but his half-volley was deflected over the bar for a second corner that was hacked away from the far post.
A fairly needless late challenge from Michael Harvey conceded a freekick on the edge of the home box. He was booked for his pains, but the cross was headed away by Finnie.
A quickly taken Moore freekick almost sent the Dons in front. As players from both sides seemed to go to sleep a quick low pass found Butler free in the area, but Bastock was alert enough to block an attempted flick before justifiably asking questions of his defenders with some vigour.
Dean Cracknell kept Andy Little?s hands warm with a shot from distance the Dons custodian clung onto at the second attempt. Almost immediately Bastock was called on again to palm away a left-footed Butler strike, after the frontman created a chance out of nothing. Richardson elected to take a touch rather than strike the rebound first time and was crowded out.
Having created a chance out of nothing, Butler went one better and chiselled a goal out of thin air. A long ball down the middle looked liked bread and butter for Aaron Barnett, but Butler beat the centre back to the ball and swivelled and shot from the edge of the area, steering a low precise shot across Barstock. The ball rolled gently, slowly and gloriously into the far corner for 1-0.
But the lead was short-lived as Wimbledon returned to their bad old habit of switching off after scoring. Paul Hakim took advantage of being granted the freedom of half the pitch to lob a stranded Little with a well judged chipped equaliser.
Little saved well from Graham as St Albans cut the Dons defence to shreds once more. But an end-to-end encounter continued to see chances at both ends. Harvey beat Bastock to a chipped throughball and managed to square the ball to Smeltz, but he connected with the ball weakly and a grateful defender hoofed the ball clear.
St Albans took the lead with half-time looming with a quick precise break. Lee Clarke skipped past an over-committed Howard on the halfway and sent Graham haring into the area. His low cross-cum-shot dropped invitingly for Hakim to ghost in front of Little and put City in front from close range.
Davis fouled Harvey, but yet again this season one failed to discern any consistency in the production of yellow cards as the City man?s name remained out of a book that already contained Daly and Harvey?s names. Smeltz was fouled on the edge of the area as well, but both freekicks were wasted by poor Moore deliveries.
At the other end a theatrical tumble gave St Albans a freekick of their own, but the ball was blazed harmlessly over the bar. In injury time Butler won the Dons a corner, but Smeltz?s header was hacked behind and the half-time whistle blew before the second corner could be taken. 2-1 remained the deficit at the interval.
But the Dons were level within eight minutes of the restart. Wayne Finnie?s long throw caught the City defence on the hop and Barry Moore?s shot struck a sliding defender on the arm. The referee awarded a penalty but took no further action against the offender, thus managing to leave both sides feeling slightly hard done by.
Dave Sargent was rather surprisingly the man who stepped up and his measured low penalty brought Wimbledon level.
St Albans were visibly rattled and the home side went close to going in front as Harvey?s shot was half-saved and Smeltz was just beaten to the follow-up by a defender. Two corners were hacked away as chaos reigned.
But against the run of play it was the visitors who found a third goal. Another quick break resulted in a low cross into the Dons six-yard box and Barry Moore managed to bundle the ball into his own net for an unfortunate own-goal.
The end-to-end excitement continued, with Moore going agonisingly close to making amends almost immediately. His fierce drive from the edge of the box was brilliantly palmed away one-handed by a flying Barstock.
That proved to be the skipper?s last action as he was sacrificed for the long-awaited return of Rob Ursell with just under 30 minutes remaining. Wimbledon continued to enjoy the lion share?s of possession, but St Albans looked threatening with their quality on the counter.
A corner created further mayhem. Antony Howard dropped his shoulder to lose his man on the edge of the box and slid the ball into the area for Harvey. Harvey was obviously and flagrantly tripped and jumped on from behind for a far clearer infringement than the earlier penalty decision and the lack of a whistle was mystifying in the extreme.
There was no shortage of effort from the home team, but the clock ticked down and it looked as if the unlucky Moore would prove the difference between the teams. Jon Boswell came on at the back as Welch was pushed into midfield.
Another long Finnie throw and subsequent corner caused more confusion, but St Albans scrambled the ball away as Dons players and the Tempest End screamed for handball in vain.
Hann set off on a run for City on the break, but ended some good work by shooting wastefully wide. In injury time St Albans ran the clock down by the corner flag and it spoke volumes for the home side?s possession and territorial dominance that the visitors didn?t win their first corner until the 92nd minute.
Injury time so so nearly brought the Dons level, as Shane Smeltz?s looping header was flicked onto the crossbar. A replay was the least Wimbledon deserved, but agonisingly it was not to be.
It?s always disappointing to crash out of a cup competition, but there was much to admire in the Wimbledon performance and they certainly proved a point against higher opposition. Dave Anderson and his charges will have to ensure they build on the positives as they return to the rigours of a Ryman League campaign. On this evidence, the Dons would not look out of place in next year?s Conference South.