There may well be a better feeling in football than the one you get when your team has just won a must-win game but it's doubtful that Dave Anderson, the players or the near 2000-strong army of Dons fans that invaded Worthing on Saturday could be easily convinced. A vital three points, a remarkably solid performance and a pre-match visit to the beach, topped off beautifully by news of the result from Oakwell.
The Dons numbering system seemed intent on confusing Worthing, with Dave Sargent wearing 7 at left-back, Wayne Finnie wearing 6 at right back, Michael Harvey wearing 8 on the left wing and Wes Daly wearing 2 in central midfield (the still flu-stricken Rob Ursell was fit enough only for a place on the bench), but whether this had any effect on the home side's shaky start is open to question. For the first three minutes the Dons exerted barely tolerable pressure on the Worthing defence, with Harvey in particular involved in much of the action. Only the resolute defending of former Wimbledon trainee Marc Cable prevented Richard Butler (sporting bandages on both hands now) and Shane Smeltz getting on the end of Harvey's telling crosses. If the Dons dominated the opening 15th of the first half, much of the remaining time was spent trading blows in midfield. Worthing, with arguably the strongest trio of strikers in the division, with former Withdean nemesis Sam Francis up front with former QPR forward Richard Pacquette and ex-Aldershot hit man Stafford Browne on the bench, started to then exert some pressure of their own. Lutwyche headed over when well placed from a corner and the Dons defensive pairing of Steve Butler and Antony Howard were presenting a near-insurmountable barrier for Worthing's midfielders to overcome. Wayne Finnie has his hands full coping with the tricky Mark Knee and Dave Sargent was working similarly hard to prevent crosses coming in from the left. Pacquette spurned a reasonable chance with 20 minutes gone and Francis seemed intent on adding to his record of scoring in each of his previous three games against the Dons (including the last minute winner at Kingsmeadow in September).
The Dons held on without threatening former Sutton keeper Chuck Martini at the other end. Cable and Lutwyche cleared more dangerous-looking Harvey crosses, but with Dwayne Plummer off the pace and presenting no threat on the other side, the Dons attacking options seemed a touch lopsided. A couple of inswinging corners from Knee aside, Andy Little wasn't overly tested though, largely thanks to Worthing's final ball to Pacquette and Francis more often than not finding the heads or feet of Howard and Butler. The half time whistle came just as the Dons were starting to get on top again.
Dave Anderson had clearly decided that the game was there for the winning and within the first couple of minutes of the second half Dwayne Plummer and Wes Daly were seen further forward, with Barry Moore, who had been quiet in the first half, now anchoring the midfield. "We could do with an early goal" is one of the most overused clichés in football, but it was certainly true on this occasion, as Worthing's scoring record, especially at home, was impressive and a takeable chance was surely going to come their way at some point. It did, on the hour, but by this stage the home side were 2-0 down. First Antony Howard expertly volleyed home from 10 yards, with his left foot it should be noted, following a short bout of post-corner head tennis and then four minutes later Richard Butler cut in from the right and unleashed a powerful drive that flashed across Martini (with whom he had clashed earlier when in with a chance of heading over the keeper) and into the bottom left hand corner of the net. If there is such a thing as a trademark Richard Butler goal, that was it.
Francis had a shot comfortably saved by Little and Pacquette miscued the Rebels' best chance, but other than a couple of horribly wasted free kicks by Davis and Lutwyche, Worthing really didn't threaten the Dons' goal on very many occasions, which was something of a surprise. Harvey had the best opportunity to add to the goals but he blasted over after Richard Butler pulled the ball back to him 12 yards out. It mattered little though, and even Howard hobbling off with a leg injury to be replaced by Sobihy failed to dampen the celebratory mood of the travelling Dons fans. Nas Richardson came on to replace the typically hard-working Butler and a cameo appearance from Rob Ursell, replacing the furthest player from the bench, which just happened to be Harvey, livened up the last couple of minutes, but neither side created a chance in the last knockings of an entirely satisfactory game for the Dons, and the final whistle was greeted with a roar that was probably heard in Staines. A chorus of "Wombles are back" sprung up, and if there are more performances like that over the next crucial few games, it's a chant that could well be heard at a football ground somewhere in the South East on Saturday 6 May.