AFC Wimbledon 3 - 0 North Greenford United
Five wins out of five, then. Statistics, like cameras, so the saying goes, never lie. But so far, only the 2-0 win at Feltham on the opening day of the season truly reflects what actually happened on the pitch. After thrashing Merstham by one goal, and comprehensively hammering Southall and Withdean by only two, today the Dons struggled to overcome a resolute North Greenford side and somehow ended up with a three-goal winning margin.
In many ways this was a strange game. On the one hand, 3-0 rather flattered the Dons. On the other, NGU had an inspired goalkeeping performance from Gary Jallow to thank for keeping the score down to three. On another hand (obviously someone else's), the visitors could easily have gone in two or three goals up at half time themselves. It all started so promisingly for the home side, though, with Ryan Gray and Kevin Cooper having shots saved in the first five minutes, and then another Cooper header on seven minutes was easily taken by Jallow. The Dons kept coming at North Greenford, who shipped 10 goals over the two games against us last season, and it was looking like we might match that total in the first half alone. Joe Sheerin had a shot saved by Jallow and then put another effort just past the post, and there was still only 11 minutes on the clock. Jallow, with quite possibly the thinnest legs I've ever seen on a fully grown human man, was performing heroics and whatever the Dons threw at him, he caught, parried or deflected, collecting corners like a stick-drawing of David Seaman, even when under pressure from the returning Matt Everard. NGU were starting to sense that it could be their day, using Jallow's inspired performance to play the Dons at the their own game, but further efforts by Gray (three times), Cooper (four times), Sheerin, Seb Favata and Gavin Bolger were repelled by the keeper. Lee Sidwell's reluctance to take on his chunky full-back meant that every time he slung in a cross it was headed away by Jarvis and Baronowski, and Gray was having no more success on the left. When the visitors finally managed to get possession of the ball and keep it for more than two passes, they looked dangerous.
John Hill, the CCL's third-top scorer last season, and Ashley Leenders, both had two excellent chances to put NGU ahead, but a combination of panic-stricken finishing and a more than competent debut in goal by Matt Martin, replacing dead-leg victim Ray Merry, meant that somehow the two sides went in level at half-time, the AFC Dons fans who had travelled from Norway to see the game, probably quite relieved that it was goalless. If could have been a lot better, it could have been a whole lot worse.
"We need an early goal," club secretary Trevor Williams said to me in the press box, "10 minutes in, then get a quick second, that should do it." That the Dons were indeed 2-0 up 13 minutes into the second half might explain why Trevor does what he does and I do what I do. On 53 minutes, Cooper swivelled to volley home one of Sidwell's few successful crosses, and when Cooper's shot on the turn was parried by Jallow five minutes later, Gray was on hand to smash home the rebound. The home fans were starting to get a bit edgy and these two quick-fire goals settled the 2700 crowd down with perfect timing. All it needed now was for the Dons to not let their foot off the gas (as they had done against Southall and Withdean) and let NGU back into the game. Two smart saves from Martin, one from a Cornwall thunderbolt and the other from a point-blank Donnelly header, kept the Dons' lead safe and although the visitors didn't allow their blank-drawing to get the better of them, a third Dons goal would surely wrap up the three points. Martin, however, had other ideas. Dallying on the ball when a simple pass out to the splendid Darren Dobinson, in only his second ever game at left back, was the obvious option, Martin fell over it and presented Cornwall with a chance to pull a goal back, but thankfully the lanky midfield player couldn't wrap his foot around the ball and Jamie Angell, again superb in Oakins' stead, tidied up.
Cue Sheerin's departure. He'd done enough and was possibly still feeling the hamstring he appeared to tweak on Monday. He was replaced by Ally Russell, whose fine showing at Carshalton in pre-season, coupled with his four-goal salvo in the reserves' 10-0 win the week before hinted that this may be a completely new Ally Russell, who had ended last season out of form and lacking confidence. Within minutes, Russell had the chance to get on the score-sheet, but incredibly headed over from only four yards out when Gray's inviting cross looked easier to convert. Another Cooper effort was pushed away by Jallow as the Dons strove for the killer third, and Cooper it was who finally got it, with an in-off-the-post effort in the second minute of injury time. Game over, the Dons' fifth win on the trot which should see them travel to Woking to take on Westfield in the FA Vase on Saturday in good spirit. No trophies for this performance though.
MAN OF THE MATCH: For the Dons, Darren Dobinson, in an unfamiliar position, hardly put a foot wrong. With Sidwell and Bolger well below par, Dobbo didn't exactly steal the show, but asked politely if he could borrow it. The real man of the match though was NGU keeper Gary Jallow. In a game that we could have won by 10 or lost by three, his display suggested that NGU may not be able to hold on to him for too long. Easily Conference-class, if not better.