AFC Wimbledon 4 - 1 Sandhurst
Ron Atkinson can be accused of a number of things, namely being one of the most irritating people on the face of the earth, but it's not very often you find yourself accusing him of being right. One of his favourite phrases is "sometimes you have to win ugly", and although it could be argued that the Dons' 11th successive league win this season was little more than workmanlike, it was certainly not pretty. If it was entered for a beauty contest, it would be taken to one side and asked if it really wanted to make a fool of itself in front of all those people and wouldn't it be better to just go home.
Judging by the opening six or seven minutes, no-one could have guessed at how difficult the next 60 minutes was going to be. Sandhurst started brightly without really threatening, and when Seb Favata converted Danny Oakins' superbly timed through ball to put the Dons one up after just four minutes it seemed as though another easy win was on the cards. But, to the immense credit of Sandhurst Town, they were intent on becoming the first side since Farnham on 15 March to stop the Dons winning, or going one better and becoming the first side since Withdean three weeks earlier to actually beat us. A combination of easily the most organised side we've played this season and below-par performances from at least half a dozen AFC Wimbledon was seriously threatening our 100% record, the best at any level of senior football in the country.
Sandhurst's hard-working central midfield pairing of Hutchings and Thomas were snuffing out Favata and Gavin Bolger, and whenever Joe Sheerin or Kevin Cooper gained possession, they either turned into trouble or were dispossessed by Wilson and Fairminer. Steve Gibson and Darren Dobinson were unable to make any headway down either wing and the Dons usual supply of dangerous crosses had almost completely dried up. Dobinson and Ryan Gray, who had teamed up to great effect to create an endless supply of chances whenever they had played together down the left had seemingly forgotten how effective they can be, and the Dons had the two Matts, Everard and Martin, and the imperious Oakins to thank for keeping them in the game. Martin saved well from Anderson and Mulvaney and Oakins' interventions were perfectly timed and much-needed. Whether my Friday night chat neighbourly with the Dons number 4 had anything to do with his near-faultless display is open to question, but I'll be knocking on his door this Friday evening just in case. My five year old son has already requested an England shirt with OAKINS 4 on the back for Christmas.
Oakins, though, was helpless to prevent the visitors from drawing level seven minutes from half-time when Andersen scooped in a McNamara corner from six yards. It really was the least Sandhurst deserved for the first-half display, when with better finishing they could have gone in at the break a couple of goals ahead. Their midfield players were giving Favata and Bolger no time on the ball, snapping at their heels (sometimes literally) whenever the Dons had possession, and the home side's best means of attack were long-balls to the wing from Oakins. With Sheerin and Cooper having joint off-days, the home fans were quite pleased to go in at half-time level.
The second half started in much the same way, only worse. Within five minutes of the restart a woeful back pass from Bolger was picked up by Anderson but Martin came out to deny him brilliantly, and one can only presume that the players were ignoring Terry Eames' half-time instructions, unless his instructions were "just keep giving the ball away in dangerous situations, like you were in the first half". Martin was busier than at any other time in his short Dons career, and Sandhurst looked the far likelier side to score again, especially as Sheerin and Cooper were being hustled and bustled off the ball with surprising ease by Fairminer and Wilson. Mulvaney had a shot saved by Martin and McNamara was causing Dobinson the sort of problems he had not faced in his short time as a left-back. Andy Sullivan, who was getting little or no change out of Brown had the Dons best chance of the first 15 minutes of the half, but only found the side-netting when a knock-back to the waiting Cooper would have been the better option.
Eames reacted to the poor showing by replacing Bolger and Sheerin with Frankum and Scott. Both subs had a hand in the move that lead to the unnecessary concession of a corner by Fairminer with 22 minutes of the game remaining, and many Dons fans settling for a point. Cometh the hour, cometh the Caveman and Matt Everard took matters into his own hands. Dobinson's right wing corner was flighted perfectly for the inspirational defender to launch himself at it and bullet a header past Lindsay for his sixth goal of the season. Lindsay must have been surprised at how little he had to do up that point, but he was now fishing the ball out of the net for the second time.
Almost immediately the game changed, with Scott and Frankum ploughing far more successful furrows into the Sandhurst defence than the players they replaced had managed. Frankum would surely be first choice at many Ryman Premier clubs, but he's having to patiently wait his turn while ex-Franchise trainees Bolger and Favata pull the strings. Like the perfect understudy, he doesn't complain and takes his chance with both hands (or feet). It would be no surprise to see him start at Herne Bay in the Vase. With a slender lead, Eames opted to bring Lee Sidwell on for his first appearance since the 3-0 win against North Greenford in August, replacing the tiring Sullivan.
The Dons moved up a gear, largely out of necessity. With 10 minutes to go, they made it 3-1 when Paul Scott, who had done well to keep a long ball in play, cut back along the edge of the penalty area, dummied, shimmied, stepped over and aimed a shot at Lindsay's near post, and although the ball hit the upright, it had enough spin on it to trickle into Cooper's path and find its way into the net for his 21st goal of the season. At this rate, he'll have 90 before the season's out. Sandhurst refused to wilt, and were hell bent on denying the Dons another goal, Wilson and Fairminer doing their level best to repel the marauding Scott, but with three minutes to go, Sidwell's half-volley struck the inside of the post and nestled into the opposite corner to maintain the home side's record of scoring at least three times in every game since the opening day of the season. 4-1 was tough on Sandhurst, but the Dons got the workout they needed before the testing visit to Kent on Saturday.
MAN OF THE MATCH. Only three options really, and Danny Oakins takes the plaudits over Matt Everard and Matt Martin. Match sponsors, the United Colours of Football, comprising fans from a number of other teams that had made the most of a club football-free Saturday to come and watch this game gave their award to Everard, but I have to disagree. Oakins was magnificent. Not sure why he's playing CCL football, but extremely glad that he is.