AFC Wimbledon 4 - 0 Godalming & Guildford
"Not as comfortable as the score might suggest." Read Charlie Talbot's report from last night's game on the Official Site and you might be forgiven for thinking that we were at different games, but I saw him there. This, one could argue, was one of the closest 4-0 victories we'll ever record, with Godalming & Guildford putting up the strongest resistance of the season so far. In Danny Newman they had the most lively and awkward striker that the Dons defence have opposed, and in Jim Clarke and Glenn Stanley, two of the most uncompromising defenders. Add in the fact that the Dons were without the suspended Danny Oakins, Noel Frankum and Simon Bassey, and the injured Joe Sheerin and this was never going to be a Chessington-style victory (either of them).
The first attempt on goal, naturally, was by the Dons, but it was completely accidental. Ryan Gray charged down keeper Arjuna Adlam's clearance and the ball cannoned off his shins and just wide of the post. The second attempt on goal, rather unnaturally, was by Newman, his 25 yard low drive being safely handled by Lee Carroll who had spent the best part of 90 minutes at Chipstead on Saturday keeping warm and talking to himself. G&G were no pushovers, and despite the fact that they had scored only 12 times in their 12 CCL games, looked quite dangerous up front, with Newman and Kay giving Matt Everard and Jamie Angell a tough opening spell, winning headers and gathering loose balls and flick-ons.
Everard had the third attempt on goal, a typically powerful header from a Gray corner, but the referee penalised him for a minimal push after Adlam had tipped it over. Less than two minutes later, the Dons took the lead. Kevin Cooper chased what looked like a lost cause down to the by-line, and keeping the ball in appeared to be all he could hope for, but somehow he curled his right foot around it, through the legs of the advancing Adlam and in off the far post from the tightest angle imaginable. His 23rd goal of the season, his 64th for the Dons, and one of his best.
Eight minutes later, and it was two. Jones dithered 40 yards from his own goal, Bolger won the ball off him, took it wide, waited patiently for support and then clipped an inch perfect cross onto the advancing Lee Sidwell's foot and the midfielder slotted home under Adlam's body. A goal worthy of a much higher standard of football, and a much less scrappy game. Despite the two-goal lead, the Dons didn't look that comfortable. Possession was given away far too often, and despite Paul Scott's good work up front, he had to forage far too deep to cause any real danger to the G&G defence. They couldn't cope with his skill or his pace, but by the time a team-mate had arrived to support him, two defenders in yellow shirts were snuffing out the danger. The visitors poor goals-coring record speaks for itself, but ask Everard and Angell who has caused them more problems this season and I think I could predict the answer. Newman and Mariner hassled Favata and Bolger into errors, Clarke kept Cooper at bay with some well-timed interventions.
It was now that referee Mr Wright (how ironic) decided to make himself the centre of attention. First he failed to punish Adlam when he carried the ball outside the box, just awarding a free kick that was easily cleared, and then he missed a shocking, late challenge on Favata by Davies. Gavin Bolger decided to exact revenge on Davies and hacked him down from behind. Mr Wright, having already booked Bolger for a previous challenge, amazingly failed to punish the Irishman. How he failed to see the tackle that brought about Bolger's ire was anyone's guess.
A 15-yard Scott header that went wide was all the Dons had to show for their efforts in the last 10 minutes of a strangely disappointing half, which saw the visitors end, in attempts on goal, nearly level, Kay and Newman just failing to connect with crosses. The crowd, a few more than for the Sandhurst game, despite the evening kick off and inclement weather, were muted, the performance was muted, the opposition as strong as the smell of sewage.
Surprisingly, Terry Eames elected to make no changes at half-time. Sidwell's reluctance to take his man on, weighed against his goal and dangerous crossing, must have made Eames think about bringing on Andy Sullivan at the interval, but Sidwell was reprieved. His second half performance, although still not at the double award-winning levels of last season, was better. That, thankfully, could be said of the entire team, but not until the mark. For the first third of the second half, the Dons were woeful. Misplaced passes, missed tackles, misunderstandings & you name it, it went wrong. Michael Harvey's home debut performance shone through the gloom of mediocrity, and his partnership on the left with Gray was looking like the best opportunity the Dons had of adding to their lead. Strangely, Eames decided to break it up with 69 minutes gone, withdrawing Gray and Scott and replacing them with the eager Ryan Luffman and versatile Darren Dobinson.
Star of the second half though was Anthony Beckett. The assistant referee on the John Smith's Stand side had an absolute nightmare five minutes that haunted him for the rest of the game. Think Victor Meldrew with a hunchback and a paunch and you're half way there. First, Jones' clearance up the right wing went straight out of play without a Dons player within 3 yards of him, but Beckett awarded G&G the throw, much to the amusement of the full back. His throw went straight to Harvey whose clearance up the touchline was mis-controlled by Jones right in front of the Dons bench, the ball bouncing into touch off his shins. Amazingly, Beckett signalled for a throw to G&G again. The Dons bench lost it, jumping out of the dugout to remonstrate with Beckett and Wright., At this point the fourth official decided to take centre stage, running up to Eames, shouting "You're annoying me now, sit down the lot of you!" and getting involved in a heated exchange with fitness coach John Braham and a couple of supporters. Highly entertaining, it must be said.
As for the action on the pitch, somehow Gavin Bolger again failed to be sent off. Reacting to slightly dangerous challenge by Elliott, Bolger seemed to swing a leg out at the badger-haired left back, but in the following melee, referee Wright booked only Elliott as Bolger had cleverly managed to hide behind Angell and Everard on the halfway line.
Andy Sullivan replaced Sidwell on 75 minutes, and he was only on the pitch for seven when he finished off G&G with a cracking third, chesting down Harvey's deep cross and walloping a right footed shot past Adlam. Injuries to Bolger and Steve Gibson followed soon after, but with all three substitutes already on, both players had to soldier on. Bolger's injury seemed worse and he was stationed wide on the left, out of harm's way for the final few minutes. However, this seemed to turn him into a ball magnet, and however hard he tried not to get involved, balls came his way and incredibly he turned in his most effective 10 minutes of the season. To cap it off, he floated a quick last minute free-kick up and over the wall and into the top right hand corner of the net after Kevin Cooper fouled himself 25 yards out. A strange end to a strange game.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Now this is tricky. You could ask 11 people for their man of the match and you'd probably get 11 different answers. Composed and assured throughout, Harvey gets my vote. Be he Michael, Junior, MC or just plain mono-monickered Harvey, he's added even more stability to a defence that has conceded only 9 goals in 13 games, and only 3 in the last 9.