It wasn?t the prettiest game of the season, it wasn?t the greatest game to watch, but this 1-0 victory confirmed AFC Wimbledon as the champions. Shane Smeltz?s goal, a superb defensive display and the effervescent effort of Leon McDowall ensured that the title would be secured at the second time of asking.
The Dons welcomed Danny Naisbitt back in goal following Paul Smith?s injury against Sutton. And the 3-5-2 formation was retained, with Gell alongside Butler and Howard at the back. Lewis Hamilton shuffled across to right wing-back, with Ryan Gray on the left. Shane Smeltz returned to partner Leon McDowall up front.
Stephen Cook was the referee yet again ? I can?t remember the last time we didn?t see him in the middle. And the Dons were only denied an opening minute goal by an extraordinarily poor decision from the officials. As the Met Police defence struggled to clear, Shane Smeltz nipped in to win the ball on the edge of the box. He knocked the ball into the area, ran on and shot past McKenzie. Somehow playing the ball to himself constituted an infringement for offside and the celebrations were cut short by a flag inexplicably raised.
But Smeltz was not to be denied for long and with eight minutes gone he sent the Dons in front with a low shot across McKenzie from the edge of the area. Met Police managed a goalmouth scramble of their own, but Steve Butler continued where he left off on Tuesday by blocking two goalbound efforts. Sears was alert to the danger at the other end, just reaching a raking Woolner pass ahead of McDowall. The same player was forced into action again and conceded a corner when McDowall collected a searching Hamilton channel ball, but Ryan Gray?s near post effort was cleared.
Some defensive dithering from Hamilton on the edge of his own box nearly let Bennetts in, but the Police couldn?t capitalise on the opportunity. The Dons were ahead comfortably enough, but the level of their performance was well below the heights of Sutton. Dave Anderson and Jon Turner were animated on the bench as they attempted to instil some cohesion and composure into their charges.
But little else of note occurred in a tepid opening period. McDowall chased an Ursell shot that had gone so far wide it didn?t even make it out for a throw-in. His high cross prompted an acrobatic leap and attempted volley from Smeltz, but to call the final effort wayward would be charitable in the extreme.
Cooper stepped up to drive a free-kick into the Dons? defensive wall for the Police, but overall Wimbledon were good value for a half-time lead after a functional performance.
It should have been two right after the interval as Wimbledon exerted early pressure, including forcing a couple of corners. From the second Ryan Gray crossed back into the box and the ball fell to Antony Howard, but the hero of Tuesday night blazed over the bar from inside the six-yard box.
The Police tried to string together some spells of possession themselves, but Bennet headed over the bar and Batten shot even further over from distance. Naisbitt then tipped a corner over the crossbar, but made amends by racing out to punch clear the second cross. Naisbitt then saved well from close range and another corner created more problems, but Ryan Gray hacked the ball off the line.
At the other end, Smeltz drove a shot narrowly over the bar, but it was the Police who made the late running. Watson was denied by another good Naisbitt save and Gregory couldn?t take advantage of his header from the subsequent corner.
Leon McDowall?s non-stop running created a chance out of nothing for the Dons as he harried the defence and goalkeeper three times until they made a mistake. His slide tackle dispossessed McKenzie, but the onrushing Smeltz couldn?t direct his shot on target under close attention from Gregory.
McDowall seemed to be carrying the fight to the Police on his own, drawing a bad challenge from Newman on the halfway line and then embarking on a jinking run eventually ended by Sears. He was justifiably named as man of the match after an immense amount of effort.
With slight nerves seeming to creep in, Wimbledon sat on what they had and looked to cling on to the three points that would secure the Ryman Division One title. McDowall was denied by McKenzie after a great ball from Smeltz and Bolger?s effort from the rebound was blocked. As the clock ran down Bolger broke clear and after a shot was blocked opted for the corner flag option. Eventually a wicked Gray cross was headed over by Hamilton, but before the goal-kick could be taken the referee?s whistle heralded the end of the match and confirmed AFC Wimbledon as champions.