AFC Wimbledon 1-1 Northampton Town
Tuesday, February 19th 2012
A point gained or two dropped? That seems to be the debate raging after last night’s draw with AFC Wimbledon at Kingsmeadow (Or the Red Cherry Records Stadium to give it its full title).The Cobblers scrapped it out in an ill-tempered encounter that saw both sets of fans slamming the simply appalling performance of referee Mr Graham.
It was my first visit back to the dual home of the Wombles and Kingstonian since standing in the home end on a Bank Holiday Monday a few years back when Wimbledon were in the Conference South. Things have changed since then and the club built from nothing are now competing in the Football League but are having to fight for their lives to stay in it after falling to the bottom of the table in recent weeks.
A friendly drink in the welcoming supporters’ bar was just being finished off when suddenly the lights went out all around us. Moving outside we realised that the power cut wasn’t just limited to the bar and we would be facing a 20 minute kick off delay because the floodlights had also gone. A healthy away crowd had gathered already and more filtered in as the lights slowly made their way back on to the ironic background music of “I’ve got the power” from the tannoy!
The Cobblers were in their lime green away kits and could probably have kicked off while the lights were off and we would still have been able to see them. Wimbledon were clearly fired up and went straight for the throats of Town from the off as they looked to gain the upper hand. If there was any doubt before the game that the home side would be up for the battle then they were all blown away within the opening five minutes and the Cobblers, playing again in a 3-5-2 formation, were struggling to get a foothold in the game.
The midfield had been rotated to include Ishmel Demontagnac, Lewis Hornby and Ben Tozer with the likes of Luke Guttridge and Chris Hackett on the bench. It was understandable given the run of games we’re in the middle of but I couldn’t help but feel that this one was made for Guttridge’s graft rather than Demontagnac’s flair and inconsistent nature.
The midfield was getting badly overrun in the first half with the lively Toby Ajala causing no end of problems down the right hand side. Lee Collins dealt better with the winger as the half wore on but the hosts were always looking the more likely side to score. They did just that when Alan Bennett headed in from a corner…the Cobblers players were adamant that the ball didn’t cross the line with Joe Widdowson appearing to block it just in time as well as Lee Nicholls claiming a foul. Neither appeal was accepted and the Wombles were in front.
At the other end there were limited chances to get back into it but at least towards the end of the half the Cobblers had begun to look more dangerous, particularly from set pieces.
The second half started with us on the front foot as straight away Bayo Akinfenwa worked his way into the area and shot just over the angle of home keeper Neil Sullivan’s cross bar. That was encouraging for the band of Cobblers away fans but for the period of time that followed there came frustration as passes were over hit, long balls were turned to without anyone gambling on second balls and the clock ticked towards a Wimbledon victory.
It would have been just that had Lee Nicholls not pulled off a fantastic save mid-way through the half from Ajala who raced onto a pass and looked certain to score.
Substitutions from the Cobblers saw Lee Collins brought off for Chris Hackett while Clive Platt replaced the ineffective Demontagnac. Platt would be the catalyst for the turning of fortunes as his presence caused problems for the Wombles defence even before he placed a deft touch over the top for Roy O’ Donovan to chase. The Irishman beat Sullivan to the ball and was clattered by the veteran inside the area for a penalty.
Sullivan was booked and, though many thought he should have been shown a red there looked to be covering defenders and I think it would have been harsh on him to further the punishment with a sending off. Up stepped Bayo to coolly place home the spot kick and give us parity.
We sensed that we might still be able to nick it and with a more fluent, counter attacking style now in place it could well have gone either way in the final few minutes.
Wimbledon brought on Kevin Saint-Luce for the final knockings and he seemed the perfect man to ignite their attacks against tired legs. The Cobblers were, however, set to have the final clear chance. Chris Hackett was suddenly sent through on goal and time seemed to stand still as he powered on to a one on one with Sullivan. The keeper stood tall and made a save to match Nicholls’ earlier in the half and when Clive Platt followed up a covering defender was able to clear to safety.
That would have been the ultimate smash and grab effort from the Cobblers, who went away with a point after a couple of dangerous corners late on for Wimbledon were dealt with. I get the feeling that both sets of fans went home reasonably happy with the point with both making it four points from two games this week.
Wimbledon, if they play and fight like this every week, will not stay in relegation trouble for much longer. This will be a tough place for anyone to come over the next few weeks and I sense a feeling of upwards momentum with them as I did with our own survival run at this time last season.
The Cobblers will be happy with four points from two away games and it’s hard to argue with that. It wasn’t the greatest performance but we’ve come away with points from away games in which we’ve not been the better side which is fine by me. I grew up watching a similar brand of football in the late nineties under Ian Atkins and those were some fantastic years. Whilst we have a way to go to emulate that, the point is that not many people look back now and focus on how we got each result but instead reminisce about the moments that got us to Wembley and promotion in 1997 and 1998.
It’s all about getting the points at the moment to keep us in the top seven, something that this result ensured, and when we write the end of season reports we’ll hopefully be able to say that we achieved something through the commitment and hard graft that Aidy Boothroyd has instilled in this set of players.
I have to admit to ‘doing a Wenger’ and not seeing what sounds like a bad challenge by Joe Widdowson in the first half that set up a melee involving both sets of players so the only thing I can say is that I hope it wasn’t as bad as some reports from home fans are suggesting.
In the heat of this battle, competed without control from a shocker of an official, we can thank our stars that the Cobblers escaped with another valuable point on the road. How and where that road from here on in is anyone’s guess!