Curzon Ashton 3 v Wimbledon 4
Wimbledon came back from the brink of FA Cup extinction to snatch a thrilling 4-3 second-round win at Curzon Ashton on Sunday (4 December).
With ten minutes remaining, the Dons were trailing 0-3 and facing humiliating elimination at the hands of their National League North opponents after letting in a hat-trick by Adam Morgan.
But three goals in 162 amazing seconds – by Tom Elliott, Dom Poleon and Tyrone Barnett – hauled the Dons back into the tie.
And then, with the game four minutes into injury time, Elliott scored a dramatic fourth goal to win the tie, break the hearts of the hosts, and send the Dons through to the third round.
‘I thought their third goal could be the killer blow,’ boss Neal Ardley told the BBC afterwards, ‘but I’ve got a set of boys who don’t give up, who fight for everyone, and once we got back to 3-1 I knew we would have enough chances.
‘Part of me feels very, very sorry for Curzon because I thought they were absolutely incredible. They counter-attacked brilliantly and scored some good goals.’
An incredible afternoon got underway in the most dramatic of fashions as the home side scored with their very first attack in the opening minute. Dannie Bulman missed a challenge in midfield but there still seemed little threat when Morgan picked up the ball midway in the half.
But the former Liverpool striker unleashed a stunning 30-yard thunderbolt that was wind-assisted into the back of the net, with James Shea getting fingertips to it but unable to keep it out.
Almost immediately the Dons had a half chance to equalise, only for Poleon to fluffed the opportunity, and the Dons continued to enjoy plenty of midfield possession without ever really threatening to score.
And just after 20 minutes the hosts were 2-0 ahead, breaking down the left before Joe Guest delivered a cross to where Morgan had evaded the attentions of a daydreaming Chris Robertson to convert from close range.
That finally prompted a comparatively sustained period of pressure around the Curzon goalmouth, but the closest that the Dons came in a disappointing first period was when Elliott had a sniff of goal and forced a good save by the outstretched Hakan Burton.
Ardley revealed afterwards that there had been no storming half-team team talk as the management team left it to the players to resolve what to do, and they emerged from the interval with renewed vigour.
Burton was forced into a fine finger-tip save to tap over a dipping Jake Reeves effort from outside the area as the Dons finally began to exert some protracted pressure, while Lyle Taylor spurned an opportunity, skewing his shot wide from close range as a home defender reduced his options.
And with 62 minutes on the clock the Dons were punished by a breakaway goal. Barry Fuller allowed a long clearance to bounce and conceded possession to the Guest, who charged clear before delivering a ball into the box that Morgan converted to claim his hat-trick and seemingly entrench Curzon Ashton into a giant-killing position.
But the game swung even further in Wimbledon’s direction as Tyrone Barnett came on soon afterwards and they opted for a 4-2-4 formation, capitalising on the wing at their backs to keep the home side under sustained pressure.
For all their pressure, when Curzon Ashton cleared a Robertson effort off the line following a mad close-quarters scramble – with the Dons fans behind the goal claiming it had crossed the vital inches into being a goal – it started to seem like it might not be Wimbledon’s afternoon.
That changed in the 80th minute when Burton flapped at a Reeves corner and Elliott was on hand to pounce on the loose ball and make it 3-1 from close range.
Seconds later, Burton repeated the pattern when he came for another Reeves corner – delivered from the opposite side this time – and again missed, this time allowing Poleon the opportunity to convert from close range.
Curzon Ashton were rocking now and there was almost a sense of inevitability when the Dons completed their three-minute turnaround. Reeves was again instrumental, dinking in a ball from deep that Barnett rose to powerfully head back across goal and into the back of the net.
Having for so long looked in control, the only question now was whether Curzon Ashton would hold on to their advantage. Burton redeemed himself for his earlier errors by turning away an Elliott effort, Meades shot wide and, when Barnett slid in to try and convert Taylor’s injury-time cross only to see it drift narrowly wide, it seemed like their luck might be in.
But deep into injury time the Dons won a free-kick on the halfway line. Reeves lofted the ball forward where Elliott, with his back to goal, deftly headed it up and over Burton into the back of the net to complete a remarkable afternoon and shatter Curzon’s dreams.
The Dons will be hoping for a similar outcome but a less nerve-jangling process when they visit Milton Keynes on Saturday (10 December, an all-ticket match with a 1pm kick-off) before returning to Kingsmeadow to host Port Vale on 17 December.
Curzon Ashton: Burton, Baillie, Woodford, Hunt, Hampton, Howard, Clark, Brown (Rowney 86), Guest (Wright 84), Morgan (Tomsett 93), Cummins. Subs not used: Mason, Ennis, Gorman, Hall.
Goalscorer: Morgan 1, 21, 62.
Booked: Morgan 64, Rowney 94.
Wimbledon: Shea, Fuller, Robinson, Robertson, Meades, Parrett (Barnett 66), Reeves, Bulman, Poleon, Elliott, Taylor. Subs not used: Francomb, Whelpdale, Beere, Kelly, McDonnell, Owens.
Goalscorers: Elliott 80, 94, Poleon 81, Barnett 82.
Booked: Elliott 95.
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December 5, 2016