Wimbledon 2 v Fleetwood 1
Wimbledon won a nerve-wracking final-day showdown as they beat Fleetwood Town 2-1 on Saturday (27 April) to ensure their Football League survival.
The Dons went into the game knowing that their fate was in their own hands as a win would guarantee safety, regardless of results elsewhere, while anything less would result in a return to the Conference and non-League football.
In a nerve-wracking encounter, it was striker Jack Midson – making his 100th appearance for the club – who kept his cool to score the vital second-half penalty that ultimately secured the win and prompted a jubilant end-of-game pitch invasion from celebrating Dons fans.
Afterwards, boss Neal Ardley told the club’s website: ‘I am so pleased for the club and I know how much it means to the fans to hold on to their league status.
‘I was just worried that all the hard work we have done behind the scenes ... would go out of the window if we did not see it over the line today. But we have and I am proud to have played a part in the wonderful history of this club.
‘We kept the boys bubbling during the week to take the pressure off them. Anyone who had come down to the training ground this week would not have believed that we were a team needing to win on the last day to stay in the league.’
And goalscoring hero Midson said: ‘We all believed we could do it and we had that belief after the Gillingham match because it was in our own hands.’
But for much of this game it looked as if luck would again let down the Dons, as a series of opportunities to take the lead went begging.
First Gary Alexander saw his effort saved by Fleetwood keeper Scott Davies, with Midson somehow firing the rebound over the bar. Then a Curtis Osano long throw reached Alan Bennett, but his header was cleared off the line.
Alexander was again in action only to shoot straight at Davies, and the Fleetwood keeper then had to keep out a powerful Harry Pell header. Throw in a Midson header from a corner that hit the bar, and for all Wimbledon’s efforts it looked as though things might not go their way.
And Fleetwood were always dangerous on the break, causing plenty of heart-in-mouth moments for Dons fans, with Andy Mangan twice going close and Ryan Crowther also having an effort just off target.
The Dons might have been hoping for a change of luck after the break, but at first it wasn’t to be as Midson again hit the bar after doing well to win possession and cut in from the right, with Pell’s follow-up being cleared off the line.
But the Dons finally took the lead on the hour, when Sammy Moore’s free-kick was headed into the top-left corner by on-loan Crawley man Gary Alexander to put the Dons 1-0 ahead.
Perhaps the Dons players temporarily allowed the passion of the moment to get to them as they held the lead for barely three minutes. Bennett was perhaps too clever when he tried to keep the ball in play rather than clear it for a throw in, succeeding only in giving away a corner.
From the resulting delivery, Alexander found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time as he accidentally deflected Mangan’s header into the back of his own net.
But the Dons rallied and again pushed forward, and this time luck was on their side as they won the decisive penalty with 20 minutes to go. Right-back Osano latched on to an Alexander flick in the Fleetwood penalty area and turned inside only to be brought down by Fleetwood defender Rob Atkinson. The referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot.
With Wimbledon keeper John Sullivan joining many Dons fans who found themselves unable to watch, Midson calmly sent Davies the wrong way to nestle the ball into the back of the net and send Kingsmeadow into delirious celebrations.
But then came the realisation that there was still 20 minutes in which the Dons had to avoid conceding an equaliser, a period that only increased with five minutes of time added on.
At times it was frenetic, with up to three Wimbledon players challenging for aerial balls, and the determination to hang on to what they had was symbolised when Ardley brought on central defender Will Antwi as a substitute in place of Luke Moore and played him in central midfield.
But the closest Fleetwood came was when Nathan Pond headed just off target following a corner. And finally the full-time whistle came, prompting a jubilant pitch invasion from Dons fans celebrating their team’s survival.
After a season of tribulation in which the Dons at one point seemed odds-on for relegation, Ardley and his assistant Neil Cox could finally relax and celebrate with the fans – and start planning for next season as a Football League club.
Wimbledon: Sullivan, Osano, Bennett, Balkestein, Hussey, Meades, Pell, S. Moore (Strutton 68), Midson, Alexander (Prior 90), L. Moore (Antwi 84). Subs not used: Jaimez-Ruiz, Long, Sainte-Luce, Yussuff.
Goalscorers: Alexander 61, Midson 72.
Booked: Strutton 90.
Fleetwood: Davies, Beeley (Evans 86), Pond, Crowther (Fontaine 67), Goodall, Atkinson, McKenna, McGuire, Brown, Mangan, Matt (Ball 83). Subs not used: Lucas, Nicholson, McLaughlin, Edwards.
Goalscorer: Alexander (o.g.) 64.
Booked: Beeley 86.
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April 28, 2013