Wimbledon 2 v Milton Keynes 0
Wimbledon emerged victorious as they were forced to host Milton Keynes for the first time, earning a 2-0 victory on Tuesday 14 March that for some supporters will have helped ease the pain of events in 2002.
This was always going to be a tense encounter, with extra police and stewards drafted in and the match designated a ‘bubble match’ for visiting fans, who were only given their match tickets after boarding official travel coaches.
Both clubs ramped up their ticket-selling criteria which, combined with a reduced capacity and a number of ‘stay away’ home fans, reduced the size of the attendance on the night.
Those who did turn up saw the home side enjoy the upper hand against the visitors, whose owner Pete Winkelman watched from the away terrace after turning down the hospitality that home clubs are obliged to offer the visiting directors.
The Dons respected the sensitivities of their supporters by not including the visitors’ badge or full name in the matchday programme or on the electronic scoreboard.
Afterwards boss Neal Ardley reflected on DonsPlayer: ‘We have played Liverpool here, played a [play-off] semi-final here, but tonight was something a bit different.
‘All I wanted personally was for the players to do us proud and I think they did that.
‘It means a lot more than three points. I put a lot of pressure on myself before the game because I knew how much it meant. I saw a lot of smiling faces and a lot of pride when we went around the pitch at the end.’
The Dons reverted to a familiar 4-4-2 formation – with Jon Meades filling in in an unfamiliar position at right-back – and came out of the starting blocks in a hurry, earning a succession of early corners and free-kicks around the visitors’ box.
Jake Reeves came closest for the Dons when he fired over after Sean Kelly’s free-kick was only partially cleared.
But as the half progressed Milton Keynes came slightly more into it, with James Shea forced into serious action for the first time shortly before the half hour when he turned away a Harvey Barnes shot.
Wimbledon came out from the interval at a high tempo again but this time were able to keep it going for the duration. Reeves was an early creator, his free-kick resulting in a Meades effort fired wide.
But shortly after the hour mark the Dons made the breakthrough they deserved. Lyle Taylor broke down the right and lofted a cross to the far post that the diminutive Andy Barcham headed down, Reeves pouncing to fire home jubilantly.
The visitors were rocking now and fell further behind just minutes later. This time it was all Taylor’s own work. Picking up the ball on the touchline, he surged between two defenders and charged into the box before firing across the goal and into the far corner.
Shea did have to be alert to pull off a save from Kieran Agard, but the match ended with the visitors picking up bookings as the tide continued to flow against them.
The win lifts the Dons to 50 points and twelfth place in League One, while the visitors look nervously over their shoulders at the relegation places.
And who would have predicted that back when the events of 2002 unfolded?
Wimbledon: Shea, Meades, Kelly, Robinson, Charles, Bulman, Reeves, Soares (Parrett 66), Barcham, Taylor (Poleon 79), Elliott (Barnett 92). Subs not used: Nightingale, Fitzpatrick, McDonnell, Robertson.
Goalscorers: Reeves 62, Taylor 68.
Booked: Reeves 73.
Milton Keynes: Martin, Walsh, Upson (Maynard 81), Potter, Tilney, Williams, O’Keefe, Muirhead (Reeves 60), Barnes, Downing, Agard. Subs not used: Ngombo, Bowditch, Powell, Nicholls, Brittain.
Booked: Upson 79, Williams 87, O’Keefe 91.
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March 17, 2017