Relentless work rate, pace and pressure steered the Dons past promotion rivals Staines Town and on to their best league win of the season. Lewis Cook opened the scoring for the Swans from the spot before the Wombles rallied with strikes from Karl Beckford and Mark Beard. Staines’ prolific striker Mark Nwokeji restored parity before the interval but a second half brace from Steve Ferguson sandwiched Jon Main’s penalty kick as the visitors ran away with the match. AFC Wimbledon have taken seven points from the last nine to keep them in the hunt, with a packed January schedule approaching.
The management team of Terry Brown and Stuart Cash were compelled to make some changes after a colourless Boxing Day performance and the discovery of an illness sweeping through the camp. Robert Quinn replaced Antony Howard at centre half, while Beard rejoined Jake Leberl in midfield. Two new wide men were employed with Ferguson and Beckford coming in for Tony Finn and Mark De Bolla. Daniel Webb would partner Main up front.
Staines were quick out of the blocks. After forcing an early corner, the Swans won a free kick on the right. Danny Knowles palmed away Marc Charles-Smith’s drive low to his right but the ball held up near the touchline and, in the melee that followed, the referee deemed the Dons keeper had fouled Dwain Clark while trying to prod the ball away.
Former Don Cook shaped up to strike the spot kick with his left foot and proceeded to thump it past the Dons ‘keeper with his right, reprising a trick the away fans had seen at Eastleigh last season in the FA Trophy.
The Swans continued to press forward. Charles-Smith headed a corner delivery just over the bar.
The visitors slogged their way back into the match with some determined pressing and a better spell of possession that built attacking momentum down both flanks. The equaliser came when Ferguson’s long throw from the right was only half cleared and Karl Beckford, waiting on the edge of the area, drilled the ball into the bottom corner.
The long throw tactic would cause Staines continued problems throughout the afternoon. Ferguson found Webb in the box and his diving header was brilliantly clawed away by Shaun Allaway at full stretch.
The Dons forged ahead moments later. With the home defence reduced to ‘anywhere will do’ defending, Beard was on hand, twenty yards out, to pick up the loose ball and half-volley it emphatically past the keeper.
Ferguson then teed up Beckford for another swing outside the box. Allaway parried and Webb’s attempt from the rebound was scrambled away for a corner.
The Swans were gifted a reply seven minutes before the break. Cook, on the right, floated a free-kick into the box; Luke Garrard was back-pedalling and could only head across the face of goal into the path of 22-goal striker Nwokeji, who made no mistake from three yards.
But Wimbledon weren’t about to let this match slip from their grasp. Ferguson, enjoying surely his best match of the season, cropped up on the left wing to fire in thirty-five yarder that whistled past the upright. The Scot went close again on the stroke of half time, latching onto Jason Goodliffe’s powerful headed clearance and half-volleying just wide.
The hosts created the first opportunity of the second half with Charles-Smith timing his back post run beautifully, only to head Alan Thompson’s cross straight at Knowles.
In the 55th minute Ferguson scored a well-deserved goal, requiring no assistance from his team mates. The former Woking forward picked up a stray ball just inside his own half, raced down the right, shook off two Staines defenders, cut inside and smashed the ball into the top left hand corner. For sheer speed, endeavour and guile, fans are unlikely to witness a better strike all season.
Two minutes later, Cook nearly tied things up with a low drive that Knowles did well to push away for a corner.
On 62 minutes Wimbledon won their penalty. A swift counter attack involving Main and Ferguson broke down but Webb picked up the stray ball and ran it past Danny Gordon, only to be hauled down in the box. Main, cool as you like, slotted the spot kick for his third goal in as many games.
Terry Brown was obliged to make a substitution on 64 minutes, replacing the injured Garrard with Will Salmon. But it would not stem the tide of attacks as Dons skipper Jason Goodliffe continued to drive his men forward for a fifth. Leberl saw his shot cleared off the line after the Swans failed to deal with a Beckford corner.
Staines manager Steve Cordery made a triple substitution on 72 minutes to try and alter the pattern of the game. Nwokeji, looking the one player who could get the home side back in it, then bundled through two challenges but scuffed his attempt at Knowles. Cook drove in another direct free-kick but Knowles saw it all the way.
Wimbledon put the match beyond reach on 77 minutes. A Michael Haswell throw located Main on the edge of the box; the former Tonbridge man swept the ball left to right where Ferguson was waiting to drop his shoulder and hammer another left footer past Allaway.
In the latter stages Andre Scarlett would bring another fine save out of Knowles, who had to be sharp to tip over the midfielder’s half volley from 20 yards. At the other end, Goodliffe was disappointed he didn’t cap another commanding performance with a goal, after arriving to meet Webb’s flick-on but slicing wide of the post.
Terry Brown’s squad go into 2008 in fifth position with several games in hand on their rivals. Hendon will provide a stern test of the club’s promotion credentials on 1 January, but if Gary McCann’s excellent Greens encounter the Dons in this kind form it should be a cracking contest to kick start the New Year.