Danny Webb didn’t enjoy an entirely successful spell at Kingsmeadow two seasons ago. Although he was an integral part of the Dons’ Ryman Premier playoff-winning team, he found the net just five times at the Fans’ Stadium, and he wasn’t what you’d call a fans’ favourite, despite his best efforts. But his two return visits to Kingston have probably made him pine for the days when he was Terry Brown’s first-choice No.9.
Last season his Havant & Waterlooville side were soundly trounced 3-0, and this season the striker-turned-defender ended up in goal for the final 20 minutes of Salisbury’s 4-0 defeat at the hands of his former team, a spell in which he conceded three goals.
Salisbury had won their first two games of the season, and a narrow defeat at the weekend was enough to persuade Terry Brown to make a couple of changes: Luke Garrard returned at right-back, and Ricky Wellard made his first start in a Wimbledon shirt, in place of Lewis Taylor.
Wellard was instrumental in the opening exchanges, looking comfortable on the ball and finding Chris Hussey with accurate passes whenever the full-back rampaged down the left. Steven Gregory was performing similarly with Luke Garrard on the other side, and the Dons looked more in control of the first 10 minutes of this game than they had at any stage in their previous three at this level.
With 13 minutes gone, their early dominance paid dividends. The entire Salisbury defence stood back and encouraged Luke Moore to try his luck from 30 yards, and then watched in horror as they realised his luck was in – his sweetly struck drive arrowed into the top right corner of James Bittner’s net. Salisbury rallied briefly, but the Dons should have doubled their lead shortly afterwards when Moore’s low cross from the right somehow threaded its way past Jon Main, Danny Kedwell and Sam Hatton, all of whom were stationed in the penalty area along with five City defenders.
The Dons continued to exert pressure and were playing with confidence, Gregory finding Garrard with almost monotonous regularity, the full-back pushing on and involving Wellard, Hatton and Main in some excellent moves, with Hussey finding similar amounts of room on the left and firing in a succession of crosses that tested Luke Prosser and Danny Spence. Just before half-time, Hatton had a great chance to make it 2-0 when he played a one-two with Main on the edge of the box, but Bittner came out to block his effort after he’d skipped round the static Prosser.
Games can often turn on one incident, and Main’s out-of-character two-footed tackle on Prosser with an hour gone could well have been this encounter’s turning point, had the referee deemed the striker’s studs-up challenge worthy of a red card – which, putting allegiances aside, it was. Main was shown just a yellow, but the punishment for the Dons could have been far greater than a reduction in numbers. Salisbury sensed that the home side were more rattled by the incident than they were, and like Kettering on Saturday, took the game to Wimbledon with an energy and vigour that had been lacking in the previous hour. Robbie Sinclair, anonymous in the first half, came to the fore and was suddenly the game’s central figure, probing and foraging down the left and actually giving Hussey some defending to do.
Terry Brown acted swiftly and brought off the out-of-sorts Main and the tiring Wellard, replacing them with Derek Duncan and Lewis Taylor. Salisbury had still failed to create a clear-cut chance, but such was their dominance now that it seemed only a matter of time before they breached Paul Lorraine and Brett Johnson’s relatively underworked rearguard.
With 20 minutes left, the Dons sprang back to life. Duncan’s through-ball to Moore was gathered with speed by the former Ebbsfleet striker, and he accelerated away from Prosser with ease, only for Bittner to bring him down on the edge of the box as he attempted to pass the flying keeper. Wimbledon now had their third penalty in four games, Bittner was on his way back to the dressing room, and Danny Webb, who had come on shortly after half-time for head injury victim Sean Clohessy, donned the yellow jersey and gloves. His first act was to pick Kedwell’s penalty out of the net, but the game was now effectively over.
Wimbledon were firmly back in control of a game that had seemed to be slipping away from them, and the City defence were doing their utmost to protect Webb. Hatton could have made it three, but his close-range effort from Kedwell’s cross was well smothered by Webb.
Taylor and Kedwell both tried to test the replacement keeper with long-range efforts, and on both occasions the ball cannoned off the back of the Tempest End, but it was Kedwell who did make it three with a minute to go. Duncan’s hopeful ball down the left saw Kedwell muscle a Sailsbury defender out of the way, run unchallenged into the box and slide the ball under the advancing Webb.
Just over a minute later Luke Moore had his second goal of the evening when he robbed Jamie Turley on the edge of the City box and gave Webb no chance with a calm finish. City boss Tommy Widdrington claimed that his side had not deserved to lose by four goals, but James Pullen had precious little to do, and for the first time this season neither Johnson nor Lorraine were even in contention for the man of the match award. Moore was the worthy winner – a phrase that befitted the Dons themselves.