The Dons came away from Nene Park with all three points, but had both goalkeepers to thank for their well-deserved victory.
Just 100 seconds were on the clock when Ross Montague, in for the ill Jon Main, hit a hopeful shot towards the Rushden goal from 25 yards out. The former Brentford man, making his first Wimbledon start, was as surprised as anyone to see the ball squirm its way through the arms of ex-MK Don Nathan Abbey’s and nestle in the bottom left corner of the net. It was a bizarre start to what turned out to be an anything but ordinary game.
Rushden & Diamonds, with four wins from their six home games this season, were clearly reeling from the early blow, and the Dons set about capitalising on their indecisiveness. Lewis Taylor’s energy was a continual headache for home defender Kurt Robinson, and Montague’s strength and ability to hold off defenders was giving Danny Kedwell and Luke Moore space in which to play. Abbey made up for his error with a fine save from a Chris Hussey free-kick, and only stout defending from the experienced pairing of Simon Downer and Jamie Stuart prevented Wimbledon from adding to their tally although Gregory's mazy run past four tackles that ended with a stinging drive from 20 yards that was beaten away by Abbey prevented the midfielder from scoring a goal as good as his first for Hayes & Yeading in the play off win at Hampton
However, try as both sides might to stamp their authority on the game, they had stiff competition from referee Mr Adcock. His many baffling decisions had the travelling supporters howling with derision and the Dons players in a permanent state of bewilderment. Although he wasn’t overly helped by his assistants, Mr Adcock’s insistence that every time a Rushden player went to ground it meant that he had been fouled was beginning to irk the Dons bench, but the ease with which Pattison and Reid were ghosting into wide positions was just as much of a concern for Terry Brown.
On 25 minutes Farrell danced past an Alan Inns challenge, and as James Pullen came out, the striker’s toe-poked effort struck the inside of the post and was hacked to safety by Sam Hatton. Six minutes later, Mr Adcock risked the wrath of the Dons again by awarding what one would hope will be the softest penalty they’ll concede all season. When Craig Farrell turned smartly in the box, his shot was blocked by a combination of Brett Johnson and Inns, and Kennedy Adjei cleared comfortably. But to everyone’s amazement, Mr Adcock pointed to the penalty spot, indicating a shirt-pull -- though Inns didn’t look to have been close enough even to reach Farrell, let alone tug his jersey. Farrell took the spot-kick himself, but Pullen saved superbly with his feet and was on hand to scoop up Farrell’s mis-hit from the rebound.
Just before half-time a free-kick was given against Steven Gregory after Paul Terry had tackled him and won the ball cleanly. This was greeted with sarcastic applause by Brown, and the Dons boss was dismissed from the dugout for his sins. Rushden began to exert more pressure, but Pullen dealt smartly with two Matt Pattison crosses, and Inns and Johnson were constantly denying any space to the dangerous Cliff Akurang (who scored against the Dons for Thurrock in a 2004 FA Trophy tie at Kingsmeadow), limiting him to one fluffed attempt on goal in the entire half. Akurang even blocked a Pattison free-kick, given against Gregory for a foul on Farrell -- even though the Diamonds striker clearly handled the ball and then fell over his own feet on the edge of the box.
Against Histon three days earlier, Wimbledon had started the second half worryingly slowly, but that was certainly not the case against Rushden. James Reid got in an early cross that was well taken by Pullen, but the Dons looked the far likelier of the sides to alter the scoreline. Hussey was rampaging down the left, Gregory and Adjei were looking assured in midfield, and Kedwell and Montague -- considering that they had previously played together only for a matter of minutes -- seemed to have struck up a good understanding, and were both feeding the indefatigable Taylor on the right.
Hussey nearly made it two with a fine shot from 15 yards that Abbey did well to turn away, but the second goal didn’t come, and it looked more and more as though the Dons needed it. Akurang’s header flew over Pullen’s bar, and then Terry’s 25-yarder missed by a whisker before Pullen made two fine saves from Farrell and expertly collected two deep crosses. The Dons were now being drawn deeper and deeper into their own half, with Kedwell almost in a defensive midfield position on occasions. However, although they were without Paul Lorraine (another absent through illness), the visitors’ defenc never looked overly troubled, despite Rushden’s improved second-half showing. Mr Adcock was now starting to incense the Diamonds’ fans as well, punishing Curtis Osano for fouls on Moore on two occasions when the defender appeared to have won the ball fairly.
Adjei nearly capped a fine display when he got on the end of a flowing five-man move with five minutes to go, but he dragged his right-footed effort just wide of Abbey’s far post. It didn’t matter though, as the Dons held on for their fourth away win of the season, a victory that propelled them into fourth place -- a point better off than pre-season favourites Luton. The Wimbledon players showed their appreciation for the travelling supporters who had been hugely vocal and good-humoured throughout. This was a real team effort, both on and off the pitch.