The Dons maintained their 100% start to the season with a comprehensive and comfortable win over Tamworth, thanks to two goals that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Premiership and a second-half performance to savour.
But the opening nine seconds didn’t augur well. Seb Brown slipped while collecting an Andre Blackman back-pass, and as Lambs striker Kyle Perry pounced, Brown seemed to hook the ball against the former Mansfield man’s shins, grabbing it at what looked like the third attempt. Referee Mr Johnson decided that the Dons keeper had handled the ball illegally and awarded Tamworth an indirect free-kick on the apex of the six-yard box. This was not quite the solid opening that Terry Brown, who had named an unchanged side for the third game in a row, had wanted. Thankfully Neil McKenzie blasted his free-kick against the onrushing Sam Hatton, and once Alex Rodman had wasted the resulting corner, the danger passed.
Maybe the Dons collectively decided that that was as close as Gary Mills’ men were going to get to Brown’s goal again, as for the next 20 minutes Tamworth were forced onto the back foot by some enterprising stuff from the Dons. Blackman at the heart of most of the good things on offer. Steven Gregory’s radar was fully operational, and his long, diagonal balls to Luke Moore were finding their target with regularity. Sammy Moore was in so many places at once it was if he’d replicated himself.
The slick passing patterns that the Dons had weaved against Histon weren’t so easy to come by, for the visitors were far stronger and more able than Tuesday’s mainly teenage opponents. But after Sammy Moore and Danny Kedwell failed to apply the finishing touches to well-worked moves, it was the referee who denied Wimbledon the chance to take a well-deserved lead.
Following a corner, the ball was floated to the back post and Jon Main met it with a stooping header that was arrowing for the bottom left corner of Ross Atkins’ goal. Tamworth right-back Richard Tait dived to his right and palmed the ball around the post – only for Mr Johnson to award the Lambs a goal-kick. Nine amazed home players surrounded him, all frantically re-enacting the incident. But it was to no avail – the Somerset-based official just shook his head and waved them away. At the very least it should have been a corner, as how else did the ball deviate around the post? Johnson had been in a great position to see the incident, and the fact that he missed it completely will remain a mystery.
Tamworth seemed re-energised by their lucky escape, and the highly rated Rodman began to display his undoubted range of skills, finding former Kettering winger Danny Thomas with a couple of notable Gregory-esque long-range passes. But, a Bradley shot aside, the visitors rarely threatened.
The Dons, though, were getting closer to taking the lead. Full-back Hatton was involved in much of the patient probing, finding Sammy Moore with a great ball into the box, but the former Dover man could only direct his header wide. Two minutes later another inviting cross landed perfectly on the head of Jon Main, but from just six yards out he glanced the ball wide of Atkins’ far post.
As had been the case against Histon, the Dons fans were highly appreciative of their side’s efforts and applauded warmly even when the final ball went astray – something they have not always done. They were certainly highly appreciative when, on 38 minutes, a beautifully constructed passing move led to the opener. Brown threw the ball out to Blackman, who beat his man, cut inside and fed Gregory with a simple but effective pass. Gregory looked up and pinged an inch-perfect 50-yard cross-field ball to Luke Moore, whose instant control gave him the room to find Kedwell on the edge of the box. With an incisive first-time pass into the area, the Dons skipper found Sammy Moore in space, and from 12 yards out the midfielder shot across Atkins and into the far corner of the net.
This was certainly a goal worthy of a higher level (though it would turn out to be only the game’s second best), and the Dons fully deserved their lead. Only a Seb Brown spill that could so easily have gifted an easy chance to Perry, had the referee not generously awarded the keeper a free-kick, had caused them any palpitations.
As so often happened last season, the opening 10 minutes of the second half of a Kingsmeadow game proved to be pivotal to the result. Whereas on previous occasions the Dons appeared to lose the initiative during their 15 minutes in the changing room far too many times for Terry Brown’s liking, this time they started the second period as they had finished the first.
It wasn’t as though they were doing anything out of the ordinary. Most Wimbledon attacks stemmed from Seb Brown’s throw-outs to either full-back. If he went right, then Sam Hatton – having quite possibly his finest game in a Dons shirt since his league debut against Ramsgate three years ago – had ample opportunity to advance up the pitch and pick out a team-mate with a well-thought-out pass. If he went left, then Blackman could show the Premiership-quality ability he quite clearly has and launch an attack. Tamworth had no real answer to the Dons’ pressure, and with Ricky Wellard coming more into the game after a quiet first half, Terry Brown’s men simply took control of the game and steamrollered Tamworth in often breathtaking fashion.
Kedwell’s slightly mis-hit pass gave Main the chance to atone for his earlier miss, but his first-time shot clipped the trees behind the Kingston Road End. It was, though, a sign of the confidence that playing such neat and attractive football can bring. Wellard had taken over Gregory’s passing mantle, and Ismail Yakubu and Brett Johnson were imperious at the back. Although Tamworth were struggling to come to terms with Wimbledon’s ability on the ball, they hadn’t just come for a draw, and but for three or four timely interventions by the former Barnet and Brentford men, they might have had a chance to equalise.
On the hour mark, though, the Dons doubled their lead and snuffed out any chance the Lambs may have thought they had of getting back into the game. Wellard rode three challenges in midfield and fed Main, whose cross-shot was finger-tipped into the path of the oncoming Wimbledon strikers, and it was no surprise that captain Kedwell got there first and crashed the ball into the back of the net from five yards out. The roar that greeted the clinching goal was extraordinary, but it, and the players’ celebrations, showed just how much this club means to its supporters and those lucky enough to play for them.
Terry Brown made his customary substitutions shortly after, Main and Sammy Moore making way for Rashid Yussuf and Christian Jolley, and it was the ex-Kingstonian man who came within a foot of adding to the lead. His curling 20-yarder deserved better than to drift just wide of the far post, but Jolley’s pace and trickery were causing Tait all sorts of problems. It was Jolley’s great through-ball that set Luke Moore away with 14 minutes to go, but defender Tom Marshall stretched out an already long leg and denied the number 11 a clear sight of goal.
Shortly afterwards, a series of free-kicks were to prove costly for the visitors. First, Hatton’s thunderous drive flew narrowly over, then he found Blackman with a cute reverse ball, but he saved the best till last, chipping a delightful free-kick over the wall for Kedwell to turn and send the ball into the bottom corner with a left-foot volley. Was this a brilliant piece of improvisation or a training-ground routine that had been executed to perfection? Either way, it made the scoreline 3-0 and sent the 3,000-plus Dons fans into raptures.
Jolley then danced into the area, jinked his way into the six-yard box and squared for Luke Moore to make it four, but he took too long and Aaron Mitchell was able to clear. Ryan Jackson then replaced Wellard, and another perfectly weighted Yussuf pass set him away down the right, but Kedwell wasn’t able to get on the end of his low cross. With the last touch of the game, Blackman almost opened his account, but his header from a Yussuf corner sailed just wide.
This was, at times, a stunning performance from the Dons, who would now travel to bottom-of-the-table Rushden & Diamonds brimming with confidence. After a performance like that, they should be.