The Dons returned to the top of the Blue Square Bet Premier division after comfortably dismantling a Southport side who were hoping for a more productive first visit to Wimbledon since 1978. Not only were they on the receiving end of AFC Wimbledon’s record-equalling Conference win, they lost two key men to injury in the first half and gave Seb Brown one of the quietest afternoons he has had all season.
This game was in stark contrast to the meeting at Haig Avenue on the first day of the season, five months ago. Southport, in their debut Blue Square Bet Premier game, peppered the Dons with a series of high balls aimed at giant front man Matty McNeil. Liam Watson’s men looked like a side that meant business, and though they missed a penalty Wimbledon were in the end quite fortunate to head south with all three points in the bag.
After a steady start to the season Southport’s form then dipped somewhat, but a late win two weeks ago against Newport County, coming with 90 minutes on the clock, at least showed that the seasiders were up for the fight. And for the first 20 minutes of this encounter, that fighting spirit was clearly in evidence.
A combination of some neat attacking moves, with former Everton trainee John Paul Kissock at the heart of all of them, and some uncharacteristically slack defending by the Dons seemed to suggest that the home side were not going to have it all their own way as they looked for their tenth home league win of the season. McNeill and Kissock both had chances closed down by Jamie Stuart and Fraser Franks as the Dons took longer than the visitors to come to grips with the heavy, uneven pitch.
Wimbledon’s build-up play was looking equally tired as the Southport defence easily picked off Steven Gregory’s attempts to spread the play out wide. When the Dons did manage to bring some width into the equation, Kirk Hudson’s deliveries into the box lacked the necessary quality, although one cross did see Southport defender Earl Davis almost divert the ball into his own net, forcing Tony McMillan into his first decent save of the afternoon. But 20 minutes into a strangely unengaging game, the Dons took the lead and never looked back.
Danny Kedwell took an age to make his way past Rob Marsh-Evans with three Dons players waiting patiently in the box, but the skipper bided his time. When he saw his opportunity to beat his man and get his cross in, the ball took an unusual bobble as it skipped across the six-yard box, and James Mulley nipped in and got to the ball before keeper Tony McMillan, and bundled it over the line at the second attempt. It was a goal that wouldn’t live long in the memory, but it provided the perfect springboard for the Dons to claim the three points.
Not that it was all plain sailing for the remainder of the half. Although the Dons visibly grew in confidence, and the one-twos that were so easily intercepted in the opening stages were now finding their targets, in defence Wimbledon still looked surprisingly ill at ease. Franks was grateful to have the 16 years of extra experience in the shape of Jamie Stuart for company. Southport rarely tested Brown’s reflexes, but Kissock, a former Liverpool Young Sports Personality of the Year (2005), was looking a class above his team-mates and cutting an occasionally forlorn figure. The Dons needed a second goal to kill the game off but would have to wait until five minutes into the second half to get it.
When it did come, in the shape of Luke Moore’s deflected 20-yarder after Southport failed to clear a corner, it paved the way for a quick-fire third and banished any fears the Dons fans might have had of a comeback by the visitors. Five minutes later, Kirk Hudson’s low drive from 25 yards whistled just wide of the far post, and just after that the Dons made it 3-0 with a well-worked goal. Moore fed Kedwell, who turned his marker superbly before spotting Sammy Moore in acres of space just inside the box. His pass found the midfielder smartly, and Moore calmly side-footed his sixth goal of the season past the despairing McMillan from 15 yards. Game over.
Kissock had by this point become the object of some good-natured invective from the John Smith’s Stand when the 5 ft 6 in trickster poleaxed Seb Brown after the Dons keeper had almost allowed the midfielder to outjump him to a bouncing ball. Yellow-carded for this seemingly superhuman feat, Kissock set out to display his full repertoire of drag-backs, flicks and deft touches. Sadly for him, his efforts were met with an ironic cheer after his team-mates repeatedly failed to work out what he was going to do next and a Dons player intercepted his undoubtedly cute pass.
Kissock’s solo show at least provided an interesting diversion to a game that was drifting into nothingness – but try as he might he couldn’t breathe any life into Southport’s performance, and the Dons now assumed complete control. Earl Davis and Marsh-Evans did well to repel two well-constructed attacks that saw first Luke Moore and then sub Christian Jolley denied by brave blocks, but the Dons were revelling in the space that Southport were now providing them with. A more ruthless side might have run up more against such a welcoming defence, but the Dons had to settle for five as two goals in the last five minutes wrapped up a one-sided half.
First Mark Nwokeji, on for the tireless but flagging Kedwell, was brought down by Davis as he cut along the byline, and Sam Hatton despatched the penalty with ease. And after not making the most of three free-flowing breakaways in quick succession, Mulley added his second – and fourth in seven games – when Gregory’s through-ball left him with a clear run on goal and the entire Southport defence trailing in his wake. As McMillan raced out of his goal it looked as though Mulley had fluffed this chance as well, for his clipped effort seemed to be heading at least a yard wide. Terry Brown was not alone in turning away in disappointment, but he turned back just in time to see the ball suddenly change direction in mid-air, hit the turf and drift just inside the far post. Roberto Carlos, eat your heart out.