Wimbledon enjoyed the better of the match in their alliterative encounter with Wealdstone, but had to settle for a share of the points from an entertaining 1-1 draw.
With the newly massed Tempest End roaring them on from behind, the Dons took the game to their opposition from the off. Russell Ling saved well at close range after a goalmouth scramble and Steve Butler headed the resultant corner narrowly wide.
The Dons? skipper then headed a freekick back across goal. No-one could get on the end of it, but the Wealdstone clearance dropped to Barry Moore 25 yards out. He let fly with a thunderous volley. Ling scrambled across his goal and was relieved to see the ball thud into the sponsorship hoardings just to the left of the post.
Richard Butler went closer still with ten minutes gone. Matt York picked himself in the middle of the park and set the ball out to Dave Sargent on the left wing. Sargent found Butler in the area, who wriggled clear of his man and sent a tame shot goalward. Ling managed to dive over the ball, but was spared potential embarrassment as a covering defender hacked the ball clear from the goal-line.
By this time it became apparent that Dave Anderson had decided attack was the best form of defence, switching to a variant of 3-5-2 with both Sargent and Woolner given licence to push up the flanks and pressure a nervous looking away rearguard. Frankie Howard swept up behind Finnie and Butler.
Wealdstone weathered the storm and proved why they have been at the top of the league goalscoring charts with two pacy attacks. Little saved well from one low effort, while Steve Butler was on hand to hack the loose ball away when the goalkeeper could only parry a Beckford shot.
Wimbledon engineered a succession of corners, but failed to test Ling with the next three or so before Moore curled the fifth of the half straight out. The sixth came from the other side and a scuffed miskick caused brief chaos before being hoofed unceremoniously clear. Smeltz had a shot blocked as the Dons continued to press without reward.
An enormous long ball almost unlocked the Wealdstone defence, but Ling managed to charge out with a pace that belied his well-built frame and beat Richard Butler to the header. Smeltz tried to send the ball over the returning rotund Russell, but his aim was awry.
Undaunted, Smeltz then produced the pass of the match after skinning his man for fun on the right. His delightful slide-rule through-ball sent Sargent scampering into the area. But the left-back?s first touch allowed the defender to slide across and block the shot. With half-time nearing, Moore sent a freekick into the wall and his follow-up was also blocked.
Superb work from Daly and Smeltz sent Richard Butler almost clear on the stroke of the interval, but he was eventually crowded out. As first 45 minutes drew to a close, the Dons would have been judged ahead on points in a boxing match, but neither side had yet been knocked to the canvas.
But the first blow was not long in coming after the half-time cuppas. On 48 minutes Smeltz?s shot from the edge of the area could only be parried by an unsighted Ling. Daly needed no second invitation and smashed the loose ball gleefully into the back of the net, much to the delight of the inaugural Tempest End crowd.
Just when you thought the boxing metaphor couldn?t stretch into a third paragraph, one blow became a trading of punches. Wealdstone chipped the ball over a strangely static home defence and the highly rated and impressive Jermaine Beckford showed his class with an excellent thumping finish, giving Little no chance. Having fought so hard to take the lead, it was especially galling to see the Dons cede their advantage so swiftly and so softly.
Dave Anderson responded to the situation with a double substitution, introducing the returning Matt Fowler and Sonny Farr. Fowler nearly scored with his first touch, but Ling gathered the ball at the second attempt.
Farr then sent Fowler through on goal with an exquisitely weighted pass, only for play to be halted by an utterly incomprehensible flag for offside. Even if another two dimensions were added to the known universe, there is no conceivable way in which the Dons? front man could possibly have been offside. Wealdstone injury was added to Dons insult, as Fowler slid through the ball anyway and connected with the prone Ling. While the goalkeeper was treated, Fowler was booked for his pains.
A great Farr cross was sent straight at the keeper by Smeltz from the far post, while another corner came to nothing for the home team. Both teams looked for the winner as play switched from end to end, but the Dons continued to enjoy the better of the play. Farr?s probing down the left caused problems, but despite good work up front all round Wimbledon couldn?t turn possession into chances.
York found Farr with a chip out wide as the game entered the last ten minutes. Yet again he swung in an excellent cross, but it was headed away with Fowler looking odds-on to score at the back post.
The disappointment of two points dropped almost became the despair of losing all three, but Chappell?s long throw for Wealdstone was headed just wide by Darrell Cox. Great work by Fowler then almost gave the Dons the win in injury-time, but his cross was headed wide by Richard Butler. And that, as they say, was that.
Wealdstone?s fans celebrated the draw long and loud at the end of an evening of impressively vocal support, but Wimbledon?s fans were rather quieter, setting off on their journey home uneasy in the knowledge that three points will be required against Billericay on Saturday to maintain a challenge at the top of the table.