Our players seem to enjoy making life difficult for themselves at times. When facing a bottom-of-the-table team who are low on confidence, the last thing you want to do is gift them an early goal, but that?s what the Dons defence did. Fortunately a Scott Fitzgerald hat-trick saw the Dons ease past Walton & Hersham at a wet and windy Kingsmeadow. The Dons put out the same 11 that had drawn with Staines, but rather than play Roscoe Dsane as a lone frontman, Dave Anderson pushed Fitzgerald up along side him, and Lewis Cook was given free rein on the left. The midfield three of Chris Gell, Steve Watson and Wes Daly played narrow in the centre of the pitch.
You can probably count the number of serious mistakes Antony Howard has made this season on the fingers of one hand, but the first goal has to go down to the centre-half. A free-kick swung into the box was misjudged by the Dons defender who, under no pressure, headed the ball backwards to the unmarked Will Jenkins. All the striker had to do was side-foot a simple volley past Andy Little to give the visitors a shock 7th-minute lead and stun Kingsmeadow into silence. It was the first thing of any note in the game.
The goal did inspire the home side, who almost equalised not long after, following a scrappy possession battle in midfield. Watson clipped the ball over the top of the high Walton backline. Dsane ran through and gathered the ball, turning inside his defender, and shot; the ball was deflected to Fitzgerald, who was stretching and could only volley high and wide.
That move set the tone for the afternoon. Dsane was running the Walton defence ragged. The same combination on 17 minutes levelled the scores. This time Watson?s ball was wide down the right, and Dsane beat his man and delivered a delightful cross from the byline. Fitzgerald?s clever run had lost both centre-halves, and he nodded into an open goal. To say that the Dons were on top at this stage was an understatement. The midfield trio were dominant, and on the rare occasions that the ball did get to the Walton front players, the Wimbledon defence snuffed out the attack with ease.
More chances were quick to come. Fitzgerald and Gell both had shots saved from distance following some nice play in midfield, but it was a classic long-ball goal that put the home side into the lead just after the half-hour. A wind-assisted Little clearance was misjudged by Gavin Cartwright, and his attempted clearance just skimmed off the top of his head. Normally the ball would have gone straight through to Clint Davis in the visitors' goal, but Fitzgerald had gambled and run in behind. He controlled the ball, kept his composure and drilled his shot low into the net for 2-1.
The Dons continued to create chances as the half came to a close, with Dsane shooting wide from a tight angle and Gell, shooting from distance, making the keeper work again. Walton were grateful for half-time to give themselves a chance to reorganise.
It took Fitzgerald just six second-half minutes to complete his hat-trick and kill the game. He could have done so even sooner, when he followed in a Gell shot that had come back off the keeper, but Davis recovered well to push the striker's shot wide. Less than a minute later he made no mistake. A ball down the middle from Gell put him through, and he showed good pace to outrun Jenkins and had the strength to hold off full-back Ryan Andrews before lifting his shot over the keeper.
On another day Fitzgerald could have scored five or even six, and the Dons had enough good chances to give the scoreline a CCL look. But a mixture of poor finishing and good goalkeeping kept the score to 3-1, and the visitors never showed any sign of coming back into the game. With about half of the second period remaining, the heavens well and truly opened, and a rainstorm of biblical proportions descended upon Kingston. The players decided that caution was the wise option, and sensibly the game was finished off at less than full pace.
The Dons had done the job asked of them, and in killing off the game early in the second half they were able to conserve the energy they will undoubtedly need for the rest of a busy January.