WHAT a terrific game! End to end, unremitting, pulsating, entertaining and absolutely nerve wracking. Full blooded commitment; no quarter asked, none given; played in the right spirit and under the control of a referee who understood the reality of football, writes The Wizard of Oz.
Grey, as ever, wet and slippery and a raucous record crowd for Kingsmeadow. The enthusiasm of the crowd matched by the endeavour of the team. If only we could be neutrals!
We knew Wimbledon would give their all, we knew they would not give up, but what we needed was for Exeter to be weak and enfeebled, to lack motivation, but they weren’t.
Led by the outstanding veteran Jamie Cureton the Grecians gave Wimbledon no end of trouble. But despite Exeter’s superior quality Wimbledon were in no mood to roll over.
Exeter threatened early, twice, before Wimbledon got into the game. Wimbledon’s aggressive pressing tactics with Kevin Saint-Luce, Luke Moore and in particular, Jack Midson, chasing, harrying and defending from the front brought them back into the game.
Twice Exeter’s clever individual play brought thrilling saves from John Sullivan; in response Luke Moore brought a full length save from the keeper. Saint-Luce’s pace and skill was often too hot to handle. Wimbledon were giving as good as they got and then Exeter scored.
It wasn’t against the run of play but it was unexpected; from my stand point I think the otherwise impressive Sullivan was unsighted as the ball slipped under his body off the greasy turf. As the players trudged off at half-time the prospects didn’t look good.
At the start of the second half it was again Exeter who looked dangerous, twice again threatening to score; Sullivan saved superbly, fending away a vicious drive and then, when he was out of position, Pim Balkestein cleared the ball off the line.
Wimbledon were not bowed; Midson had a header tipped over after good work from Chris Hussey. Luke Moore’s confident finish was no more than Wimbledon deserved and they pressed forward for the winner.
The Dons were magnificent, absolutely dominating the play, forcing Exeter back and it seemed inevitable they would score a second. They smashed into tackles, they chased everything, they looked the most likely to take the three points.
We have to remember that despite the bravest of physical effort Wimbledon are not a good side; they have the worst defence in the whole of the Football League. So when right winger Jamie Reid received the ball in acres of space and strode forward to place the ball past the diving Sullivan we could not be surprised. It was a heartbreaking moment.
The Exeter faithful, a most impressive 800+, sang “We can’t hear you singing anymore!”
Wimbledon already had to reshuffle, with the impressive Mat Mitchel-King hobbling off; Charlie Strutton and Jesse Darko, for KSL, came on.
Again Wimbledon responded, and when Luke Moore’s bobbling mis-hit shot crept into the net after the most belligerent period of pressure it was no more than they deserved.
Strutton immediately had the greatest chance to put Wimbledon ahead, clean through, only the keeper to beat, we were already on our feet, but somehow he hit the ball at the keeper instead of past him, round him or over him.
Wimbledon did everything but score; Luke Moore troubled the keeper with a shot from distance, the greasy ball, like soap, almost slipped out of the keeper’s fingers.
Alan Bennett then twisted to turn a shot wide. Balkestein almost did the same but Exeter kept us honest: Sullivan with a brilliant finger tip save and then a horror moment as they got the ball in the net but the lino had his flag raised.
When Balkestein headed back Hussey’s cross Bennett butchered the free header. Strutton curled a shot wide of the keeper, he was beaten, but the ball went wide. Strutton again, from a Hussey free kick, placing his header wide when it seemed easier to score. And at the death, the Darko failing to get on the end of a cross.
The players, out on their feet, took the warm applause of the crowd.
MoM went to the indefatigable Luke Moore, and well deserved too. John Sullivan, despite the first goal was superb; Balkestein was a monster, in the air and on the ground; MMK until his injury was an inspiration; Sammy Moore brought calm and intelligence to the midfield and Midson could not have given another ounce of sweat or drop of blood.
I don’t often go out of my way to criticise players but the introduction of the feeble Darko did Wimbledon no favours.
Where Jack Midson ran a marathon for the cause, throwing his body at everything, Darko just didn’t even bother. Where Balkestein put every ounce of his muscular frame into tackles and headers, Darko just stood and watched. And when Sammy Moore took the most brutal of contact from Cureton and gingerly got to his feet before full bloodedly re-entering the fray Darko just fell over and lay down as if mortally wounded.
Not every Wimbledon player was at their best on Saturday but my God they tried. The presence of Darko on the same field as these courageous Wimbledon players was an insult to the shirt of Wimbledon. He must never be allowed to play again.
After this gutsy performance I believe Wimbledon will survive, but it will be desperately close.