AS Alun Armstrong climbed the steps to find his seat in the stand at half-time I wondered if Neal Ardley had any New Tricks for Wimbledon in the second half as his team in the first half had been as flat and uninteresting as stale beer, writes The Wizard of Oz.
The team cried out for width, pace and energy. Ardley facing a test of his coaching skills responded: on came George Porter, a straight switch for the dull George Francomb, and Chris Arthur, a tactical deployment for Callum Kennedy.
Kingsmeadow was almost full, the crowd in a good mood, the pitch was good, and under Coopers Pale Ale skies – cloudy but fine – it was the Brewers who started the livelier. Luke Moore settled Wimbledon, providing the steadying influence, having time to put his foot on the ball, and Sammy Moore, impressively efficient throughout the 90 minutes, and Harry Pell were soon controlling the game.
Wimbledon, though, were making no headway, moving the ball methodically in neat circles, passing wide but often ending up at the feet of Andy Frampton, who seemed to suffer from anxiety whenever he crossed the half-way line and often gave the ball away. A half-chance to Jack Midson from a Luke Moore cross was all they had to show for it.
It all changed in the 20th minute when Burton’s Marcus Holness saw fit to push Sammy Moore two-handed in the chest. I have no idea why, it hadn’t been a spiteful contest. Moore went down and lay motionless on the ground like a drunk sleeping off ten pints of Burton’s best bitter. Off trudged Holness.
If Wimbledon thought this gave them the pints (sorry, points) they were wrong as Burton produced a cheeky move from a corner to score. As the usual push and shove started in the penalty area the ball was played on the ground and Adam McGurk’s shot took a deflection and trickled in off the post.
Wimbledon almost equalised from Luke Moore’s looping header after good work from Kennedy and Midson but still struggled to make any meaningful progress. The crowd was getting restless; Ardley was animated, on his feet barking instructions.
Michael Smith twice had chances; a Pell drive from distance took a deflection and the keeper did well to parry it, Smith squeezed the follow-up tantalisingly along the goal line; then he got one all wrong when he turned to whack the ball and sent it sailing into the stratosphere.
Ardley’s changes made all the difference. Arthur, with license to attack from left-back, needs no second invitation and immediately won a corner with a pacy run down the flank. Two minutes later he was at it again but this time his cross was shinned over the bar by Midson. Porter was creating his own mayhem on the right, his skilful direct play, supported by Barry Fuller, pushing Burton back deep in defence.
The equaliser came from the two young wingers: a burst down the left from Arthur, a deep cross, too deep it seemed, but straight to Porter who laid the ball off for Smith to gleefully slot home.
The crowd wanted more but Burton weren’t quite finished, McGurk’s near post glancing header narrowly missing as Wimbledon’s embarrassed defenders stood like statues.
Smith almost put Wimbledon ahead when his clever ball set up Porter, who laid the ball back to Fuller; his cross was perfect but the keeper scrambled to save Smith’s top corner header.
Arthur it was, again, who set up Midson’s goal for Wimbledon to take the lead. Making Burton’s full back seem like a revolving door he made headway on the left to the edge of the area, his cross seemed to hit a Burton hand, the crowd and players appealed for a penalty, but there was no need as Burton’s keeper spilled the ball and Midson obligingly mopped up.
Wimbledon had chances galore for the third as Burton desperately held on. The two Moores, Pell, and Porter all had a go and Arthur hit a humdinger from fully thirty yards to pull a cracking save from the keeper. It needed Pell, in his best Steve Gerrard impression, to find the feet of Porter with a prodigious, width of the pitch, inch-perfect ball to set up the goal.
Porter won a corner and from it Frampton, much more assured in the second half, thumped home the header. Finally, Burton’s Brewers drooped. Smith had another had another header well saved, and Wimbledon and Ardley took the applause after the game.
Maximum points at home for the fourth game in a row, third on the table and some mouth-watering games to come. This is a good time to be a Wimbledon supporter!
The official MoM was awarded to Frampton but most observers around me would have given it to Sammy Moore. I would have given it to Chris Arthur who defined the meaning of ‘impact player’.
Arthur reminds me of the fearsome All Black rugby legend Jonah Lomu; he was an unstoppable force. He is a big unit, strong, and full of tricks and has no reverse gear. He has pace: real pace; pace to burn. He leaves scorch marks in the turf. He gets the crowd on their feet in anticipation. He is rapidly becoming a cult hero at the Meadow.
Postscript: Walking back to Norbiton station after the game a fan started talking to me about the game. I thought he was a Burton fan but quickly realised he thought I was the Burton fan…My yellow Central Coast Mariners scarf seemed to have misled him. So I played along and we had a nice conversation about the game, the sending-off, new football grounds, Nigel Clough and the history of beer brewing in Burton.
I wonder if he will think I am a Northampton fan in a couple of weeks’ time
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