WIMBLEDON gave this FA Cup tie a real red-hot go only for Coventry City to prove literally too red hot to handle.
The final 3-1 score-line to the well-performed League One outfit was harsh and the game ultimately swung on an inexplicable howler from Seb Brown, a late call-up into the Dons goal a year after his last dropsy appearance in the FA Cup replay against York City.
For poor Seb, lightning has indeed struck twice and in all likelihood for the last time.
Brown got his chance to play when regular Ross Worner was stuck in a five-hour traffic snarl caused by an accident and only arrived at Kingsmeadow at full-time.
— Steve Dowse (@misterdowse) November 8, 2013
As much as Brown holds a special place in AFC Wimbledon’s folklore for his penalty saves in the Conference play-off final three years ago, it will be the fresh memories of his costly fumbles that will mark his card. It is hard to see Neal Ardley will have the confidence and belief to call on him again any time soon, if ever again. Seb had his chance for redemption, but blew it spectacularly before a television audience.
The balls-up rocked the Dons, who only three minutes earlier had stunned the League One favourites with a well-taken goal from the impressive Michael Smith, who played as a lone striker in a 4-5-1 formation.
George Porter, another eye-catching performer, whipped in a cross from the right for Smith to tuck away with a downwards header to beat City’s outstanding ‘keeper Joe Murphy. It was all Wimbledon deserved for making Murphy the busier of the two goalkeepers.
Poor Seb. If you cast a poor understudy and send him on with no rehearsal, you can't be surprised if he dries on Press Night. #afcwimbledon
— Samuel West (@exitthelemming) November 8, 2013
But just when Wimbledon were dreaming of a Cup upset and the importance of keeping a stung Coventry at bay, Seb Brown gifted them a way back into the contest by dropping an unthreatening chest-high cross from Cyrus Christie.
Brown scrambled to prevent the ball from trickling over the goal-line only to be severely punished by Callum Wilson, who gleefully tapped home for his 12th goal in 16 matches. Brown’s humiliation was complete. Ardley’s face was like thunder, players’ heads dropped after the clanger.
The Sky Blues quickly pounced on the deflated Dons and rapped home a second goal three minutes later. Franck Moussa retrieved Carl Baker’s overhit pass on the left and turned it back inside for the skipper to slide home from the edge of the six-yard box.
We scored, then we scored for them, then they scored, then we scored for them again. Doesn't that mean we win? #AFCWimbledon
— Simon Vaughan (@SimonLovesTacos) November 8, 2013
Coventry were relishing the momentum shift and snaffled a third – three goals in 13 minutes — as Baker’s free-kick took a wicked deflection off Callum Kennedy, standing away from the wall, to leave Brown hopelessly wrong-footed.
Wimbledon bravely tried to get back in the game, but the horse had bolted, the FA Cup was gone for another season. Yet it was rough justice and no doubt that Brown’s blunder was the turning point.
There was much to admire about the way the Dons went about their work with the midfield – Peter Sweeney, Sammy Moore and Harry Pell — all playing their part in a committed performance that took the initiative away from Coventry City late in the first half and the 10 minutes after the resumption.
“I thought we were fantastic,” Ardley said. “It would be disappointing if my team had let me down but that was close to being the best performance we’ve had since I’ve been in charge.
“Goals change games. Their ‘keeper was man of the match, what does that tell you? I am so proud of my team, they carried out everything we’d worked on for three days to the letter against an excellent Coventry team.
“Until they scored, that mad five minute spell where they scored the second, they hadn’t really had a chance. We worked hard. I thought we passed the ball well, were a threat, and worked hard for each other.”
Watching the Dons on television there was ample evidence that Ardley does have the players to keep the Dons in League Two. As a sign of the changes Ardley has made during the past year there was not one player out of Wimbledon’s starting line-up that played in the FA Cup second round tie at Milton Keynes.
They certainly rose a level to play Coventry City and effectively gifted the Sky Blues two goals. Brown did not have to make a meaningful save until his game-changing calamity.
— Supporters Direct (@SuppDirect) November 8, 2013
“Seb’s clanger and then a deflected free kick for Coventry’s third gave the result a harsher scoreline than it might otherwise suggest,” WDSA columnist Ray Armfield said.
“Plenty of positives for Neal Ardley to instill into this team for the rest of their League 2 campaign though – but as for Seb Brown, the question on many lips is “Where does he go from here?”
WDSA contributor Iain Sandford went straight to the point: “Such a shame the evening turned out as it did. And such a shame also that Seb’s Wimbledon career should end in such ignominy. He’s been a fabulous asset to the club but that’s it now, there’s no coming back.”
WDSA’s Colum McAndrew made this observation: “At the end of the game Seb was the only player who didn’t venture across the halfway line to thank the fans. He just wanted to get off the pitch. It was interesting that only Andy Frampton went over to comfort him. Perhaps Seb will want to move further away from Kingsmeadow before long.”
Seb's been a legend for our club,but tonight the difference was their keeper was quality & ours,sadly had an absolute shocker! #afcwimbledon
— Neal Exall (@CabbieNeal) November 8, 2013
Coventry City manager Steven Pressley made no bones that Wimbledon had caused his team problems.
“It is great to get the result as my thoughts were the opening 45 minutes was the worst I’ve seen from us in a long time,” Pressley said.
“With their 4-5-1 shape, they sat off the game and we should have taken advantage of that. When we lost possession, we struggled to get an immediate press on the ball.
“That has been a big feature of our play and that’s why we struggled in the first half. If it wasn’t for some brilliant saves from Joe Murphy, we could have found ourselves in a difficult situation.
“We changed it around at half-time and pushed our midfielders forward. It seemed to work and the comeback was great to see.”
‘88 shirt goes back on the shelf for another year #AFCWimbledon
— Benjie Moss (@BenjieMoss) November 8, 2013
Ardley will need no further lifting of spirits after the Cup exit with the first-ever visit of the mass-supported Portsmouth to Kingsmeadow next weekend.
Read more in the WDSA match thread