AFC Wimbledon 3
Midson 33 (pen), 75 (pen), Knott 54
Bradford City 1
Balkestein (og) 36
Tuesday 13March, 2012
By Rob Craven
Another Tuesday night brought another Tuesday night fixture for the Bantams. The third on the bounce for a City team that have travelled up and down the country like a Yo-Yo, covering some 1,850 away miles since our victory in Torquay just under a month ago on 18th February. Since that star performance at Plainmoor we have been witness to a variety of displays from our side – ranging from the good, to the bad, and to the downright ugly.
The ugly came in a tired and underwhelming defeat at the hands of a Dagenham & Redbridge side on a sunny East London afternoon, where we didn’t have the guts or endeavour to cut above the frustrating and wearing tactics of a poor side.
The bad came as City failed to take control of their home games against two teams that were there for the taking, resulting in two disappointing score draws and general sense of frustration growing for the home regulars.
The good came in three broken records. The first being the best home attendance at Valley Parade for many years, showing us all the potential Bradford City has to reach out to a wider audience should we start to progress in the right direction up the leagues. The second came in our best away victory in over 10 years as a dominant City side took Barnet to the cleaners. The third came in our most recent game at home against Oxford where we finally took all three points on home turf for the first time in 2012.
Tonight as we travelled out to The Cherry Red Records Stadium on the district line for our final London game of the season, we were hoping for a continuation of the very good performance from Saturday. But having personally been witness in this past month to the good and the ugly, I was fearing that it would be the bad that I would see tonight. However, what I didn’t expect was for the game to be turned on its head by one person. Especially one wearing claret and amber.
My memories of games against Wimbledon go back to the heady days of Premiership survival and it is safe to say a lot has changed since then. We know too well the downward spiral that we at City have faced and are now fighting so hard to turn around. This is quite a contrast to the impressive achievements of AFC Wimbledon and their five promotions in nine seasons climb from creation to our League two meeting tonight.
As bad as our recent history may read, I don’t think any set of fans will have been through as much as tonight’s hosts. In what has to be the most bizarre incident in football the decision was made to “move” Wimbledon FC an hour up the M1 to Milton Keynes and rename them MK Dons, leaving the faithful thousands with nothing but the prospect of a two hour journey to their home games in Milton Keynes every other week. Not good. I was glad to see and read that those faithful to their Wimbledon roots didn’t stand for this and in 2002 formed the AFC Wimbledon that we meet for only the second time in the league tonight.
These same fans also fought for and succeeded in bringing back all of the history and honours to the club and community for whom they mean so much including the famous 1988 FA Cup win, for which I think they should be applauded.
The first time we met AFC Wimbledon as they are now was back in September, where the Dons took the spoils at Valley Parade. The City line up that afternoon was starting to take shape under the then new manager Parkinson.
The pairing of Andrew Davies and Luke Oliver at centre back was born that very afternoon and has since gone on to win many plaudits from all sections of City fans. I think it is safe to say that every one of us would be over the moon if we could keep this combination on a permanent basis. The midfield featured Richie Jones alongside Michael Flynn and Kyel Reid, with James Hanson up tops and Nahki Wells looking to make an impression from the bench.
Tonight City lined up with the same centre back two of Davies and Oliver, in front of Jon McLaughlin with Marcel Seip and Rob Kozluk keeping their place at left and right back. The two given the task of taming the Wimbledon midfield were the ever improving Lee Bullock and the returning David Syers, with Craig Fagan and Reid deployed out on the wings to tear apart the Dons defence. Hanson and Wells were given the task of regaining their form from earlier in the season against a physical Wimbledon back four.
After zig zagging my way across the train network of south west London, I made my way into the ground and found my spot to the right of the City dug out in the low roofed small away terrace. The ground was small but right on top of the pitch. 350 City fans packed into the away end and as we headed towards the kick off the tension grew.
City began the first half shooting away from us towards the equally packed Wimbledon home end. You could feel that this was a big game for both teams and sets of fans, as each side came out showing intent to attack. There were definately going to be goals tonight.
The first opportunity fell to City as Wells broke through, but didn’t have the time to bring down a looping ball and beat the keeper at the same time. City were charging at Wimbledon from the wings with Fagan and Reid swapping sides to make sure both of their full backs were receiving an equally uncomfortable night. We looked good going forward and assured at the back.
The Wimbledon pressure came from them pushing their midfield forward and looking for the through ball either over the top or out to the wings. Their second spell of real pressure brought about their first golden opportunity as Kozluk brought down their midfielder Knott and the ref gave them a penalty. I always fancy McLaughlin to make the save from a penalty, and he got so close; but the ball squirmed in between his right hand and the post to put the hosts one up.
If an instant reaction was ever required from the Bantams then it was certainly what we got. Within minutes City were applying the pressure and won a corner which Fagan whipped in low and hard but Davies couldn’t convert. Straight after Fagan, out on the right wing fired in another mean looking cross which somehow (I couldn’t really see) hit the back of the net sending the City support and manager into wild celebration.
You knew we were in this game and you knew we could do it. Parkinson’s scream towards the travelling support as that goal went in showed how much he believed. It might have been fortunate, but up until that point we were at least matching them and were looking good and fast going forward and even better at the back. The intensity just stepped up a notch.
And then the game was turned on its head.
Over on the right wing was the experienced Fagan. He was working hard, hustling the Wimbledon defence with his strength and looking to beat his man. But something had got to him. He seemed to be getting a lot of unwanted attention from the Wimbledon fans on the far side of the ground and was visibly getting increasingly wound up. Having been booked earlier in the half the ref Darren Deadman blew the whistle for a something and nothing foul, and Fagan chipped the ball away to the corner flag.
City hearts sank. We all knew.
A referee who had dished out 165 yellow cards this season alone wasn’t going to let this one go, and off Fagan was sent and so did City’s attacking approach to the game.
Half time was awash with disbelief and talk of possible tactical changes. How could someone so experienced be so naive and play into the hands of Wimbledon and the referee? How would we line up after the break? Could we hold on for 45 minutes? How do you approach this situation? Go out and attack and risk the counter attack? Or sit back and invite the pressure hoping for a set piece or breakaway goal?
We came out playing a 4-4-1 with Wells being replaced by Will Atkinson and Hanson playing a very lone role up front. City were sat so deep that the Wimbledon defence were able to mop up anything sent forward and start applying the pressure from the back. 45 minutes with 10 men is a long time. But it didn’t take them 45 minutes to penetrate our best defensive efforts; in fact it took under 10. Wimbledon went two one up thanks to a header from the provider of the first goal, Knott, and the City hearts sank a bit further.
We did by no means buckle, but Wimbledon were very professional in their approach and slowly wore us down. Our only outlet was on the left wing in Reid and it was so good to see him leaving three or four Wimbledon players in his wake as he charged up the pitch.
As Ross Hannah was getting ready to replace Hanson we were all imagining a dream scenario of an equaliser from the energetic forward. But before he crossed the white wash, a gust of wind blew through the stadium knocking Wimbledon’s Yussuff to the floor. The referee saw this as a foul and duly awarded a penalty to the Dons. This time Midson made sure and fired the ball powerfully home, sending the home fans into celebration and home with all three points and the sense that they had earned a great victory tonight.
City huffed and puffed right to the death but we were unable to take anything from the game. All of the players and staff were warmly applauded at the end, and a special mention has to go to Davies who was once again outstanding; fighting for the cause with grit and determination right to the end.
The result really didn’t do City any justice so I can’t be disheartened by it. The game was taken away from us tonight – not because lack of endeavour or sparkle, but by a moment of madness from one of our own and a lousy referee. Deadman did nothing for us tonight. So much so that even the Wimbledon fans were singing “The Referee’s a Womble”. The Wombles certainly made good use of bad tonight.
As I made my way back to the station to catch my train into Central London for the Victoria Line I couldn’t help but wonder “What if”. I overheard a number of Wimbledon fans chuckling at how stupid Fagan had been and discussing what a decent side we looked prior to the sending off. I agree whole heartedly with both opinions.
City: McLaughlin, Oliver, Kozluk, Seip (Fry 84), Davies, Bullock, Syers, Reid, Hanson (Hannah 76), Wells (Atkinson 46), Fagan.
Unused Subs: Annerson, Flynn