SUTTON UNITED 4-0 AFC WIMBLEDON
Report by Ben Hunt
Wednesday 10th July 2002 shall be remembered by many former Wimbledon Football Club fans as the day when football was resurrected, as I alongside some 4656 others made the short trip to Gander Green Lane to witness the birth of AFC Wimbledon. The turnout dwarfed the expected 1000 and could account why Wimbledon Football Club cancelled their pre-season trip to neighbouring Carshalton through fear of lack of support. Nevertheless this day was about AFC Wimbledon who proudly announced their new official sponsor as Sports Interactive, the computer software company responsible for titles such as the Championship Manager series, who have signed a three year contract worth an estimated six figure sum. Inside the ground there was an atmosphere enigmatic of that I experienced at Plough Lane that literally made the hairs at the back of my neck stand on end.
The match was delayed 30 minutes to allow for the vast amounts of fans arriving late to enter the ground. However, when the game did begin it was undoubtedly a nervous start for the Combined Counties League new boys with a golden opportunity being presented to Sutton forward Matt Fowler who found space yet blazed over from 5 yards out. It was AFC Wimbledon who put the ball in the net first, as a long throw was looped over the Sutton keeper at the near post, only for the referee to award a free-kick as the Dons forward was alleged to have infringed the keeper. Sutton looked the more organised within the first half as Wimbledon struggled to adjust to the four-three-three tactic that allowed Sutton to provide testing crosses from both flanks with Fowler again looking dangerous as he found room in the box, only again hitting his shot over the bar. As the half progressed Wimbledon found some shape in midfield as a six pass more provided them with their best chance of the half that was foiled by the United keeper.
Terry Eames made vast changes at half time yet the Dons came out with the same character with the in-form United keeper having to tip a dipping header from a Wimbledon set piece over his bar. However, Sutton responded on 51 minutes with a well-taken goal from Kevin Cooper (no not the former Dons player!) that the substitute Wimbledon keeper could not prevent from nestling in the bottom left hand corner. United's lead was doubled shortly after, as a corner was played to the edge of the box that well executed at the near post. Nevertheless, Wimbledon showed true character that will undoubtedly make this team title contenders as they continued to attack the United back four spurred on by the tremendous support. The young Wimbledon forwards continued to press and they were almost rewarded with a clear chance only to be dispossessed by United's centre-back providing a good recovery tackle.
Cooper made it three with ten minutes to go as he took the ball deep within the Wimbledon half and slotting home nicely from just within the penalty area. Sutton's fourth was also well executed, as Fowler found time to pick his spot and curl home from about 22 yards out with his right foot making up for his previous missed opportunities. The score line was a generous reflection on the match, as despite Sutton looking the more dangerous it was encouraging to watch the growth of confidence within the newly formed team over the 90 minutes. The work rate was well received by the AFC Wimbledon fans who, on the stroke of full-time, invaded the pitch to demonstrate their delight at the formation of the club. Despite being informed that the team were disappointed by their performance there were encouraging signs that prove that the players have the ability to achieve promotion from the league, an opinion that is shared by other AFC Wimbledon fans, as we look forward to the game against Dulwich Hamlet.