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Boreham Wood (home), Vanarama National League Tuesday 28th February, KO 7.45
Underlining their ambition to finish this season with some silverware, an almost full-strength Sutton side dismantled a youthful Wimbledon outfit in the first half at Gander Green Lane on Thursday and will meet Godalming in the final, with the benefit of home advantage, on Tuesday 7 May. Eight of the eleven that had started Tuesday’s game at Maidenhead took the field just two days later, and after scoring twice in a minute early on they over-ran their visitors, who to their credit battled well in the second half to salvage some respectability as U’s took their foot off the pedal, reducing the arrears twice in the last quarter of an hour.
It took Sutton little time to get in to their stride, and they nearly went in front when Ali Fuseini’s shot from the edge of the area took a deflection that left goalkeeper Seb Brown wrongfooted but dropped just the wrong side of the post. A goal wasn’t long in coming, though, and after Fuseini’s pass in to the penalty area had seen Craig Dundas crowded out, the ball ran to Kevant Serbonij on the left corner of the box and he planted a fine shot beyond Brown and inside the far post for his first goal for the club at senior level. Barely a minute later Fuseini put Dundas in again, his shot was parried by Brown, and Chris Benjamin netted the rebound, and for the rest of the half Wimbledon had no answer to a Sutton attack showing great strength and movement, and passing the ball crisply. A powerful run from midfield by Dean Sinclair set up the third, his pass giving Sam Rents the chance to cross, and although it was too deep for Dundas the ball was retrieved by Rhys Murrell-Williamson, whose chip back in to the goalmouth was this time much better placed for Dundas to direct a downward header inside the post. Benjamin then flashed a shot just over from twenty yards before Murrell-Williamson, who like Serbonij was making the most of the chance to impress, giving Dons’ left back Matt Cunnington a torrid time, cut in from the right and fired in a shot that was goalbound until deflecting off a defender for a corner. On his next excursion down the right, though, Murrell-Williamson rolled the ball back for Dundas, who placed a shot neatly to Brown’s right and low in to the net.
Four up with less than half an hour played Sutton just about had the game won already, and the withdrawal of Simon Downer soon afterwards underlined that impression, the centre-back taken off as a precaution after feeling his hamstring, although manager Paul Doswell confirmed afterwards that he should be fit for Saturday’s game at Farnborough. Even so, five minutes before half time U’s added another when Murrell-Williamson did superbly to keep the ball in before racing past Cunnington, and when he pulled the ball back this time it was Benjamin who swept the ball in. It might have been worse for the visitors, who immediately gave away possession and Benjamin put Dundas through, but the striker was denied his hat trick by Brown’s legs.
After such a one-sided first half and with the game over from the point of view of the outcome it was perhaps little surprise that the second half proved something of a non-event. Fuseini was taken off at half time, Dundas soon afterwards as thoughts began to turn to the Blue Square Bet South run-in, and Wimbledon enjoyed much more of the game against a side now equally split between senior first team regulars and the most promising reserves. They pulled one goal back with quarter of an hour left when Charlie Fayers scrambled the ball in following a corner, and another one three minutes from time as George Oakley converted a penalty after being tripped by Rents, but between those goals Benjamin should have completed a hat-trick, dispossessing Owen Roberts but the chipping the ball wide as Brown came out, and Murrell-Williamson was denied what would have been a well-deserved goal when Brown smothered a low shot. The one blemish for U’s came late on when Sinclair, missing the next three games anyway because of suspension, limped off with a hamstring injury.
AFC Wimbledon: S Brown, G Haydon, M Cunnington(sub F Merrifield 65), D Pearse(sub S Baffour 75), O Roberts, O Daley, H Johnson, C Jacquart, G Oakley, C Fayers, T Beere(sub K Tarbie 75). Subs n/u J Greenaway, H Basker.
We had different types of performances against Maidenhead and Wimbledon but we were very pleased with both of them. At Maidenhead I thought we were particularly good in the first half, retained possession well and created three or for good chances while they had none, but then in the second half there was a bit of a swing as Maidenhead started knocking it longer and longer, but we always felt we might be able to catch them on the break. That’s two good wins there this season, because it isn’t an easy place to go, and to win both games with clean sheets is something we’re really happy with.
Then coming on to the Wimbledon game we said we’d put a strong side out and we’ve taken the competition seriously, and at half time the game was over at 5-0. I thought some of the football we played in the first half was magnificent, and very much the blueprint for what we’re trying to do with them. It was good to see Chris Benjamin on the scoresheet again and I thought Rhys Murrell-Williamson was outstanding, but the combination of Ali Fuseini and Dean Sinclair has had a huge influence on the way we’re playing and we’re very happy with the progress we’re making. We were able to make the three substitutions early which was important to give Simon Downer, Ali and Craig Dundas a rest. Simon felt a very slight twinge so that was an obvious one to do before half time, but both Ali and Craig were due to come off around half time anyway if we were doing OK, and at 5-0 the game was won. The second half was more of a chance for the players from the reserves and they’ll have to reflect on that second half because I think that’s more of an even match, Wimbledon’s youth team against six or seven of our successful reserves and I thought Wimbledon did especially well in the second half, so credit to them for keeping going.
As I said, we’ve taken the competition seriously and I’ve stated throughout the season that I’d like to win it, so it’s great that we’ve got to the final and can look forward to that after the league season finishes.
It was annoying that Dean Sinclair tweaked his hamstring in the last couple of minutes but he’s got nearly two weeks before he’s available again anyway because of suspension, so I’d like to think once his suspension is over he’ll be available for the game against Salisbury. We managed to rest Anthony Riviere against Wimbledon – he had a slightly tight calf after Tuesday, and felt it a bit today so we asked Ali and Craig if they cold give us a bit more than we’d originally intended, which they were happy to do, but he should be OK for Saturday.
We’re getting a bit short of numbers for Saturday with Harry and Dean both suspended, but the team won’t change much. I think Kevant Serbonij will probably come in because I thought he did really well against Wimbledon, and that still gives us Leroy, Chris Benjamin and Rhys Murrell-Williamson on the bench, and Paul Telfer will probably be fit again as well – he’s been injured for the past three weeks – so we’ll have some strength on the bench. We’ll go to Farnborough in good heart, and if we can get a good result it might make life interesting for the last couple of weeks of the season.
I’m looking forward to seeing as many supporters as possible at the question and answer evening on Monday, and we’ve got some exciting things to announce. We’re delighted with the way things are developing, and I had a really nice letter over Easter from one of our supporters praising what we’ve done over the past few years and the way we’re trying to do it. It’s good when you get letters like that as it makes us feel that we’re on the right road, and I thank that supporter for his kind words