A battling draw back at Sutton
The 0-0 draw featured all the hallmarks of a close cup tie with plenty of fighting spirt and endeavour from both teams, but a lack of cutting edge.
It was a raucous atmosphere back at the venue where AFC Wimbledon’s journey started 14-and-a-half years ago and the Dons had to withstand plenty of pressure to stay in the competition. However, it was Wimbledon threatening to win it near the end and Barry Fuller appeared to be denied a good shout for a penalty by referee Keith Stroud.
Neal Ardley made two changes to his starting line-up with Andy Barcham back in the team to play ahead of Sean Kelly on the left side. Jon Meades missed out due to injury and Dannie Bulman was preferred to George Francomb in midfield.
In an open start to this game, both sides had their moments. First, lovely play by Barcham on the left created a shooting opportunity in the area for Lyle Taylor, but his shot was blocked. However, Wimbledon had an early let-off shortly afterwards when Roarie Deacon’s through ball found former Dons loanee Matt Tubbs in space and he drilled a shot just wide of the far post. Nicky Bailey also headed wide as Sutton showed early danger.
When Wimbledon did get on the ball in the first half an hour, moments of promise followed. A lovely move started with Barcham beating his marker on the left and delivering a deep cross that Dean Parrett knocked back for Lyle Taylor, but he curled high and wide. At the midway point of the first-half, Sutton were starting to pile the pressure on with Wimbledon forced into last-ditch defending from several crosses. At the other end, Darius Charles failed to direct a header towards goal after rising highest to meet a well delivered free-kick from Parrett.
With half an hour gone, it was easy to see how Sutton had upset League 2 Cheltenham in the last round as they played a high tempo game with fast wingers causing problems and creating space for their strikers in behind. Dannie Bulman tested Ross Worner for the first time just after the half hour, but it was a fairly routine save for the former Wimbledon goalkeeper.
The best chance of the first-half came in the 34th minute with Wimbledon caught out by a quick break. A Wimbledon corner was cleared and an incisive through ball sent Maxime Biamou racing through on goal, but there was a relief for the Dons when his fierce strike bounced off the crossbar. There had been little to separate the two teams in a tight FA Cup battle, but Biamou’s shot against the woodwork was undoubtedly the best chance in a tense first 45 minutes.
Neal Ardley decided to make no changes for the second-half and Wimbledon started the second-half strongly. Darius Charles had a shooting chance from a half cleared cross, but it was well wide of the target. A lovely Wimbledon move ended with Taylor finding Parrett and he showed a fine turn of foot to get to the by-line, but his cross was straight into the hands of Worner. In a good spell for Wimbledon, Bulman found Barcham in space down the left and he beat his marker, before delivering a cross that Worner struggled to collect and it bounced off the crossbar.
With Wimbledon dominating second-half possession, Sutton were restricted to hitting on the break, but they did so to devastating effect just after the hour. Biamou burst clear onto a through ball once again, but this time it was on target and Shea had to get down well to save. Wimbledon survived by the skin of their teeth with 20 minutes to go. Craig Eastmond burst onto a short back pass and attempted to round James Shea, but he just managed to get a touch to divert him wide and Wimbledon got defenders back to keep him out.
In a difficult spell for Wimbledon, Darius Charles showed all of his experience to make a brilliant last-ditch tackle, before going on a marauding run that was eventually ended by a scything challenge. It was important to relieve pressure at this stage as Sutton attempted to up the tempo.
However, it was far from a case of Wimbledon settling for a replay as the Dons had opportunities in the latter stages. With six minutes remaining, there appeared to be a big case for a penalty to the Dons. Lovely play by Parrett and Fuller ended with the latter bursting down the right, but he went down under a challenge from Bradley Hudson-Odoi. Referee Keith Stroud decided to turn down vociferous claims for a penalty though. Wimbledon came close with their next attack when Sutton failed to clear a corner and Paul Robinson fired just over. Elliott just failed to get on the end of a lovely cross from Barcham in added time and the same player’s header was also denied by Worner as Sutton held on.
With neither side able to find a winner during six minutes of injury-time, the two sides will have to do it all over again at the Cherry Red Records Stadium on Tuesday week.
AFC Wimbledon: James Shea, Barry Fuller, Sean Kelly, Paul Robinson, Darius Charles, Andy Barcham, Dannie Bulman, Jake Reeves, Dean Parrett (George Francomb), Tom Elliott, Lyle Taylor.
Pic credit: Stuart Butcher, Pro Sports Images.