Match Report: A late sting in the tale for AFC Wimbledon, but it’s now time to close this shameful chapter

MK Dons 2 AFC Wimbledon 1

Stadium MK

There he stood, the Pied Piper of Milton Keynes, at the centre of a post-match throng signing autographs for kids who knew nothing of the controversial antecedents to this game. Relief more than delight was the dominant emotion. He had witnessed two pitch invasions, mercifully nothing more than harmless goal celebrations that outgrew the space behind the nets, and saw his “franchise” nick an FA Cup tie with a flicked back-heel two minutes into added time that must have felt like a double larceny to the 3,000 travelling supporters behind the opposite goal.

To the AFC Wimbledon priesthood Pete Winkleman is the devil made flesh, the man who stole their club, if not its heritage. To the citizens of Milton Keynes, he is a galvanising force binding the community through the football club. There is a generation of young fans wearing MK Dons shirts who think the club has always stood on the plot next to Asda.

 They are attached to an institution that has a brilliant outreach programme in the community and in the tens of villages on the city’s perimeter. Interest in this contest was sparked for them only by a vague understanding of the shameful machinations that took place a decade ago.

They remain utterly untouched by the toxic remnants associated with the stunt that fast-tracked Milton Keynes to the upper echelons of the professional game, backed by a major investment from the American retail giant Walmart.

The blame sits with those at the Football Association who sanctioned the move. To scar the club now, as so many Wimbledon diehards are wont to do, is pointing the gun at the wrong target. Do they forget that the Scandinavian owners dropped them like a shot, Plough Lane had gone and the host borough of Merton did not want to know? Still doesn’t.

Winkleman, the entrepreneur who engineered the coup, has since expressed his regret at the way events transpired and apologised for his part in it. That, in a civilised society, ought to be enough.

When this fixture came out of the hat it provided a graphic opportunity for the governors at AFC Wimbledon to restate their case.

It remains a defining feature of their club, which to a degree is fair enough. But at some point the emphasis must shift to what they are rather than what they were. The time has come to move on. Let us hope this fixture proves the catalyst for that. At some point a football match was always going to break out. And when it did the banter flowed.Both sets of fans staked their territory with banners proclaiming respective loyalties. We are the Dons. No, we are the Dons. In truth neither is.

Ten minutes into the match a small aircraft flew low over the stadium trailing a motif which read: “We Are Wimbledon”. Indeed you are. But not the club of the Crazy Gang, not the first iteration that made Plough Lane a place football’s established elite feared to tread.

Those days are gone, laid to rest when Winkleman collected the keys and headed north of the capital with his bastard child.  

On a day of biting cold the traffic around the stadium was uncharacteristically busy two hours before kick-off. Ordinarily the rush picks up only when the meatballs are served at the neighbouring IKEA or the TK Maxx store announces the delivery of a shed load of designer clobber from Burberry.

 More than 16,000 braved the chill. For the most part the first half did not match the atmosphere. The ball was largely in possession of Milton Keynes. That meant little to Neil Sullivan in the Wimbledon goal, who was no more than a spectator in shorts and gloves.

The visitors made defensive organisation a priority and showed zero interest in whatever adventures might be possible across the halfway line. The price for that was a goal smashed home by Stephen Gleeson on the stroke of half-time that Cristiano Ronaldo would be proud to own. Collecting the ball 30 yards out, Gleeson detonated a right-foot shot that swerved away from the goalkeeper into the roof of the net. Sullivan could not have reached it with three hands. 

The pattern continued after the break with the home side going close to a second when Dean Bowditch volleyed the wrong side of the post and into the side netting.

And then from nowhere the move of the match. Belying their status as a fourth-tier side Wimbledon carved open Milton Keynes down the right with a slick passing move started and finished by Jack Midson, who threw himself at the incoming cross to plant his diving header past former Wimbledon keeper David Martin. The goal came in front of the visiting fans, who spilled on to the pitch in celebration.

The match appreciated the goal as much as the Wimbledon supporters. From then on it never looked back. Wimbledon thought they had the game won in the last minute when Steven Gregory rifled a shot bound for the bottom corner before Martin, at full stretch, diverted it past the post.

And then came a moment of cruel beauty, Jon Otsemobor deflecting a shot over Sullivan with an instinctive flick of the heel, to book a trip to Sheffield Wednesday in the third round. Cue another pitch invasion. “It’s been a tough week, enjoyable but difficult as well. I’m tired,” said Karl Robinson, Milton Keynes’ manager. “Both teams can walk away from this stadium feeling very proud of themselves. Yes both sets of fans spilled on to the pitch, but it there was no malice in it. Just passion. I thought their fans conducted themselves very well. As did ours. We know about the criticisms surrounding this club and I know some expected trouble. It didn’t happen. Ultimately football was the winner.”

His opposite number, Neil Ardley, had no complaints. He accepted the late delivery of a just outcome with grace. “I’m proud of this club, from where it has come in the last ten years,” said Ardley. “This was a celebration of our club. I’m proud of the way we handled the week. The main thing was to have a go on the pitch and we did that.”

News
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal
peopleThreats follows actress' speech on feminism and equality at the UN
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
life
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Arts and Entertainment
Worldwide ticket sales for The Lion King musical surpassed $6.2bn ($3.8bn) this summer
tvMusical is biggest grossing show or film in history
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drink
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits