Wimbledon survive pitch battle
There were fans looking over the fence from an adjacent park, children on the pitch at the final whistle, the rich history of two clubs responsible for some of the biggest upsets in all FA Cup folklore and the spice of local rivalry.
The presence in the stands of men like David Pleat, Dave Bassett and Alan Pardew also only added to the prematch sense of a big Cup occasion but, for a tie seemingly made for every possible cliché about the romance of the FA Cup, the football was often more mundane than magical.
A goalless draw, though, was still gleefully celebrated by most of the capacity 5,013 fans crammed into Gander Green Lane and, ultimately, there was satisfaction for both managers.
A replay five miles up the road a week on Tuesday means added revenue and both teams entering tomorrow’s fourth-round draw.
“It was a great occasion and we savour days like this,” said Paul Doswell, the Sutton United manager.
For Neil Ardley, the manager of AFC Wimbledon, there had been particular concern about playing on Sutton’s artificial 3G pitch.
“It’s a massive factor; I’ve played on both and you really have to master it. It was backs against the wall a little bit at times,” he said.
Sutton created the best chances, especially early in the game. Matt Tubbs quickly broke clear behind the Wimbledon defence but dragged his shot back across the goal before Roarie Deacon cleverly played Maxime Biamou clear on James Shea’s goal.
His subsequent left-footed shot beat Shea but grazed off the very top of the crossbar and over the stand.
Wimbledon were initially largely content to absorb pressure and look to strike on the break, with Lyle Taylor forcing Ross Worner’s only significant first-half save.
Wimbledon did assume a greater hold on possession in the second half but the next clear chance was again Sutton’s when Biamou’s powerful shot from another Deacon assist was well blocked by Shea.
Sutton had missed the clearest opportunities and, in an increasingly ragged finale, Wimbledon came closest to victory. Tom Elliott had a close-range effort blocked and there were appeals when Bradley Hudson-Odoi appeared to have upended Barry Fuller inside the penalty area, but referee Keith Stroud waved play on.
“Live, it looked a penalty, but he made the right decision,” said Doswell. “They will be favourites now but we will give it a go and maybe it can be the shock that the FA Cup needs.”