Built up as one of the biggest grudge matches in FA Cup history, MK Dons’ 2-1 victory over AFC Wimbledon yesterday lunchtime passed off without major trouble away from the pitch but with late drama on it.
Scorers: Milton Keynes Dons - Gleeson (45), Otsemobor (90); AFC Wimbledon - Midson (59)
Referee: S Mathieson
It was the first game between two sides whose fierce rivalry was sparked by a controversial decision to uproot the original Wimbledon FC – the 1988 FA Cup winners – 56 miles from south London to Milton Keynes, a commuter town north of England’s capital.
Fans angry with the relocation formed a new club, AFC Wimbledon, in 2002 and a contest ten years in the making was set up when they were paired with MK Dons in the second round of the FA Cup.
The match was a fight for identity as much as a place in the third round, with both sets of supporters goading each other and laying claim to be heirs of the original club. A plane, chartered by AFC Wimbledon supporters, flew over the stadium tugging a banner that read: “We are Wimbledon” midway through the first half.
It needed an injury-time goal to separate the teams, with Jon Otsemobor’s nonchalant flick finding the top corner and sealing victory for the hosts.
“This is a good day for English football,” MK Dons manager Karl Robinson said afterwards.
“I know a lot of people have been criticising us and were expecting something to go on in the game but, ultimately, I think that football has been the winner and that’s what I wanted.”
There was no antagonism between the sets of players, while Robinson and AFC Wimbledon manager Neil Ardley exchanged warm embraces before and after the match.
Only on one occasion did a combustible atmosphere threaten to turn nasty when visiting fans spilled on to the pitch after their team equalised in the 59th minute through Jack Midson, cancelling out MK Dons’ opener by Stephen Gleeson on the stroke of half-time. Stewards managed to restore order quickly.
“Football fans in general have had an awful amount of criticism over recent months but I think today it was just passion boiling over on to the pitch, and thankfully they all went back well-mannered and continued supporting their team,” Robinson said.
Otherwise, both sets of fans behaved in a dignified manner while making their point. Many held aloft scarves with the words, “We Are Wimbledon,” while AFC Wimbledon supporters were met with a sign outside the ground that said: “Welcome to MK – Home of the Real Dons!”
AFC Wimbledon supporters scrapped plans to boycott the match against the team they have christened “Franchise FC”, although the club’s directors took their place in the stands rather than meet their MK Dons counterparts before the match.
“This moment that our fans have dreaded has come and gone and it’s turned into a celebration of how far this club has come,” Ardley said. “From the fans’ point of view, I don’t think they will forget [about the relocation]. But I think it’s a milestone for them that they’ve got this out of the way, the first one in a big cup competition.”
AFC Wimbledon currently play in npower League Two, having started out in the ninth tier of English football ten years ago. MK Dons, who were rewarded for the victory with a trip to Sheffield Wednesday in the third round, are third in League One and so were always the bookies’ favourites to progress.
The hosts controlled the first half but they struggled to create clear chances in the face of a disciplined Wimbledon rearguard action. Angelo Balanta came close when he curled the ball just wide of the post after a neat turn on the edge of the box before Gleeson broke the deadlock on the stroke of half-time, blasting a 30-yard shot into the top-right corner.
MK Dons burst out of the blocks after the break and skipper Dean Lewington had a 25-yard free-kick pushed over the crossbar by former Scotland goalkeeper Neil Sullivan before Balanta and Dean Bowditch both lashed strikes into the side-netting.
But Midson made the most of a rare Wimbledon counter-attack to equalise after 59 minutes, glancing a fine diving header past David Martin from Toby Ajaya’s cross.
In a frantic finale, Ryan Lowe had a goal ruled out for offside for Milton Keynes and Wimbledon skipper Steven Gregory was denied by Martin before Otsemobor hung out a leg to backheel substitute Zeli Ismail’s mis-hit shot over Sullivan to spark wild scenes of celebration for the hosts.