“Where were you when you were us?” sang the home fans after they took the lead, summing up the mixed-up, muddled-up relationship between two clubs which will forever be conjoined by controversy and kind-of-shared history, made in Wimbledon and bought by Milton Keynes.
In the league, however, the upstarts from south-west London stand apart, this victory opening a six-point lead over their arch-enemies and increasing the likelihood of a higher league finish and the crowning achievement of a short and wildly dramatic history.
From the outset it was obvious this would be an atypical night of mid-to-late-season third-tier football. The away team’s name was notably absent from the front of the match programme, and appeared on the scoreboard in the most minimal form possible, as just “MK”. The away team emerged for their warm-up to a chorus of jeers, while once the cheers for their opponents died down the stadium DJ pressed play on the Stone Roses’ I Am the Resurrection, followed by the Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again.
When Neal Ardley, the Wimbledon manager, spoke of his relief that “we’ve come out of this with our reputation intact” it was clear quite how concerned he was that emotion could have spilled into violence, either on or off the pitch. Instead the atmosphere was intense but impressive. Robbie Neilson, the Milton Keynes manager, applauded the home fans even as they insulted him as he left the field. “This is the best kind of atmosphere,” he said. “You want to play in these games, important games that mean something.”
With the conclusion of the season in sight, it can be hard for teams apparently trapped in mid-table to sustain their motivation. Not for games like this, though. This was history, and particularly bitter and rancorous history at that. Since the original Wimbledon were wrestled away from London and transported to Milton Keynes in 2003, inspiring fans of the departed club to launch a reincarnation that rapidly climbed the pyramid, the prospect of this occasion had stood glowing on a distant horizon. On Wednesday night it became reality.
“It’s so important to our fans,” Ardley said. “It’s hard when you have something that’s so harsh done to you. It sticks and I don’t think it’s going to go away for a long time. I don’t think it’ll be any less intense in the future.”
These sides had already been flung together by an assortment of knockout competitions but this is the first season when they have stood on the same rung of the league ladder and Wimbledon’s motivation was increased by their determination to atone for a limp performance in Milton Keynes in December, when Ardley admitted they “didn’t turn up”, and they duly lost 1-0. This time it was Neilson fielding, and denying, accusations his side had done the same.
These occasions are rarely, in the end, about the actual football. They are to be anticipated, then endured, and then endlessly analysed, and in this case liberally decorated throughout with vitriolic chants about franchises. The first half was particularly undistinguished, passing without a noteworthy shot on target, but if Wimbledon dominated that period without creating a chance, in the second they found a cutting edge.
Tom Elliott was a willing target man for Wimbledon, holding up the ball well and a source of endless if often aimless flick-ons, but it was Lyle Taylor’s energy on the right that was decisive. His cross in the 61st minute was knocked down at the far post and volleyed into goal by Jake Reeves, and eight minutes later Taylor cut in from the right before shooting low and hard across goal and in at the far post. The visitors’ finest attacks came when they were already two goals down and from the best of them James Shea somehow kept out Kieran Agard’s near-post half-volley.
Ardley led his side on a wildly applauded lap of honour. “It’s up there,” he said, when asked where this night stood among all his memories at this club and its predecessor. “I know it’s only three points but it’s up there. All I want to do is make this club and the fans proud and tonight I think I’ve done that.”
Football League roundup
Lucas João struck deep into stoppage time to secure a 2-2 draw for Blackburn Rovers at play-off chasing Fulham. João’s finish extended Blackburn’s unbeaten run under their new manager Tony Mowbray to six games and moved the club out of the bottom three in the Championship.
Fulham had looked on course to claim the victory that would move them into the top six when the substitute Gohi Cyriac scored his first goal for the club five minutes from time after connecting with Ruan Fredericks’ cross. That came shortly after Craig Conway had cancelled out Sone Aluko’s 45th-minute opener when he converted from the penalty spot in the 76th minute after Tomas Kalas had brought down Marvin Emnes.
Wolverhampton Wanderers scored two late goals to beat Brentford 2-1 and clinch a potentially crucial three points in their fight against relegation from the Championship. Matt Doherty and Helder Costa scored for the visitors, who got their reward for a spirited and energetic display against the in-form west London side.
Maxime Colin broke the deadlock for Brentford in the 31st minute with a stunning 25-yard drive into the bottom corner. But Brentford were ultimately made to pay for a lacklustre display against a Wolves side who were quicker to every loose ball. Doherty brought Paul Lambert’s side level in the 86th minute when he was in the right place at the far post to steer substitute Ben Marshall’s right wing cross into the empty net.
Wolves took all three points with a minute of normal time remaining when Nico Yennaris’s half-clearance dropped for Costa to volley into the bottom corner from the edge of the box.
In League One, the leaders Sheffield United held off a fightback by relegation-threatened Swindon Town to run out 4-2 winners at the County Ground and consolidate their position at the top. Caolan Lavery capitalised on a defensive mistake to put the Blades ahead on 29 minutes, with Kieron Freeman adding a second from close range in the 35th minute.
Swindon, who are fighting for points at the other end of the table, reduced the deficit right at the start of the second half through the midfielder Charlie Colkett and were level on 53 minutes when Ben Gladwin slotted in. The lead, though, did not last long as Jay O’Shea made it 3-2 to the leaders with five minutes remaining before Paul Coutts scored a fourth from the penalty spot in stoppage time.
Fleetwood Town saw their 18-match unbeaten run ended by defeat to Bolton Wanderers on Saturday. Uwe Rösler’s team, however, proved too strong for Walsall as a header from the defender Cian Bolger on 22 minutes proved enough for a 1-0 win that keeps them eight points behind Sheffield United.
Bolton, though, are just a point behind, and having played a match less, following their 4-0 win at Gillingham. The veteran defender David Wheater headed the visitors into a third-minute lead, with Adam Le Fondre adding a second in the 15th minute. Mark Beevers nodded in number three at the start of the second half, with Josh Vela’s close-range strike wrapping things up after only 49 minutes.
Scunthorpe United, beaten by Gillingham’s late comeback on Saturday, came from behind themselves on Tuesday night to see off Rochdale 2-1 with a last-gasp goal from Matt Crooks at Glanford Park. Ian Henderson headed the visitors in front five minutes before half-time. The midfielder Paddy Madden equalised on 54 minutes, which looked to have been enough for only a point before Crooks struck deep into stoppage-time.
Bradford City drop to fifth after a 1-1 draw at Charlton Athletic. Jorge Teixeira gave the home side the lead on 34 minutes, which was cancelled out by Timothee Dieng’s header three minutes before the break.
Southend United closed up to within a point of sixth-placed Millwall after they won 2-0 at the bottom club Coventry City, who look doomed to relegation. Nile Ranger fired Southend ahead after two minutes, with midfielder Ryan Leonard adding another before half-time.
Struggling Chesterfield twice fought back to draw 3-3 at home to Peterborough United. Sylvan Ebanks-Blake had given the Spireites the lead after just four minutes, but Craig Mackail-Smith soon put Posh level before Tom Nichols put the visitors ahead on 17 minutes. Kristian Dennis had Chesterfield level again in the 26th minute, only for Mackail-Smith to score his second after half an hour. Dion Donohue, though, had the final say with another equaliser for Chesterfield on 54 minutes.
The League Two leaders Doncaster Rovers extended their advantage at the top when they came from behind to beat Notts County 3-1 at the Keepmoat Stadium. County took the lead after 19 minutes when Richard Duffy struck from close range. However, Rovers kept themselves on course for a 19th home game without defeat as James Coppinger equalised two minutes before half-time, with the defender Mathieu Baudry scoring just after the restart. The substitute Andy Williams scored a third in stoppage-time.
Doncaster are now six points clear of Plymouth Argyle who were held to a 1-1 draw at play-off hopefuls Wycombe Wanderers. The home side took the lead after 17 minutes through Myles Weston, but the Argyle substitute Nathan Blissett secured a point when he converted from a corner with 15 minutes left.
Portsmouth maintained their promotion charge with a 4-0 win over Grimsby Town. Paul Cook’s side, who won by the same scoreline at Colchester United on Saturday, went ahead after 12 minutes through a deflected effort from Kyle Bennett. It was 2-0 after 35 minutes when Danny Rose’s long-range shot also deflected in and the midfielder Carl Baker added a third on the stroke of half-time. Kal Naismith added a fourth two minutes after the restart.
It was also another evening to forget for crisis-hit Leyton Orient who went down 5-0 at Accrington Stanley to sink to the bottom of the table. Billy Kee headed Stanley in front just before the break, with Matty Pearson doubling the lead at the start of the second half. The midfielder Sean McConville scored twice in as many minutes when he added a third and a stunning fourth after 84 minutes, with Pearson getting his second of the night in time added on.
Newport County hauled themselves off the foot of the table with a 1-0 victory at Morecambe to make it two wins in four days under their new manager, Mike Flynn, after a penalty from Ryan Bird in the 67th minute.
Carlisle United played out a goalless draw against fellow play-off hopefuls Luton Town, while Exeter City beat Cheltenham Town 3-0 at St James Park with two goals from Reuben Reid. The striker put the home side ahead with a penalty two minutes before half-time and doubled the lead six minutes into the second half, with Jake Taylor adding a close-range third after 57 minutes.
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