Both sides emerge from ‘derby’ with heads held high

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ONE national radio commentator in the press box said it was symbolic that AFC Wimbledon fans were the ones bathed in winter sunshine before kick-off at stadium:mk, while the home fans were left freezing in the shade.

A lot of nonsense has been spoken in the last few weeks, and the majority of reporters in attendance for Sunday’s FA Cup second round tie probably left Milton Keynes without the story they were looking for.

But thankfully for the regulars, Jon Otsemobor’s spectacular stoppage time winner gave MK Dons the victory they deserved. The nature of the decisive goal might even suggest they had a little bit of luck on their side.

After a fairly predictable and dull opening 45 minutes – eventually illuminated by Stephen Gleeson’s outrageously good strike from outside the penalty area just before the break – a truly historic FA Cup tie went on to do the competition proud in the second half.

Once Jack Midson’s diving header made it 1-1, Dons and AFC Wimbledon looked equally capable of scoring a winner, and it made for a fantastic spectacle – helped by the fact that the majority of the 16,459 fans in attendance, plus players and management on both sides, probably didn’t want a replay.

But after meeting for the first time since the MK-AFC rivalry was born almost a decade ago, a second, less exciting, clash in south west London did look to be on the cards. That was until Otsemobor’s cheeky winner in the second minute of added time, and the unprecedented Dons roar of jubilation and relief that it was met by.

Dons fans have had plenty to shout about in the club’s short history, but this was something else. This was not just a win against AFC Wimbledon, it was a victory over eight years of abuse from other football fans and the ‘franchise’ stigma that has plagued the club and its supporters.

But in true FA Cup tradition, it could have been so different. Otsemobor’s almost slow motion winner came barely three minutes after Steven Gregory almost won the game for AFC in equally dramatic fashion.

David Martin’s superb low save not only stopped Gregory’s shot, but it also spared Dons’ blushes. Defeat to AFC in those circumstances would have been unthinkable, and would have given most of those national journalists exactly what they wanted to write about.

Thankfully the occasion passed without too much negativity to report, though the pre-match atmosphere outside the ground would be best described as tense. Some young and naive Dons fans didn’t do the club’s unblemished reputation any good with some provocative chants in the direction of their AFC counterparts in front of the main entrance.

Fortunately both sets of fans kept their cool and a potentially volatile situation turned out to be no more than just ‘banter’ from the safety of behind metal fences.

Naturally the animosity continued inside the stadium, but with a lot more distance between the two sets of fans, the ‘abuse’ bordered on comical rather than antagonistic.

By the time both sets of players had emerged from the tunnel to a chorus of jeers the atmosphere had reached pantomime status. By the time the banner plane flew overhead revealing the words ‘We are Wimbledon’ it had become laughable.

What wasn’t funny were two pitch invasions, with both sides just as guilty as the other, and not a police officer in sight. AFC would have come in for universal criticism had the home fans shown a bit more restraint and not gone over the top with their celebrations following Otsemobor’s late winner, but one suspects those responsible weren’t regulars in the Cowshed.

A couple of dozen idiots aside, both sets of supporters behaved themselves well, and both sets of players gave their all to produce a fantastic FA Cup second round tie.

There weren’t many scenarios in which both clubs could have come out of the game with their heads held high, but in the end they both seemed to manage it.