Depending on which TV channel has the rights to screen FA Cup action, about this time of year you hear plenty of people saying how important the competition is and that it embodies the “romance” of the great game. The cup is a “leveller”, “a distraction from league concerns”, “enticing”, “full of shocks” and “a great draw”.
Try telling that to the people of York or South London. Only 180-odd AFC Wimbledon fans made the trip to the historic city of York for this FA Cup first round tie. And the attendance for the game was just 2,085 – some 1,400 lower than York’s league gates at Bootham Crescent.
To a certain degree you can understand a reluctance to turn out among the York fans. Their team has struggled all season and had failed to win any of their eight fixtures at home. As for AFC Wimbledon, who fought long and hard to regain the heritage of the old Plough Lane club – hence they are now “FA Cup Winners 1988”- well, the argument that “the FA Cup is always something special to Dons fans”, has a hollow ring. Just 186 of them bothered to travel north to see their team. The sort of backing a Southern League Premier team could expect for a tie such as this. Oh well, it was a dirty afternoon.
Perhaps it was a case of “familiarity breeds contempt”, because these two sides are League Two bedfellows (they meet again at York on December 13) and given they were in 17th and 20th position, it was hardly tie of the round stuff.
York went into the game on the back of three league games unbeaten, the most recent being a 1-0 win at Cheltenham. AFC Wimbledon had failed to win any of their last four League Two games and were beaten 2-0 at Northampton Town in the previous fixture.
On the eve of the tie, York had signed Stephane Zubar on loan from Bournemouth. The Guadeloupe international defender went straight into the squad for this tie. Zubar is one of those players who is perpetually loaned out to other clubs, so arriving at a team that is 20th in League Two cannot be seen as a good career move.
But at this level, clubs rely heavily on the loan system and York had just said farewell to Diego De Girolama, a striker with an eye for goal, who returned to his parent club, Sheffield United.
AFC Wimbledon included in their line-up Adebayo Akinfenwa. Now when people talk about the game lacking characters, they are overlooking this fellow. Not only is he huge – 5ft 11in and 16st – but his presence can light up a game. At 32, he defines the term “journeyman” – he’s played for around 10 Football League clubs – and has a reasonable scoring record. According to people who compile data for the computer gaming industry, he is “the world’s strongest footballer”. You wouldn’t want to play against Akinfenwa.
York went ahead after just eight minutes. The ball was played across the AFC Wimbledon area and Dean Burton put the defence under pressure. It rolled to Michael Coulson – arguably York’s best player – who drove low across the area and Jake Hyde directed the ball high into the net. Some local wags felt that Hyde didn’t really mean to do this, but it didn’t matter for a team as low on confidence as York needed that lift.
They were not ahead for long, however, and it was a scruffy 22nd minute goal that underlined York’s fragile defence that brought AFC Wimbledon level. Andy Frampton forced the ball home, at the second attempt, after a goalmouth scramble that the York backline should have really cleared. “Here we bloody go again,” came the shout from a Bootham regular. That same voice also remarked when Akinfenwa’s significant frame fell onto the turf. “Bloody pitch won’t need rolling this week”. York struck the woodwork from a corner, but the visitors were starting to get on top by the interval.
The second half was far from riveting. York tried to make use of the flanks, but Marvin McCoy and Femi Ilesanmi seemed unable to get round their man to deliver a telling cross. When they did, they were usually over-hit.
Akinfenwa went close to scoring a spectacular goal when he flew in to meet a cross from Georg Francomb’s cross, but his header went wide of the target.
The best moment of the second period came in the 84h minute when a cross from Hyde did find a York head and Wes Fletcher’s effort was superbly saved by AFC Wimbledon keeper James Shea. He really earned his corn with a follow–up stop from Coulson and there were some claims that the ball had crossed the line when Fletcher had yet another stab. No goalline technology call here.
That was it – 1-1, the same scoreline when the two sides last met in the FA Cup in 2012-13. AFC Wimbledon won that replay 4-3. They will be favourites for this one.
It was difficult to agree with York manager Russ Wilcox that this was “a great game”, but it was an even contest that either side could have won. It really reflected the current status of the two teams.