Charlie Strutton came of age in a Dons shirt, scoring twice and making another on a night of high and prolonged drama, that saw a valiant York City side – playing with ten men from 35 minutes onwards – push AFC Wimbledon to the wire for a place in the FA Cup second round.
Playing in front of the ESPN cameras, it was a first victory in six ‘live’ televised games against league clubs, after defeats against Wycombe Wanderers, Millwall, Stevenage, Bristol Rovers and Oxford United, with the win swelling club coffers by an estimated £50,000. None of that mattered to the neutral viewers however, no doubt hoping this win would set up a potential clash with the Buckinghamshire-based club that stole Wimbledon’s identity and Football League place a decade earlier.
Manager Neal Ardley made seven the changes to a team that defeated the same opponents so convincingly just over 48 hours earlier and the strategy looked risky as the Minstermen opened brightly. Early yellow cards brandished by referee Keith Stroud – for Steven Gregory and York’s Scott Kerr – set the tone for a pulsating evening and Seb Brown had to be alert to push away a stinging effort from Lanre Oyebanjo. But wide men Ashley Chambers and Matty Blair were getting the better of the recalled pair of Jim Fenlon and Warren Cummings and a series of crosses tested a jittery-looking Dons rearguard.
York deservedly went in front on 22 minutes, but the manner of their lead was infuriating for the home support. Daniel Kearns’ corner was swung under the bar and Brown, under pressure from the veteran Clark Carlisle, made a hash of an attempted punch and palmed it into his own net. Then, with the Dons’ first meaningful shot on target, Strutton’s rasping drive levelled twelve minutes later, although at a cost to both teams. Kerr scythed down Rashid Yussuff moments before Strutton fired off the equaliser. The referee played an excellent advantage, the goal stood, Kerr received a second yellow card and Yussuff was left limping, to be substituted by Stacy Long shortly afterwards. But if City were down to ten men, it hardly showed. In fact, they looked liked the side with the numerical advantage as they upped their workrate further to compensate for losing Kerr.
Ardley threw on Curtis Osano and leading scorer Byron Harrison to alter the shape of his side as City continued to press. Brown’s wayward kicking did little to improve either his or the home fans’ nerves, but with 13 minutes to go, Strutton’s bulldog-like running paid dividends. Bursting through a tiring Minstermen backline, his shot on the run was parried by Michael Ingham but he followed through to net the rebound.
It should have been game over – but it wasn’t. In the dying seconds of normal time, substitute Jamie Reed fired in from close range with almost his first touch, to send the 214 travelling York fans into ecstasy – and extra time.
But at last the pendulum swung AFC Wimbledon’s way. Carlisle misjudged a Cummings centre and it ricocheted beyond Ingham off Harrison to give the Dons the lead once more. Two minutes later, Jack Midson’s poaching instincts returned as he finished off a Strutton knockdown and the tie looked over. Yet there was further drama as another close range Reed goal gave the Dons some nervous final moments before a place in the second round was confirmed.