FAWNL Division One South East Sun 21 April Sussex Transport Community Stadium
AFC Wimbledon

Worthing were unchanged from the side that battled to claim a point from a three-all thriller at home to Ashford Town last Sunday and, with the visitors only requiring the same to seal promotion and the championship with it, an intriguing tussle was eagerly anticipated seven days further on.

Although AFC Wimbledon dominated the early exchanges, it was the hosts who carved out the game’s first real opportunity. Sophie Humphrey latched on to a crossfield pass, only to be denied by a superbly timed tackle in the box by Hannah Mackenzie.

The game soon swung back the Don’s way though when Emma Blakely came across to block Breon Grant’s shot, with former Reds’ trialist Skye Bacon coming within inches of converting a second opening at the far post.

We’d still played little more than a quarter of an hour by the time Steph Mann released the aforementioned Bacon through the inside right channel. An eventual delivery into Sandra Soares Martins ended courtesy of Lauren Dolbear’s low tip around the upright.

Dolbear had her wits about her again moments later; clearing off the line before the pressure on the home team started to ease a tad via ‘Loz’s’ opposite number.

A wayward ball led to Georgia Tibble narrowly avoiding punishment of Lauren Allen’s unintentional gift.

However, Allen made amends, after Tibble had robbed Ashleigh Goddard and lifted the ball into Sammy Quayle, by coming out smartly to the edge of her penalty area to snuff out the danger and ensure the game remained goalless.

Worthing’s midfield lynchpin then continued her one-woman crusade on a dazed Don’s defence with a brilliant switch of play, spreading the action from right to left and allowing Humphrey to surge into the eighteen yard box, where she whistled one a whisker away from the top corner.

Despite the positive response, the league leaders seized the initiative once Soares Martins had made it to the byline and picked out Bacon at the back stick. Proving that (the) Skye really was the limit.

Although, four minutes before the break it was “game on” again.

More good work on the left from Humphrey saw her find Quayle within range. Captain Hannah Billingham got in front of Sammy’s shot but the ever-alert Shannon Albuery showed a true striker’s instinct by burying the rebound to send the sides in level.

Wimbledon changed ‘keepers during the interval, as former Brighton & Hove Albion and Lewes custodian Faye Baker donned the gloves and the guests were also first to threaten following the change of ends. Fans’ favourite Rosie Russell ran along the right before passing the baton onto Soares Martins to head down at Dolbear. The homesters’ last line of defence pouncing and holding on.

Less than sixty seconds later, excellent hold up play by Quayle gave Worthing’s own half-time introduction Emily Linscer a sniff of the target, only for Billingham to block once again.

There was no denying the next attempt on goal though, even with Dolbear going full-length, as Billingham stepped up to beat both the wall and its protector and put the champions-elect back in the ascendency. LD got two hands on the FK but the travelling Skipper’s near twenty-five yard set-piece nestled in the side of the net.

Undeterred, midway through the second period Lincser caused more problems for the AFC rearguard; seeing a close-range effort kept out via a blue shirt but Chloe Winchester possessed the wherewithal to tee-up Quayle, who emphatically fired into the roof of the apparatus.

Twenty minutes from the end of a match that the high-flying Reds had dominated after the turnaround, Tibble teased the scoreboard when she flicked-cum-looped a header tantalisingly close; turning up the tension for the slightly nervous-looking South Londoners another notch in the process.

Hearts were really in visiting mouths shortly afterwards, as Quayle got the better of not only the away side’s offside trap but their netminder too. Baker and Sammy meeting in a fifty-fifty on the periphery of the penalty box, following a long pass over the top and the ball making it’s own way towards the target. Fortunately however for AFC Wimbledon Kelly Highman gave chase and managed to curtail the danger on the line.

A lengthy spell of stoppage time almost brought reward in the ninety-sixth minute. Substitute Molly Childerhouse shooting, way out on the right flank but only able to land her tight-angled effort on top of the net.

Not that it mattered in the grand scheme of things; the referee’s whistle finally signalling a mass exodus of the away dugout, amid scenes of celebration amongst players, coaches and fans alike, as Wimbledon were decreed worthy National League Division One South East Champions and with it, elevated to the Tier Three Prem.