This is what makes the FA Cup a great competition. AFC Wimbledon was upset by a non-league club Sutton United 3-1 to advance to the fourth round.
The Guardians Paul MacInnes wrote: “The Sutton United manager, Paul Doswell, was so excited he didn’t know which badge to kiss.
Their striker Roarie Deacon shook a joyous fist in the air. The defender Dean Beckwith was still ensconced with the travelling fans. So it was up to non-league Sutton’s celebrity fan, the comedian Tim Vine, to sum up this match with a simple one-liner. “Sutton three”, he said, “Wimbledon one.” Two teams who had felt slighted by a lack of interest from the TV cameras turned in a pulsating, full-blooded contest that was a throwback to classic FA Cup ties of the past. In the end Sutton replicated their giant-killing of 1989, when they knocked out top-flight Coventry City, with a late salvo of goals to beat a League One side who had been reduced to 10 men from the 11th minute.
“It’s an emotion of absolute, unadulterated joy,” said Doswell once he had (partly) recovered his composure. “We’re a volunteer board and management committee, we brought 1,000 fans with us tonight. But I’m so proud of the players. They needed to show their togetherness tonight and I thought they did that. Three-one probably overdoes the result, but that’s a fantastic achievement for this football club.”
Tom Elliott gave Wimbledon the lead in the 10th minute only for the home side to have their defender Paul Robinson sent off shortly afterwards. The Dons continued to look in control, however, until 15 minutes to go when Deacon thrashed in an equaliser from the edge of the box for his fourth goal in the competition. With the clock turning to 90 minutes Maxime Biamou touched in at the far post before the substitute Dan Fitchett’s header sent the Sutton contingent crazy.
The Dons manager, Neal Ardley, was slightly lost for words afterwards. “It’s difficult to know what to say because we had a plan to play the game with 11 men and spent most of it with 10,” he said. “I thought we did that brilliantly for 76 minutes but, credit to Sutton, they kept going and got their just deserts in the end.”
Elliott had found himself unmarked on the penalty spot when he gave Wimbledon the lead, heading in Dean Parrett’s free-kick past Ross Worner at the near post. The red card came barely 60 seconds later. The Kingsmeadow pitch’s divots were causing a problem for both teams and, sadly for the Dons centre-half Robinson, he misjudged the bounce of a ball when in position as the last defender. Robinson swiped and missed, Matt Tubbs nicked it off him and did not need much by the way of subsequent contact from his opponent to go sprawling on to the ground. The referee, Chris Sarginson, did not hesitate in handing Robinson an early bath.
Still, Wimbledon stayed calm. Ardley withdrew Elliott’s strike partner Dom Poleon for another defender, Chris Robertson, and while the home side lacked numbers going forward they weren’t short of endeavour. At half-time it looked more likely that they would add a second goal than concede.
But with 20 minutes to go, Wimbledon’s Lyle Taylor was injured by a strong Sutton challenge. The midfielder was withdrawn and suddenly the visitors gained the upper hand, making their pressure tell with 15 minutes remaining. A free-kick on the left was taken quickly, too quickly for the Dons defence. The ball came to Deacon on the edge of the box who shifted the ball, made himself space and smashed a shot past the goalkeeper James Shea.
After the match, Doswell called Deacon his “magic man”.
The Dons looked shocked by that goal and suddenly the visitors got the scent of shock in their nostrils. As the clock turned to 90 minutes Biamou connected at the far post with substitute Fitchett’s cross. For a moment there was stunned silence, then a riot of noise as the Sutton bench, players and fans all went wild together. Fitchett struck again with seconds remaining, his header looping into an empty net as Wimbledon desperately pushed forward. The fans, already delirious, almost didn’t know what to do with themselves.
Leeds United now await Sutton in the fourth round, for a game that will be live on TV and worth £300,000 to the club. For Doswell, who is a property developer by trade and does not take a salary from the club, the financial boost was reward for a combined endeavour. “It’s not about what I do, the chairman puts in 40 hours a week for free and I was drawn in by how much everyone else gave to this club. I didn’t dare to dream about the fourth round, but the fact is it’s a reality now and there’s a lot of things we’d still like to do at the club. We’d like a new entrance hallway for example, and we can afford it now. Plus I know a good tiler.”