St Albans City displayed perfect manners as guests at Kingsmeadow on Saturday by offering little to disrupt the party atmosphere as 4,722 spectators saw AFC Wimbledon secure the Blue Square South championship with a straightforward if uninspiring 3-0 victory.
Barring a shift in goal difference of 14 in favour of second placed Hampton & Richmond Borough there was not a great deal St Albans could do to divert the destiny of the championship trophy from Kingsmeadow but Saints manager Steve Castle was disappointed in the way his makeshift side fell away after a promising opening 45 minutes.
But, in truth, Saturday was not about St Albans City; it was about the astonishing rise of AFC Wimbledon. The club was formed just seven years ago following the outrageous departure of the original Wimbledon FC to Milton Keynes.
With their 26th league win of the season the new Dons completed a remarkable fourth promotion and clinched a place in the Conference National. And it was achieved with the second highest attendance recorded for the Conference South – St Albans were also involved on the day of the record attendance when 5,022 watched the Saints in action at Weymouth in April 2006.
The only disappointment for the large crowd was the football on display. The home fans will be happy enough with the result but the game itself was dull, little was riding on the match and as much was evident from early on.
Neither team was particularly helped by a deceptively strong wind but with both sides making a number of changes, many enforced due to injuries and suspensions, there was little cohesion to the play.
Wimbledon made six changes from the side that drew at Hampton the previous week while City were short of four First team certainties.
Castle opted for a central defensive duo of James Quilter and Adam Everitt – first pitched together during a midweek Reserve team match – with Scott Cousins and Hassan Sulaiman on either flank. Individually the quartet did little wrong and generally kept the shackles on the free scoring Jon Main, but they struggled to contain the highly impressive left-sided Anthony Finn.
Full-back Alex Bailey was given a run in midfield were he was joined in the middle by Hector Mackie. Bailey is a class act and it would be a genuine bonus if City were to retain his services for next season. Mackie has been City’s most improved player this season and again on Saturday he showed how quickly he is maturing as a player.
Gary Cohen featured in what many, but not the player himself, perceive to be his best position as he lined up on the right of the midfield. On the opposite flank was Leyton Orient teenager Bradley Gray who was hauled back on Friday for his fourth work experience spell with the club within the past two seasons.
Up front Simon Martin made his 262nd appearance for the club where Paul Hakim who duly ended Lee Clarke’s five-year run as City’s leading goal scorer joined him.
The pace of the game early on offered hope for a lively encounter.
Perfectly timed tackles inside the penalty area by Adam Everitt and Hassan Sulaiman on Finn and Danny Kedwell respectively repelled early Wimbledon attacks while a fine interception by Kennedy Adjei on Hakim denied City a path to goal.
After the early promise the game drifted into a stalemate with both defences looking a good deal more assured on their feet than a litter-collecting Womble that wandered around the stadium.
Either side of the half hour there was concern in the St Albans back line as, firstly, Adjei drilled a dangerous low ball into the goalmouth that Paul Bastock smothered and then, secondly, when a Finn free kick eluded Main but after hitting the deck bounced just over the City goal.
To the amusement of the packed terrace behind his goal Bastock barked his disapproval in his defenders for not attacking the ball before it bounced closed to his goal.
City ended the half with an encouraging flurry that came so close to stealing an interval lead. Twice young Gray had home ‘keeper Nick Gindre scampering across his goal as well-struck efforts flew either side of the target.
And in added time a well-flighted Mackie free kick was smartly glanced on by Hakim with Gindre pulling off an excellent diving stop to his right that allowed Goodliffe to clear the danger.
City lined up for the second half with a the wind to their backs and at this point there appeared a genuine possibility of St Albans forcing the Dons to fully exert themselves if the champions-elect wished to sign off in style.
All that changed just three minutes after the interval though when Adjei, on the edge of the City penalty area, played a short pass out to Finn before accepting the return ball and side-stepping one challenge prior to beating Bastock with a carefully placed low shot to the keepers right.
Mackie, more so prior to the interval, won several challenges in the middle of the pitch and after gaining possession on 50 minutes let fly with a crisp effort from 30 yards that Gindre watched carefully as it bounced wide of the target.
And the Scot also supplied the cross on the hour that saw Andy Sambrook do well to block a goal-bound volley by Hakim.
Any lingering possibility of the Dons party going flat was extinguished on 68 minutes when St Albans resident Sam Hatton rose unchallenged to head a Finn cross high into the City goal for his 12th strike of the season.
Former Saint Tom Davis tested Bastock with an off-balance shot before being replaced on 75 minutes. Wimbledon are the third club with which Davis has now won promotion from Conference South.
The Dons looked to go out in memorable fashion but Kedwell was thwarted quite superbly by Bastock while the ageless City keeper also saved with less fuss from the industrious Adjei.
Substitute Elliott Godfrey weaved his way to the goal-line and cut the ball back to Kedwell who lost out again as Everitt slid in with a fine tackle.
But City were undone for a third time on 88 minutes when a corner on the Dons right was played in short to Finn whose powerful low angled drive was parried by Bastock with Goodliffe tucking away a simple opportunity from the rebound.
Finn’s influence on the match was significant and in added time he almost raised the roof with a stunning shot from 25 yards that went high over Bastock but dipped to strike the crossbar before going out of play.
Moments later referee Ron Ganfield brought the season to a close and signalled the start of wild celebrations at Kingsmeadow that kicked off with Dons skipper Goodliffe collecting the Blue Square South championship trophy.