Southgate bounced back from the disappointment of their opening playoff defeat to Sheffield Hallam with a stunning second half display to run out 5-3 winners over much fancied Wimbledon.
The first half took a little while to get going. Southgate seemed content to sit deep and stifle their opponents whilst Wimbledon were happy to maintain possession, waiting for an opening to present itself. It was hardly an explosive start to the weekend, but perhaps indicative of what was at stake for both teams.
Wimbledon did manage to take the lead before half-time. Richard Alexander won the ball and burst forward, finding Jonny Kinder inside the D on the left. Kinder dinked the ball over the head of Chris Hibbert to make it 1-0.
Southgate’s best chance came when Dave Wilson found space and manufactured a cross which was deflected goalwards by John Sterlini and dealt with by Tom Millington in the Wimbledon goal.
Immediately after half time, Captain Dan Shingles levelled the scores, breaking into the D and ripping a searing shot into the top corner.
Wimbledon responded well, increasing their pace and intensity in the attacking third, Ben Hawes was unlucky as he rounded Hibbert, only to see Frank Pretorius clear off the line.
Southgate rallied and took the lead. A cross in from the right was deflected in by Andrew Westbrook who caught the Wimbledon defence napping.
The sides both seemed to have woken up now and the game began to ebb and flow. The equaliser came from Kinder again as Rob Pryce got round the back on the right and crossed to the back post. The ball bounced through a cluster of bodies and was stabbed home by the Wimbledon No.11.
Shingles was becoming more of an influence on the game and swapped passes with Thaddeus Rivett who couldn’t quite apply the finish. At the other end, Ben Wright rode two challenges in the D and somehow shot on his reverse stick from on his knees but the effort went wide and didn’t trouble Hibbert.
Wimbledon took the lead from a well-worked penalty corner with Ben Hawes, a hat-trick hero last week finding the corner.
Timmy Smyth had a gilt-edged chance to get one back for Southgate after he won the ball in the 25, found Westbrook on the right who gave him the ball back, only for Smyth to somehow send his shot wide of the post. He was not to rue that chance for long as Pretorius grabbed the equaliser from a penalty corner and then repeated the trick to make it 4-3 after the ball had come back off the bar. Southgate were not done there, and for good measure they enhanced their goal difference with another goal after the final whistle from Dave Wilson after a slick penalty corner move.
Southgate were visibly delighted with their efforts to haul themselves back in with a chance of surviving for another year. For Wimbledon it has to be seen as a chance missed, meaning their game with Sheffield Hallam tomorrow takes on even greater significance.