In the first round of the Southern League Cup, Wimbledon were drawn against Guildford City, the holders and after a 2-2 draw at Josephs Road, were confident about the return. But after Hodges had put the Dons ahead midway through the first half, two breakaway Guildford goals, scored in the closing minutes of each half, put the Dons out in the first round.
Wimbledon started brightly, gaining five points from the first three games, but then suffered a slump. At Nuneaton, Frank Smith gave a magnificent display, saving three certain goals in the first half, but Nuneaton still went on to win 4-1.
Worse was to follow. In the London Challenge Cup, Wimbledon may have had five injuries, but they played pathetically at Enfield and went down 4-1. In the League, Wimbledon were just mid-table. The directors, too, were extremely concerned about the financial situation, as attendances were greatly down on 1966-7.
Increased admission prices, poor performances, bad weather and transport difficulties were all to blame and the club were even considering Friday evening football, although this would clash with events at Wimbledon Stadium.
Wimbledon's form, however, took a turn for the better. In the wind and rain at Yeovil, Hyde scored two in the last eight minutes to give Wimbledon victory and the following week, Cooke scored four (including three headers in seven minutes that Eddie Reynolds would have been proud of) as Wimbledon crushed Poole Town 8-1.
Wimbledon were drawn at home to Ashford Town in the FA Cup fourth qualifying round and in truly appalling conditions, scrapped their way to a 3-0 win, earning a home draw against Southern League Champions Romford. In a dress rehearsal for that first round tie, Romford visited Plough Lane in the League and, after a bruising rough house in which Collins was sent off, the points were shared.
Wimbledon defeated Burton 4-0 to continue their push up the table, scoring all four in the last 17 minutes, but Henley realised the need for another goalscorer. He moved swiftly, signing £1,500 Eddie Bailham from Worcester City late November.
Bailham had won full Eire international caps while at Shamrock Rovers and made his debut the following day at Corby, where he scored to clinch a 3-2 win. Three days later, he scored again as Wimbledon won 3-0 at Cambridge City to move top and the Dons extended their lead to three points by beating King's Lynn at home.
Wimbledon were, therefore, in good heart as they prepared to tackle Romford in the FA Cup first round. Snow had fallen during the week and there was some doubt over the match, but the referee gave the go ahead, even though the first coin used in the toss-up dropped into the snow and was lost!
Both sides found it very difficult to keep their feet, but the 4,995 crowd, good considering the conditions, saw Wimbledon start to assume control. Hodges opened the scoring in the 35th minute with a well-struck penalty after a Romford handball and Hobbs added a second after the break.
The lines marking the pitch, swept at half-time, were now almost completely obliterated as the blizzard continued, but the match had almost run its course and Hodges clinched Dons' passage with a 30-yard screamer. Wimbledon's reward for this victory was a third consecutive home tie in the second round when they were drawn against Third Division Bristol Rovers.
Over 9,500, the largest crowd since the amateur days, turned out to see Wimbledon establish midfield supremacy, but Rovers score the vital goals. The nearest Wimbledon came was when Cooke's shot hit the bar as Rovers scored twice in each half to win 4-0. There were record gate receipts of £1 ,830 and all 7,000 programmes were sold.
Wimbledon went back top courtesy of a three goal blast in 14 minutes at Hereford, while at Weymouth they played very well in the opening 20 minutes to establish a 2-0 lead and eased off to win 3-1. A 2-0 win at Barnet established them as firm title favourites. But then came the fall.
At home to Cheltenham, Wimbledon were frustrated by the visitors' constant use of the offside trap and lost out 2-1 and two days later at Chelmsford, the home side scored three times in a 15 minute spell midway through the first half to ease home 3-2 in front of a bumper 5,055 crowd.
Wimbledon were then outplayed at Romford, where only brilliant displays by Law and Smith kept the score down to 1-0, and Dons were now third - Cambridge United the new title favourites. But on Apri14, 1968, the club suffered a great blow when chairman Sydney Black died.
He had been very ill for some years and had not been able to attend many matches for the last two years. In his will, he bequeathed to Wimbledon FC £7,000 for each of the two following seasons, to cover the outstanding period of the £49,000 covenant he had drawn up when the club turned professional.
A minute's silence was observed before the home game with Cambridge United and the players wore black armbands as a sign of respect. The sombre atmosphere seemed to affect the home players, who found it difficult to raise their game in front of the biggest League crowd so far of 3,843. But in the 82nd minute, the crowd erupted when O'Rourke put Wimbledon ahead with a brilliant goal, only for Cambridge to equalise three minutes from time to keep them on course for the title.
Easter had ended Wimbledon's title hopes the previous season, but this time round the festive period started brightly when they defeated Stevenage Town 3-0 at Plough Lane. The Dons lost at Burton Albion before the return match at Stevenage. The home club had just announced that it would be going into liquidation at the end of the season and their players were determined to go out with a flourish.
Guy was making his Southern League debut for the injured Frank Smith and although Stevenage moved into a 3-0 lead after 37 minutes Wimbledon recovered brilliantly to force a 3-3 draw. Wimbledon then crushed Hastings United 5-0 at home to go back to the top on goal average.
The Cambridge challenge had faded and Chelmsford, with a game in hand, were now the title favourites. But as they still had to visit Plough Lane, two convincing Wimbledon victories would see the Championship back in SWI9.
The crunch match arrived on May 4 when the largest crowd in Wimbledon's 13year Southern League period, 5,028, saw Chelmsford start as they meant to carry on, conceding 15 free kicks in the opening 15 minutes. Bailham then put Wimbledon ahead in the 37th minute, running half the length of the pitch to slot the ball home, but Chelmsford equalised three minutes later and clinched a controversial victory when the winger appeared to handle the ball before scoring.
Chelmsford needed one point to take the tide and achieved that in the following week at Hastings, while Wimbledon found their best form a week too late, crushing Barnet 5-0 to clinch second place.
At the end of the season, John O'Mara signed from Margate and Epsom and Ewell, who had been promised the old floodlights, finally removed them. Len Hibberd took over as caretaker Chairman, but was to stay in that role for over two years, while at the Football League annual meeting, Wimbledon again received one vote and champions Chelmsford three.
Attendances at Plough Lane, however, were down. In the Southern League, the average was 2,650 and this had been boosted by the 5,028 gate for the last game. In the PMFL, gates were cut dramatically to an average of 830. The club knew that Sydney Black's bequest would only last two seasons and so, as no new benefactor had emerged, a painful series of cost cutting would have to occur.
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