Miracles or not, Wimbledon were now a very good, settled side. The introduction of Nigel Winterburn from Oxford, initially on loan, gave them greater variety with speedy attacks down the left.
Mark Morris, Hatter and Mick Smith were sound central defenders; Peters a steadying influence. Beasant was the envy of most clubs, with Liverpool casting a regular eye over the 'keeper affectionately tagged 'Lurch'. In midfield, Steve Ketteridge, Downes and Gage complemented the silky skills of a maturing Glyn Hodges, now on the brink of senior honours for Wales.
Leslie, the last survivor from non-league days, opted to sign for Gillingham, but up front it was Good Evans and Champagne Cork and the goals and the good times were flowing again. Cork, in fact, had spent the summer months sharpening up on loan in Sweden, and problems over international clearance kept him out of the Division Three opener, a 2-0 defeat at Bolton. But he was back in some style for the first home game of the season, scoring three in a 6-0 drubbing of Newport County...the gate again a bitterly disappointing 2,007.
Wimbledon were off and running and just two defeats in the next 10 games looked encouraging enough, especially as during this spell came two superb performances against Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest. Wimbledon first won 2-0 at home, with goals from Galliers and Hodges and then produced a fine 1-1 draw away to book a place in the third round.
Yet three days after that latter display, Wimbledon crashed 5-1 at Scunthorpe and a home defeat against Burnley on December 17 seemingly put a block on early promotion aspirations. Four straight wins relit the fire and when Wimbledon followed victory over Southend with a 6-2 walkover at Orient, they had climbed back second in the table, with Cork scoring twice to take his personal haul for the club over the 100 mark.
Four games later and Wimbledon were top, with Beasant saving a last minute penalty to secure the win at Rotherham, but the last 10 weeks of the season were real nail-biters. Four drawn games saw them slip back second, level on points with Walsall and just a point ahead of Sheffield United. They were five in front of Hull City, who had three games in hand.
Dons beat Walsall, lost to Hull, but made up ground with good wins at FA Cup semifinalists Plymouth Argyle and again at Lincoln City, courtesy of Hodges's last minute winner. Indeed, Wimbledon were to win four and draw once in one five match sequence and promotion looked certain to hinge on a visit to fellow contenders Sheffield United on May 5. A massive 22,850 crowd packed out Bramall Lane, but Wimbledon weren't intimidated, with the Evans-Cork double act yet again producing the goods in a superb 21 win.
Three points from their last two games would make absolutely certain of seeing Wimbledon up to the heady heights of the Second Division. And their best home League gate of the season, 6,009, turned out at Plough Lane expecting to see Wimbledon put the seal on it against Gillingham. The result? A 3-1 home defeat.
But the groans on the terraces gave way to cheers of triumph. Sheffield United had lost at Bolton and Wimbledon were up! No goals for Cork that day and he was rested for the last League game of the season, a 2-0 success at Burnley. But he had contributed a club record 29 League goals - plus another four in the Cups - with Hodges scoring 15 from midfield.
Wimbledon finished with 97 League goals, yet again taking that Capital Radio £25,000 prize as London's top scorers. But if Wimbledon thought another triumphant season had ended with the final kick at Burnley, then they were mistaken.
For there were more trials and tribulations ahead when Bassett delivered his end of season bombshell: He was leaving to manage Crystal Palace and was taking assistant Gillett and physio Derek French with him. Yet four days of "soul-searching" later he could stand it no longer. His heart was with Wimbledon, he said. Ninety-six hours after walking out, he was striding back through the ground's gates again, ready to mastermind the club's first ever season in the Second Division.
"I've lost weight, sleep and years off my life," he said, "not knowing what to do for the best. "But my loyalty to Wimbledon proved the decisive factor." Bassett's return helped Wimbledon breathe more easily.
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