Consequently, they opened the campaign with a flourish, trouncing Middlesbrough 3­0 at home and earning a good point with a goalless draw at Elland Road.

There was a four goal slip up at Sheffield United to contend with, before a stunning three game winning run put Dons up among the early pace makers. Even though all three wins were by the only goal, the third, against Barnsley, hoisted them second in the table.

Two defeats and a draw made for grim reading in September, however, before Dons rediscovered their scoring touch with a five goal Milk Cup drubbing of Blackburn Rovers, with Cork cracking a hat-trick.

Two from Evans won the following game, a League derby v Charlton Athletic, while Wimbledon were then to produce one of their best results of the season at Carrow Road, ending Norwich's unbeaten run...although it took a Beasant penalty save from Steve Bruce to protect the spoils.

Wimbledon went throughout October unbeaten in the League and duly reclaimed second place in the table on November 3 as Smith and Cork scored two apiece in a 4-1 win against Carlisle United.

Wimbledon's Milk Cup hopes turned sour in a brave 2-0 defeat at Tottenham and there were dropped points in front of a 15,518 Sunderland crowd in the League, although Geordie boss Lawrie McMenemy was quick to praise Wimbledon's attacking policy. Defeats against Leeds and Middlesbrough failed to jolt Wimbledon out of their stride and they celebrated Christmas in cracking style.

First they avenged that early season drubbing at Sheffield United, going one better in a 5-0 win on December 21. Then two from Cork helped give the Boxing Day blues to Palace. Two days later and it was Barnsley's turn, beaten 1-0, with Sanchez scoring the vital goal to add to his efforts in the previous two victories.

The early New Year was not so pleasant. Promotion rivals Portsmouth came to Plough Lane on New Year's Day and, in front of a 9,046 gate, spoilt the home side's party with a 3-1 win. Millwall matched that scoreline as they sent Dons crashing out of the FA Cup while even Oldham, without a win in 11 matches, added to their miseries with a 2-1 victory.

Now Sanchez had already scored some important goals that campaign, but there can have been few more revitalising than his glancing 52nd minute header in the next game against Grimsby Town. The confidence came flooding back after that and Hodges and Cork added further goals in an important win.

A month's football was lost to the weather and although Wimbledon resumed with a frosty draw against Brighton, they were soon back on the winning trail with a succession of solid victories. Leaders Norwich fell first, beaten 2-1 with Evans and Cork the scorers. Fairweather steered in the decisive goal against Millwall and Sanchez and Cork were on target in a 2-0 win at neighbours Fulham.

Wimbledon were flying now and only the woodwork prevented another runaway win against Blackburn Rovers on March 22. The honours finished even, courtesy of a Fairweather 25 yard strike, while Cork twice hit the crossbar and saw another hacked off the line. But this was no time for idle talk about bad luck or unfortunate finishing.

Wimbledon were on the brink of something really special here and the club were not about to let it slip. It was imperative they made the most of the chances they were creating each and every game.

Their promotion push was in need of a boost and, just as they had done with the purchase of £45,000 defender Cunningham years before, they decided to gamble again...although this time on a striker. They dug deep and broke the bank, signing the powerful John Fashanu from Millwall for a then club record £125,000.

He made his debut as substitute, coming on in the second half of a heated clash at Portsmouth. An 18,000 plus gate was buzzing as Pompey had just taken the lead through Noel Blake. But Fashanu's presence clearly unsettled their back line and within minutes Smith headed the equa1iser after Evans' initial effort came back off the bar.

A third successive draw followed in the April Fool's Day derby against Crystal Palace, but there was no faulting Fashanu. He battled and scrapped for everything and scored his first for the club with a powerful header.

When Fashanu netted again the following Sunday, away at Carlisle, Wimbledon were right back in promotion contention, with Fairweather scoring twice in a 3-2 win. Bassett and Winterburn will have cause to remember that one, alright.

For the impressive Winterburn, the subject of firm enquiries from a clutch of clubs, heard he had been called up for the England U-21 squad, due to depart the next morning for a vital European Championship semi­final in Italy.

Injuries had forced two players to withdraw and this was Winterburn's chance to create Wimbledon history. If selected to play, he would be their first professional England international. He and Bassett drove throughout the night, eventually reaching the team's Heathrow hotel at 2am and off Winterburn jetted the next morning.

It was not a wasted journey, either. He was thrust straight into Dave Sexton's side, winning his first cap for his country. But back to the League and it was all looking pretty tight at the top. Norwich were 10 points clear and coasting, but the pack were crammed together. Portsmouth on 66 points from 36 games, Wimbledon five points behind, but with a game in hand.

Charlton, in turn, had a game in hand on the Dons and were only two points adrift, with Hull and Crystal Palace on the fringe. Wimbledon needed something special to consolidate their claim and turned to the skills of Hodges, out of favour for much of the season. He was recalled for the home game with Sunderland and responded with a second half hat-trick as Wimbledon rattled in another three goal win.

A draw at Shrewsbury the next outing was a big disappointment and with five games to go and the last three of those away, Wimbledon couldn't afford to let anything slip. Fashanu was just the man for the job. Outsiders Hull came to Plough Lane on April 26 and big John promptly saw them off, scoring twice in a 3-1 win.

Next came Stoke City, with the Wimbledon gate for once a more respectable 5,959. It was tight, very tight. But then came the all important breakthrough. Three minutes into the second-half and there was Cork, scorer of so many crucial goals over the years, to head in Gage's free-kick.

This was unbelievable stuff. Wimbledon were all but there. The First Division was a mere whisker away. A win would make absolutely certain and there were three games to do it in, starting at Huddersfield Town.

The rain lashed down. There was hail. There was thunder and lightening. And there was Sanchez, striding onto a short free-kick to drill the winner and send Wimbledon up, up and away into the First Division. The scenes at the end were those of pure ecstasy. The Wimbledon players ran to their rain soaked fans, throwing their shirts into the crowd. 'Keeper Beasant went one stage further, jettisoning his shorts as well!

Mind you, it was that sort of day for these players. They had come through thick and thin together, from the earliest days. In the side that clinched promotion that afternoon there were former youth teamers in Gage, Hodges, Thorn, Morris and substitute Fishenden, with yet another, in Gayle, on the sidelines.

There was a free transfer in the club's now legendary goal scorer Cork and another in international full back Winterburn. In goal Beasant had cost £1,000 and had barely missed a game in seven years, while Galliers, at £500 more, was lasting just as well and was a mighty figure in midfield. Just Sanchez and Fashanu had cost the sort of money other sides were lashing out on their reserves.

Somehow this side from the bargain basement had secured for themselves a place in the premier division of the premier league in the World. Draws against Charlton and Bradford completed the season, capping a campaign that had seen Wimbledon go their last 16 games unbeaten.

Division One beckoned and Bassett and his boys were ready. But really the fairytale had only just begun.