Jon Meades labelled AFC Wimbledon's play-off win over Plymouth ‘his best day yet’ – and all the sweeter as it was one he appeared destined to miss.
Left-back Meades’ outstanding season with the Dons appeared over when he was stretchered off just 10 minutes into their league clash at Dagenham & Redbridge in mid-April with what turned out to be ruptured ankle ligaments.
Publicly the message was he would not be back for the end of season knockout phase, but behind the scenes the Welsh-U21 international refused to give up on his dream of stepping out at the National Stadium.
His reward was a cameo as a second-half substitute in the 2-0 win over Plymouth, something which left him elated.
“I’ve done absolutely everything I can to be back, so to play a part in the game was just unbelievable for me and when we won it was incredible - the best moment of my life,” he said
“I wasn’t starting, so I wasn’t really too nervous and when the gaffer brought me on I was just so grateful. Hopefully I did a decent job for the team. It’s an amazing feeling, all a bit surreal.
“I wasn’t sure I’d get to play. I’ve had a good season, but obviously I’ve been out for six weeks so my match fitness wasn’t there.
“But I felt good, my ankle was feeling pretty good, popped a few painkillers. I was hoping I was going to get on, but when I got the call it was just unbelievable.
“To go and play in front of – well I’m not sure what the official attendance was – but 50,000 or so. It was big wasn’t it? To see it was just incredible.
The AFC Wimbledon side boasted a number of players with previous experience of playing at Wembley, including skipper Barry Fuller, Paul Robinson and Darius Charles.
For Meades that swung the balance in Dons’ favour against a Plymouth team, who though favourites, he felt were somewhat overawed by the occasion.
“I don’t think there was much between the teams,” he said. “I just think we believed more than them. Looking in the first half from the bench they looked a bit nervous and their big players probably didn’t turn up.
“Plus, we’ve got a lot of experience of playing at Wembley within the squad. I think that showed because they genuinely did look nervous.
“There was a bit of nerves from us as well obviously, but I think we just dealt with the occasion a little bit better.”
Predictably, striker Lyle Taylor stole much of the post-match plaudits after his 23rd goal of the campaign set Dons en route to their promotion party.
And while not wanting to underplay the role of his side’s most potent attacking threat, Meades was keen to salute a team effort which had gained momentum since home defeat to Stevenage shortly before Christmas.
“That’s what Lyle is about, he is a goal-scorer isn’t he,” he added.
“It’s not just Lyle though. Everyone has played a massive part this season. He has scored the goals and got the headlines, but from back to front it has just been absolutely exceptional.
“Since that Stevenage game Christmas time – I thought we played some good football before that, but since then we have just been unbelievable.”