Mid-Season Break

Its been a bit of a stop-start season for me supporter-wise… A lack of away games has given my football diary a distinctly fractured look, I find myself coping with increasingly long gaps without a Dons fix. Having to find something else to do with my time made me question whether I really need football in my life. Surely a handsome, intelligent guy such as myself could find alternative Saturday entertainment?

The answer was a resounding ‘Fuck no’… I could have spent the last two Saturdays doing something productive, starting a new hobby, reading, going to the cinema – the opportunity was there for me to find something stimulating, an activity that could have advanced my knowledge and improved me as a human being, but what I actually spent those two Saturdays doing was sitting on the sofa in my pants playing video games and eating Yum Yums.

The recent cold weather has given even those who never miss away games a glimpse into my current alternate-Saturday problem. It amuses me that this sort of interruption to the schedule always inspires one or two to raise that old winter break chestnut. The fact is last year we had games postponed in December, this year its February… in a temperate climate you can expect postponements at virtually any time of the season (even a pre-season game at Brentford fell foul of summer thunderstorms a few years ago). A mid-season break for climate reasons would actually increase end of season fixture congestion, as clubs spend weeks in the dead of winter kicking their heels.

In this instance we’ve had such a break forced on us, much to the annoyance of the management team who have to come up with all sorts of alternatives to training that doesn’t simply consist of just running, and end up with a schedule that looks more like a seven-year olds dream half-term – outings to the local swimming pool, something called a spinning session… if the weather had turned a few weeks later they might even have been lucky enough to get a trip to Thorpe Park thrown in.
The weather break came at the most annoying time possible for the Dons… a reshaped squad bolstered with loanees saw a mini winning run brought to a halt by a frustrating performance against Aldershot, and the only benefit going into tonight’s trip to Northampton is that game has now passed out of the majority of Dons fans minds, while still providing some kind of incentive for the squad to ‘bounce back’.

With a handful of wins required to guarantee League Two football again next season, the majority of the season will be played out for pride alone – in an ideal world this should be reason enough for professional players to go out and want to win a game, the fact that a few of them are clearly on a knife-edge as far as their futures at the club are concerned should ensure we see dedicated performances at the very least.

The Bradford cancellation was disappointment enough, but equally frustrating as Saturday was due to see the introduction of not just a new Dons fanzine in Wise Men Say, but a head to head with existing publication WUP. Now you might ask yourself why a club like Wimbledon needs two fanzines, the real question is ‘Does a club like Wimbledon need a fanzine at all?’, and that was answered fairly conclusively nine years ago with the introduction of WUP - for various reasons, the most valid of which is ‘because people will buy it’. Once you’ve justified one fanzine, you’ve justified not just a second but as many rival publications as is practical to produce. There should be no decrease in quality across the board, Wise Men Say appears to be heading in a slightly different direction to WUP, including contributions from individuals who choose not to write for the existing publication; and will hopefully inspire those writing for WUP to set the bar a little higher – I’ve written for WUP in the past, will do in future and will take the quality of writing across both fanzines into consideration when I sit down to compose my next effort.

By now you’re probably guessing I’m the sort that harkens back to the golden age of fanzine production that was the mid-nineties. At the time I was living with my dad and my cousin, a very football oriented house that saw no televised game ignored, and a decent supply of fanzines from clubs up and down the country thanks to my cousins regular trips to Sportspages in Charing Cross Road – some of which were exceptional, some of which seemed to be produced entirely for the benefit of the editor and his small clique of friends, yet somehow remained entertaining all the same.

Ultimately the expectation was online media would kill off the printed fanzine, but that hasn’t quite happened. In fact I have to say I’m surprised there aren’t a lot more Dons bloggers out there keen to give their personal view. The fact there seems to be so many Dons fans prepared to read my inconsistent ramblings suggests there are a great deal of people unsatisfied with the Dons offerings in mainstream media, and there is still a great void that can be filled by alternative websites and blogs, be they occasional or prolific.

The same applies to fanzines. The matchday programme is the only regular publication you can buy in and around the ground – there is a lot of sniping and criticism of the programme, while there is undoubtedly room for improvement and innovation I actually think it’s a more than acceptable offering when you consider its produced to a tight budget and deadline (no saving it for next week until a few more articles come in!) – and yet I’ve normally finished reading it by the time the teams are out for kick off. I’ve always looked forward to WUP weeks in the knowledge I’ll have something to flick through at half time, or read on the train home, and the introduction of a second publication will ensure that fanzine-free weeks will hopefully become the minority.

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Crazy And Somewhat Unrealistic

Thirteen games without victory, then three wins on the spin. Football is a bonkers game, scarcely believable at times… Do other clubs supporters consistently experience such dramatic swings from high to low and back to high again? Maybe in the short-term, over a couple of years, but with the exception of a few drab years in the Premier League my entire supporting life has seen the sort of drama that wouldn’t be out-of-place in a work of fiction. In fact sub-Hollyoaks former Sky shitefest Dream Team used to regularly steal real life scenarios from the Dons, managing to make them seem even less convincing on the small screen than they had been in reality.

In fact I have a theory that what we refer to as reality is really some weird physical manifestation of a long running work of fiction based around the crazy and somewhat unrealistic tale of a football club. Which would make a lot of sense to me…. Far from being important and unique my entire presence boils down to being a simple bystander in someone else’s story. My faith in a more traditional view of existence is being eroded all the quicker with every unlikely dramatic last-minute win, of which last nights was just the latest.

Whatever your personal meaning of life, you can’t deny the Dons have spoilt us on the entertainment front this season – even if for three months that ‘entertainment’ involved Seb Brown picking the ball out of the net quite a lot). After convincing even glass-half-full types like myself there might be a danger they could get sucked into the relegation picture, three wins on the bounce and a dollop of guts, bottle, spirit, and other ingredients otherwise missing from the mix from October onwards has seen us shoot up the table into the comfort zone.

Such is the competitive nature of this division, our nine-point haul has left many dreaming of pulling off a Stevenage style rise up the table to gate-crash the playoff picture. I think the current squad, even if the parent clubs of recent reinforcements allow them to see out the season with us, will probably be found wanting in that respect. Even in victory last night, there were enough negatives to worry about, you got the impression on another day Macclesfield would have taken something from the game… the squad still show a willingness to play themselves into trouble more frequently than we could get away with against genuine promotion contenders.

The old problem of gifting possession in our own third reared its head on several occasions, as the back four caused alarm for those watching from the stands. The knee-jerk reaction was to urge the side to launch the ball forward, which on the occasions where the team obliged only resulted in a gargantuan Macclesfield player propelling the ball back deep into our half twice as quickly. We need to be a little more clever with our distribution from the back, so many times we see Seb Brown rushing to the right side of his six yard box to look for Sam Hatton, already shadowed by an opposition forward wise to the fact he’s our primary outlet.This would be a problem even if Hatton was on his game, as it was on the night he sent every other pass to someone who wasn’t there or worse, straight to the feet of a grateful opponent.

On the other side of the pitch, and more reliable on the night with his distribution (partly because whenever he got the ball he invariably gave it straight to Billy Knott…), Gareth Gwillim seemed to have acres of space. Now there were only so many bodies Macclesfield could commit to closing us down, we were always going to have the numbers to easily transit the ball into the middle third, especially as there are four competent footballers there (even if occasionally – promising talent that he is – C-Mac does resemble Bambi on ice when he has the ball at his feet…). There really is no need for them to make such a meal of it.

Defensive issues were merely a mild tarnish on an otherwise glowing performance. The Dons suggested they would dominate the game after a very bright opening, my first chance to get a view of three of the new signings and I wasn’t disappointed. George Moncur and Billy Knott looked completely at home and along with Sammy Moore were running the game for Wimbledon, hard to believe the two loanees were making only their third Football League appearances each. Absolutely no sign of nerves, that heavy touch you occasionally see when a player is thinking a little too much about what they are doing, they both looked completely at home on the Kingsmeadow pitch. In fact, I’d go further, they looked as though this was merely a stepping stone on their way to bigger and better things. Those guys signing ‘You’re just too good for us’? Couldn’t put it better, to be honest…

Byron Harrison also impressed. Like any new striker he needs a goal, you couldn’t fault any part of his game on the night – strong, holds the ball up well, will only get better when he gets used to his new team mates – the only thing missing was a finish. Admittedly, hitting the net is what goal scorers are judged on, but he’s getting himself in the right areas… only to snatch at the ball and shank it wide, or find that perfect cross bouncing back off his face. The arrival of Jason Prior may sharpen Harrison up, or provide an alternative should he need an extended period to find his feet. I have to admit knowing little of Prior beyond him being at Newcastle on trial and scoring an amazing amount of goals for Bognor… he does have a ‘footballers’ name though, so based on that alone I predict he’ll do well…

This is less of a rebuild and more of a reshaping exercise. Brown is no doubt aware once our loan players return (and I’m kind of hoping we’ve passed the 50 point barrier by that stage – even if it will take some kind of turn around for two of the bottom three to get anywhere near that target), he faces the challenge of effectively rebuilding the midfield in the summer. Sammy Moore is probably the only one safe in the knowledge he’ll still be here next season, but along with Jack Midson and his eye-catching goal tally he’s probably the most likely candidate to find himself poached by a bigger club come August.

Saturday brings with it the chance to extend our winning record to an unlikely four games. The odds seemed stacked in our favour, a mini run of nine points out of nine, Aldershot not exactly pulling up trees, unbeaten against sides managed by Dirty Deano…. away win it is then?!

Reinforcements

I’m starting to wish I hadn’t spent so much on Christmas. This is one of the down sides to the growing trend of employers paying you early in December… no money in January. Not intentionally of course, I’m just another victim of our buy now face the consequences later society, in other words I’m denying responsibility for some shaky mid-December budgeting when I was already pie eyed on sherry by 10AM most days. I still remember the conversation I had when Mrs AD questioned whether we could actually afford all the booze and presents and decorations and booze… ‘Of course we can, we’ll just have a quiet January. We’ll buy store products rather than brands, I won’t got to any away games….’.

What seemed like fun at the time has come back to haunt me big time, as the Dons prepare to travel to Port Vale with five new signings – and that number might have changed by the time I finish typing this and hit the ‘post button’. What would be an unmissable game under normal circumstances has been elevated to the level where you’d rob your granny to watch thanks to the return of a Dons legend… I’d actually quite happily rob my gran, the problem being my gran lives in New Addington, is quite capable of fending off the feral local youth who roam the streets outside her house, and by comparison would make mincemeat of a pampered, bloated thirty-something who hasn’t seen any hand to hand action since a playground scrap in 1989 (unless you include a few vigorous handshakes).

Of the five signings the return of Jason Euell was always going to steal the headlines, and I’ll come on to him a little later. Yet we’ve also permanently added both a centre half and forward (breaking our transfer record in the process), and two promising youngsters on initial month-long loans. The centre half needs no introduction, Callum McNaughton’s ever extending loan deal  mercifully converted (as far as our administration and their West Ham counterparts, forced to fill in and send off the relevant forms on a monthly basis), he is now Our Player for two and a half years. There’s no doubt he is still young and raw, but I’ve seen enough to accept he’s already good enough for this level, and can only get better – I’m looking forward to him forging a partnership with the impressive MMK that could see us through the next couple of years.

Joining him from West Ham is George Moncur, albeit on a month loan, along with Billy Knott from Sunderland. Loanees from academy sides are a bit of an unknown quantity when they first arrive, especially as neither of them have any Football League experience. Not a huge gamble for the club to take either of them for a month, they’ll either perform or the won’t, but the buzz surrounding Billy Knott suggests the likelihood is we’re going to benefit big time from his time at the club especially considering our two impact wide players in Djilali and Jolley are injured and suspended.

With Jack Midson toiling on his own with little help up front, the arrival of Byron Harrison gives us another attacking option. Finally Brown has captured the Kedwell replacement he has been after – for that is how Harrison will be judged. Harrison scored a few last year for Stevenage, eight in twenty appearances being a great return, and it seems Stevenage just went up a little to quickly for him to adjust. We’ll expect goals from him as a minimum, but its going to be interesting to see the impact his arrival has on our forward play in general.

A goal on his debut will help, which brings us onto our final signing, a guy whose we first saw spanking an overhead kick into the top corner of the Southampton net during a dreary and otherwise miserable day… We talked about Jason Euell coming back to the club in the summer, and the general feeling seemed to be not breaking the bank (and the wage structure) to bring him in at the expense of young payers who had earned their crack at the Football League. Right now his experience and proven ability are exactly what we need. Although his arrival might seem at first to be a bit of a knee-jerk reaction, even a publicity stunt, I would argue that even if that was the only reason Jason Euell has been brought back to the club, it will be worth it.

Although I won’t be travelling to Port Vale, there are a good couple of hundred others heading up who otherwise wouldn’t have been going. The Macclesfield game, already targeted by the club with a cut price ticket offer, is set to be a little busier than your average evening game at Kingsmeadow. The feel good factor is back at the club, we now need the players to do their part and win a couple of games… it’s time for us to start looking up instead of down…

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The Cull

Right, lets have a bit of blog update. It’s been a little while, I’ve written before about the frustration of not being able to write regularly – it seems at Christmas I had plenty of excuses not to write, visiting family, rushing to buy or receive presents, general laziness… all that guff. I suppose the overwhelming reason would have been sitting down in front of the laptop and thinking ‘Oh god, this feels too much like actual work…’. The Dons form of late has been dire, so in the same way I don’t really want to sit down and write emails to people telling them how to fix their showers, neither do I want to dissect the Dons defensive failings over and over again – the difference being I get paid for the former, why should I subject myself to the latter in what is supposed to be my leisure time

It’s a little ironic, as for the last nine years I found myself yearning for the days when victories were celebrated rather than expected. The Anonymous Don was born amidst a blip in our BSS promotion year and my desire to have my say… I’ve waited years for an actual crisis to come along, and a twelve game winless streak probably counts. Is this an actual bona fide crisis though? In terms of averages, your typical Football League club probably suffers a double digit winless run every five years or so, we’ve struck it lucky in a way that not only did we have a great start, keeping our head above water, but as veterans of the last such run of form (the one that ended in relegation…) will attest, at least this one is from October to January, not February to May – giving us time to remedy the slump. The only problem is our form hasn’t yet turned… I mention it lasting from October to January, but there’s no guarantee we will pick up a win before the month is out. When will it come? February? March???

The fact remains, despite what has happened of late, we still don’t find ourselves in a relegation fight (yet). Putting our neutral hats on and looking at the table, seventeenth place and eight points clear of the drop zone looks pretty comfortable… in fact its pretty much where I and probably most of you thought we would be at this stage. We have time to address the situation, a side that needs to remember how to win and certainly knows where the goal is should turn things around soon. You look at how predictable we’ve been of late, wonder where the change is going to come from, then remember how the pace of Jolley and Djilali so terrified defences in this division – getting those two back on a regular basis might be enough on its own. Considering those two, and the introduction to the line up of the impressive looking Mat Mitchel-King (quite literally like having a new signing…), we aren’t going to be in trouble this season, surely?

Yet looking at things in a positive light only works if you don’t simultaneously have your head stuck in the sand. We have real and immediate problems that we cannot wait until the summer to resolve. Terry Brown has admirably stuck by those players who won us promotion last term, probably fully aware that one or two might not make the grade at this level but willing to give them a chance to prove themselves. The problem is you look all over the field and find players struggling… supporters not normally known for doom-mongering are looking around and wondering where the leadership is going to come from, who is going to stand up and say ‘this run ends now’. In short people are panicking because there is reason to panic – the prize we fought so hard for in May could easily still be surrendered tamely between now and the end of the season.

We’ve probably overused phrases along the lines of ‘This is the most important x months in our history’ during the last nine years but there’s no point in denying this transfer window is massive for the club. Brown is aware he needs to bring in experienced reinforcements, and if there’s one area of management that I even mildly doubt TB it’s his mid-season acquisitions – especially in the all important loan market.

We should be encouraged that Brown is not prepared to sit around and watch us slide into trouble without putting up a fight, his previous comments relating to new arrivals reinforced yesterday by the news not only are signings expected next week, he has already named the five players who could leave the club to make room for them.

Of the five I think the only shocker is James Mulley. His injury in pre-season didn’t help, neither did inconsistent performances when he did get game time, but to be fair he has been shuffled around a bit and played out of position. The problem was Mulley was originally brought to the club as he was something of a utility man… Brown cannot justify keeping him on knowing he’s only really effective at this level in certain midfield roles, especially if he is planning on bringing in someone who can. Still Mulley remains a personal favourite of mine, he never stopped trying – still nipping around the pitch in injury time when we’re getting stuffed, trying to make something happen and at least take something from the game.

I’m also a little disappointed Charlie Ademeno is on his way, but his fitness issues were always going to be an issue… presumably Brown has his eye on someone who will hold the ball up and take the pressure off Midson. Mishull and Porter always put a great deal of effort in but were hugely inconsistent. I’m not sure we’ve seen the best of Porter, and Minshull always had the air of a particularly talented Ryman midfielder who had somehow risen above his level but found his fitness and technical ability wasn’t quite up to scratch. Ryan Jackson has the pace to hurt League Two defences but lacks the end product vital at this level.

Which leaves us eagerly awaiting news of replacements next week. We can count ourselves very lucky we have a free weekend to sort ourselves out. With three games away from home I don’t think many rational supporters will expect overnight miracles, but a couple of points here and there will go a long way to settling the nerves.

Half Term Report

So, the results of last weeks poll reveal half of you think the Dons performance during the first half of the season has been ‘average’…

I’ll save a full-on look at the season so far until after the holiday games (and with Macclesfield now off that’s one Saturday afternoon I have no excuse for not spending it writing!). Until then, I managed a few words for the Guardian Football League blog, catching up with those of us who penned initial pre-season expectations.

Interesting that I even mentioned the ‘R’ word, alluded to by those who commented on the poll. Is it even a realistic possibility? I’m not worried, but understand the paranoia all our hard work over the past nine years might be wiped out first time out. The thirty years of experience I have supporting the Dons have seen ups and downs the likes of which other clubs won’t experience in several generations worth of seasons. And relegation this year, on the back of one of our greatest victories… doesn’t that seem a Wimbledon thing to happen?

Now I’ve put that thought in your head, a quick word to say I hope all Dons fans, players, supporters, management, families, the wider football world who ‘get it’, and of course those football fans in Milton Keynes who show their contempt for the property deal at the Winkiedome by regularly not turning up in their thousands… Have a great Christmas.

Half Term Poll

Ok, there was little chance of me writing in detail about the Accrington game. I had to endure nintey minutes of it on Saturday, no chance of dissecting the gory details in my own time – especially, as you might have gathered from the recent lack of blog updates, I haven’t exactly had time on my hands of late.

The build up to Xmas means we approach the half way point of our first season back in the League, and while I ponder a longer review, but first heres a chance for you to have your say with a new poll…

Cup Week

It’s the Anonymous Don’s birthday weekend, and for the first time in three years the Dons won’t be travelling to Barrow… Not that I travelled, a day of celebration over sixteen hours on the coach for two fixtures that ultimately resulted in a solitary Wimbledon point. Slightly disappointing scheduling, as I normally would have been all over the sort of fixture that is essentially a loyalty test. Gateshead away with nothing to play for? Tick. Goalless draw at Darlington? Tick. Barrow sadly left blank unless fortunes really turn for them, or we get a fortunate (or unfortunate considering our record up there) cup draw at some point in the future.

But before Scunthorpe, we played the first of the clubs four cup games in little over a week at Swindon on Tuesday night, crashing out of the Paint Trophy on penalties. What have we learnt from our first experience of the Paint Trophy? Obviously it’s not the most prestigious of tournaments, I’ll move on to the issue of attracting people to watch a little later as this seems to be affecting all cup competitions at the moment, a problem not exclusively the most minor of first team knockout efforts.

The biggest issue we’ve had, especially as a club that for a multitude of reasons can’t enter a bona fide reserve competition at the moment, is the six player rule. A good idea in principle, you wonder whether the rules as they currently stand are too inflexible for a club such as AFC Wimbledon, especially as the competition in certain areas means we could go exceed the limit and still field a stronger squad than we would by sticking to the rules. Midfield for example, we could play Sammy Moore, Yussuff and Porter on the Saturday, then Minshull, Mulley and Wellard on the Tuesday night, and you wouldn’t say there’s a huge difference in the quality between the two selections.

Then you have to consider all the others who need game time - Fraser Franks needs a game, Bush wants to prove himself, Ademeno is looking for a start, then there’s Djilali… All of a sudden you have a game of selection musical chairs going on, and this time around when the music stopped there was one very big loser in Jack Turner. Personally I think the management team made a mistake not just playing him and working around the six player problem in other areas of the pitch, the kid is having huge problems getting game time with no one willing or able to take him on loan and no other obvious opportunities presenting themselves.

And this really is a big issue, not just for Jack personally, but for AFC Wimbledon. I mentioned in my Stevenage report I thought he made an error in judgement for the first goal - he didn’t directly cause it, the experienced centre half who should have kicked the ball out of the ground takes the majority of the blame – but the point is his eagerness to get involved was probably all down to the fact he spends most of his time on the bench itching to be out there proving himself. And that’s all well and good in a Paint Trophy game that didn’t really matter and we won anyway, that’s the point of blooding him in that type of fixture – he can make mistakes and learn from them without the pressure of a full house.

But what if Seb is unavailable for any reason, and Jack comes in for a League game? Will he be suitably prepared? If he makes a mistake, which as an inexperienced keeper he almost certainly will at some point, all of a sudden you’ll have knee jerk reactions on the terraces and message boards with people saying ‘he ain’t good enough’ and ‘we need to bring in someone on loan with a little more experience’.

More importantly, I was under the impression the Paint Trophy was supposed to be Jack’s competition, and right up to Monday lunchtime Cash was giving interviews to the press saying Jack will definitely start. Then all of a sudden the rugs been pulled from under his feet… I’m sure this is a problem other clubs have with their bench keeper, promising to give them game time in cups, for that reason wouldn’t it be simpler to change the rules to outfield players only, be it 6+4 or 5+5, and let clubs change their keeper with impunity if they so wish?

Whats the solution to the Jack Turner problem? Do we try to give him game time in the League if we’re a couple of goals up with twenty minutes to go? Wait until we’re safe and give him full games? Play him up front??? The player has shown a lot of loyalty to the club during his time here, I don’t begrudge him moaning the situation he finds himself in, and maybe its time for the club to show him a little loyalty in return?

Moving on, we face Scunthorpe tomorrow, a club many Dons fans will have fond memories of thanks to their playoff victory over the footballing subsidiary of a Buckinghamshire property development a couple of years ago. And effectively they are something of a realistic example of what we can achieve as a smaller club… Presuming the construction of our new stadium, whenever that happens, doesn’t uncover a bunker containing thirty thousand Dons fans sealed in an underground bunker by Hammam or Koppell or whoever, League One with a couple of years in the Championship here and there is probably most Wimbledon supporters pipe dream right now.

Yet even the visit of a club recently competing at Championship level probably won’t be enough to tempt more than three thousand or so to the ground tomorrow, never mind actually fill the place. This is the polar opposite to football as I remember it as a kid, where the hardcore turned up for the bread and butter of League action, but the ground filled for the FA Cup. And it’s not exactly hard to see how the most magical of cup competitions lost its shine… The introduction of the Premier League meant that far from looking forward to FA Cup ties, filling ground and coffers alike, clubs at the highest level found they were making more money from League fixtures… The influx of foreign players and coaches, while raising standards, also brought a culture not raised on knock out competition. This combined with a certain sports channel losing the rights to show games and simultaneously forgetting the competition ever existed had the knock on effect of supporters of top-level clubs seeing the FA Cup as a secondary competition.

Somehow that fed its way down to the lower levels of the game, as sure as supporters steal chants they hear at top-level games they’ll ape their Premier League counterparts. You don’t need to be a behavioural specialist to work out why – most people subconsciously copy their more successful counterparts, if only to fit in at the pub or workplace. The attitude that ‘its only the FA Cup’ has worked its way into English football and its hard to see exactly how it can be reversed.

I’ll admit it, even when we’re losing I can’t get enough of watching the Dons… due to the physical nature of the game we only get to play once, maybe twice a week if lucky, and to be honest this just isn’t enough. The majority of my spare time outside of the ongoing quest to hold on to my rapidly diminishing social life is spent either watching someone elses team on TV, or even worse, having conversations with my wife… The more games the Dons play, the more competitions they are involved in, the better.

Where did this strange modern version of ‘loyalty’ come from? Those who love their team, but will only venture out to actually watch them if certain conditions are met in terms of the competitive nature of the fixture? The weird thing is cup ties normally provide just as much entertainment as league games, if not more… Yes we’ve all seen two sides clam up with nerves on the big occasion or set out with an over cautious nature such as the Ebbsfleet game last season, but you don’t normally see League fixtures as pulsating as the replay of said game either…

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not slagging off those who genuinely can’t make it, times are hard financially – I know that more than anyone and the amount of away games I’ve made this season reflects that – and I’m not having a go at those who travel sometimes hundreds of miles to watch the Dons for whom this might be one game too many. Those people make up a moderate minority of our fanbase, but for everyone else, whats your excuse?

Depending on how full your glass is the Dons are either going through a six game winless streak or are unbeaten in three at the moment, and face a Scunthorpe side going through their own spell of indifferent form. The visitors are definitely there for the taking as long as we can get back into the same frame of mind we were in about a month ago, where we looked unbeatable. The last thing we really want is those Scunthorpe fans going back knowing they were in a game, but grateful the Dons switched off for twenty minutes allowing them to nick a couple of goals and take the tie.

The Dons squad have the opportunity to answer a few questions that have been posed of them of late, it’s a big day for most of them facing off against opposition from a higher division, seemingly none more so that Kieran Djilali. A trial spell at Scunthorpe in the summer came to nothing, and he’s been pretty open about the fact this one is personal for him. Now finally back to full fitness, Djilali’s arrival from the bench on Saturday changed the game adding much-needed impetus to the Dons play… I mentioned in the report it looked as though he dropped in from another planet, and questioned whether we would be seeing him longer than a season. Yet its one thing looking far too good for the division in one game, it’s another to turn it on week in, week out, and I’m hoping Kieran can get a run of games and goals under his belt, turning the Dons form around and easing the fears of those of us currently looking over our shoulders…

I can’t finish this preview without presumably sharing what every Dons fan is thinking right now, absolute delight that Terry Brown is back at work and will presumably be in the dugout tomorrow. Terry always seems such a positive character, but thrown into that situation once more he undoubtedly would have had some very dark moments over the last couple of weeks, so I’m delighted to hear Suzy is on the road to recovery.

Finally, those two other cup ties next week. The U18′s face Bristol Rovers in the FA Youth Cup on Tuesday, and development squad travel to Tooting on Wednesday in the SSC, good luck to both…

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The Mexican

Admission time. The bulk of this post was intended as a preview to the game, unfortunately I ran out of time, but couldn’t bear trashing several hundred words. Try if you dare to spot the seamless joins where new text meets old, and vice versa…

The visit of Barnet on Saturday allowed us the opportunity to welcome back perhaps the most unlikely of Wimbledon heroes in the shape of Lawrie Sanchez. From the goals that brought us First Division football and an FA Cup victory, through to his current role as unofficial ambassador and media cheerleader, via those uncertain last few years in the first team (the Selhurst years, when every overhit Dons pass or wild lash at goal was greeted with the exasperated cry of ‘Sanchez!’… even when the man himself was nowhere near the stadium, let alone starting lineup…).

I say unlikely hero… you’re average football fan, when quizzed to name a member of the Crazy Gang of the 80′s and 90′s, would probably plump for one of the more well-known figures – a Fashanu, Jones or Wise – characters that epitomised the attitude and aggression associated with the club at the time. Yet the Dons formula for success at the time was more complex than that, genuinely more like the Bash Street Kids, the unwanted, coming together as a unit to gatecrash the big time.

In that respect, the thoughtful and intelligent Sanchez probably summed up the side of that era just as well as his outspoken colleagues, even if his crowning moment and outspoken manner lead to conflict with at least one of the team mates previously mentioned. And it was this single-mindedness and strength of character that saw Sanchez carve out a career in the top flight and international honours with Northern Ireland, before moving into management. A spell in Ireland was a precursor to him taking on the Dons reserves, later making his name with cup exploits at Wycombe, achieving the near impossible with Northern Ireland and only blotting his copybook slightly by saving Fulham from relegation.

Which is where things started to unravel… With Fulham teetering around the relegation zone, Sanchez was fired. A four-year spell out of the game ended towards the back end of last season as he was drafted in once more to save a club from relegation, overseeing the finale of a crazy season for Barnet. But lack of resources have meant the perennial strugglers are struggling perennially once more, Sanchez seemingly lacking the nous to make use of what is available to him, and Saturdays encounter sees a Barnet side shipping goals left right and centre visiting a Dons team who touch wood seem to have found some defensive stability.

Despite his previous success, you have to doubt Sanchez managerial ability in the club game. Brilliant at coming into jobs late in a campaign and guiding teams to safety, yes, fantastic in the national arena, but the jury is definitely out on his capabilities running a Football League club on a day-to-day basis… Football changes, sometimes very quickly, and you wonder whether Sanchez is being left behind.

Which brings me neatly (cough) onto todays game (or whenever you happen to be reading this…). Sanchez side certainly showed they aren’t lacking in the physical side, and showed a good level of commitment, which is probably the bare minimum you can ask of a team at this level. Interesting how he elected to ignore the very warm reception he received from the Dons fans before the game, presumably slightly paranoid at lapping up the adulation in front of the visiting supporters, but surely he isn’t under so much pressure he wouldn’t dare risk criticism for a quick wave?

Barnet were assisted by a very disjointed looking Dons side, who never really looked like building up a head of steam in the first period, and ultimately got what they deserved by trailing going into the break even if the goal came about in unfortunate circumstances. More than a hint of offside in the buildup, and in trying to recover the situation a stretched Dons defence completely lost their shape, leading to an event I personally feared all week. It’s not the fact he scored a preventable goal in front of the Tempest, it’s not that he predictably milked his big moment by antagonizing the Dons fans… whats frustrating me is that there are probably two dozen franchise customers who’ll go to bed tonight creaming themselves at the thought of one of their rejects scoring against us. Grrrr. Another reason why we can NEVER play them… it’ll probably be enough to turned old mild-mannered Anonymous Don homicidal.

Commentary of the game can’t go without mentioning the performance of the referee. I don’t normally mention them because, well, whats the point? They tend to be poor week in week out, and most weeks we end up watching two sides trying to engineer some kind of spectacle around some chump in black whistling almost at random. The guy we had today took incompetence to a whole new level however… there were instances where Dons players were hauled down, and we all expected a whistle that never came, but that was probably a blessing compared to the times he did blow, then give it entirely the wrong way. I’m wondering now why it surprised me, arriving at the ground to find one of his assistants was one Ronald Ganfield… the guy was incompetent at Ryman level, that he is running the line in the Football League is symptomatic of the ongoing problems facing the game official-wise.

We can only hope the return of TB inspires a bit of a reaction among the squad, although the half time introduction of James Mulley made the difference and inspired a much better second half showing playing… at left back? Whatever the reasons for his introduction, be it injury to Johnson or a piece of tactical inspiration from Cash, but it worked! I feel the side misses James Mulley, such a positive player, and even though he looked slightly awkward at times over on the ‘wrong’ flank, he really turned things round going forward.

Sometimes it just takes the introduction of one player in a positive frame of mind to turn a game, fortunately the Dons had two… Kieran Djilali came on around the hour mark, and for ten minutes or so the Barnet players just didn’t know how to deal with him. It was almost as if he dropped in from anther planet as far as they were concerned… which is partly true, I know Crystal Palace supporters were disappointed he couldn’t stay with them, and you wonder when he finally settles just how long he’s going to be with us – he looks a cut above this division.

A smartly taken Sammy Moore goal (followed by a not so smartly taken celebration) seemed to have turned the game, but the Dons weren’t able to convert the change in momentum into a winner, and in the end some shaky defending meant I was quite happy to see the game peter out for a draw.

A point is a point, que sera (hang on, that’s not until next week…), I’m personaly quite glad we have a couple of games in the cups, a change is as good as a rest (no it’s not, but a rest isn’t an option at the moment, unless we pray for some early snow…). A few squad players putting some pressure on the first teamers at Swindon might stir a one or two people into getting back to their early season form (Rashid Yussuff, we’re looking at you).

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The Dangers Of The FA Cup First Round Draw

Still chipper following an unexpected point ground out at Shrewsbury the day before, Dons fans settled down on Sunday lunchtime for the FA Cup First Round draw. Thanks to years of slogging our way through qualifying rounds the draw still has an element of novelty about it, despite this being the first time in many a year we actually find ourselves entering at this stage of the competition. League Two clubs seldom have runs as such… the most any of us could hope for is a couple of easy ties against plucky non-leaguers at home, before a money spinning trip to one of the big boys in the Third Round.

And yet the sheer nature of the draw means that despite the presence of your Redbridge’s and your AFC Totten’s, it was just as likely we’ll pull out a decent League One club away from home – with Terry Brown’s Dons team not exactly famed for being cup battlers, this could have seen us mentally eliminate ourselves two weeks before we’ve even played (kind of like how I’m feeling right now about the JPT…). Plus there’s always the danger of a repeat performance of last years Second Round draw…

What you sometimes forget is just how long it takes for two former players or occasional minor celebrities to pull eighty balls from a clear plastic container – and I’m not just talking about the preamble here. The physical act of putting ones hand in, swirling it around, before removing a ball before holding it up for the world to see takes long enough as it is, add in Jim Rosenthal’s occasional dramatic pause after losing track of his notes, on top of knowing balls three and twenty-six are still in the hat… the process is agonizing.

And all the while those potential deal breakers are waiting for you. After our bizarre League Cup encounter back in July I’m sure I wasn’t alone in breathing a sigh of relief when Crawley came out early. After that, every home team drawn resulted in me loudly expressing to my bemused wife whether or not I desired a trip there… Luton (No), Cambridge (Yes), Morecambe (No), Swindon (No), Redbridge (Yes! Yes! Yes!… Awww…..).

It took approximately five minutes of this until the Buckinghamshire Supermarket Enabling Development came out of the hat, a moment of sheer panic as Matt Hanlon groped around before bringing out a ball, holding it up to the camera… blinking through the sweat I couldn’t see the number at first, but there it was, the one we all hoped it would be - anyone but our ball…

Which meant we could relax for the remainder of the draw, ball three eventually being drawn at home (thanks Keith Houchin) to…. Scunthorpe United. It could be worse, it’s by no means glamorous (and to be fair there were probably only three teams in the draw that could have inspired such a description) but it certainly will be interesting, and isn’t completely unwinnable.

In fact it should be a decent game. Scunthorpe have had a little difficulty finding their feet back in League One in only winning three games to date, but have also secured a point against promotion favourites such as Charlton, Sheffield United and Huddersfield along the way. A decent challenge for the Dons, who after halting our three game, twelve goal losing streak will be looking to take a bit of form into the game.

The bigger problem the board might have is tempting a decent crowd along. The modern phenomenon of treating even FA Cup ties as second class fixtures means a slashing of ticket prices might be required to even come close to filling the ground. I know the Dons aren’t the only club to suffer from reduced attendance for cup ties, but with the fixture sandwiched by important league games here’s hoping the powers that be can come up with a way of ensuring the fixture is played out in front of a good crowd and decent atmosphere.

By the way, if we do somehow pull of a shock, it’ll be balls twenty-eight and thirty-three you’ll be praying are kept apart in two weeks time…

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Terry Brown

I was going to write a piece on our failings over the last three games or so -  in fact I got half way through – but today’s news has really taken my desire out of it. Plus I wouldn’t have thought many of you really wanted to read my ponderings on our squad when the man who built it all is otherwise engaged caring for his wife and family. I’m not going to insult anyone with clichés - I’m sure nobody needs to be reminded just where football falls in life’s great priority list.

What I will say is football obviously means a lot to Terry Brown, and I sincerely hope when Suzy recovers from her operation he gets the opportunity to return to doing what he loves. Until then, everything is on hold as far as I’m concerned… Cash and Bassey will put eleven blokes on the pitch, we’ll win some and we’ll lose some, we’re not going down and we’re not going up.

We’re all with you, Terry.

 

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