This game wasn’t really men against boys… perhaps boys and some men against boys. Although Fulham keeper Pascal Zuberbuhler, with experience of World Cups and Euro Championships under his belt, probably pushed the average up a few years. However, Zubi was the only recognizable name on the field… at least as far as Fulham were concerned.
Wimbledon had two men who were in the last chance saloon as far as a contract is concerned. Big Callum Willock actually turned up for training on Monday, so was rewarded with an hour tonight to show what he can do. Now we all know what I think about Sebb Brown, who was due for a half hour turnout, so in a completely one off feature called SebbWatch I decided to record his every involvement in the game. I had the impression that Brown was as an accident prone goalkeeper who had somehow bumbled through three trial appearances without making an error that lead to a goal being conceded.
But Terry, and presumably his goalkeeping adviser (Still Paul Priddy?) seemed content enough to give him another chance tonight, and it only required an accident free evenings work to gain a contract via the back door. Perhaps there was something I was missing, something he had shown plenty of in training but for some reason just hadn’t translated itself during his match appearances?
Of course an Anonymous Don match report wouldn’t be complete without an update on my own personal circumstances, and I won’t disappoint. To be honest it had been a completely normal day with the exception of lunch time when I somehow snapped the filling on my front tooth while biting into a plum at lunch. A quick call to the dentist revealed that not only do I have to spend £££’s getting it fixed, but I have to wait until the 6th August until I can get it done.
The problem is, I am currently growing out my wavy hair, and it doesn’t always work. Plus I’m going through a ‘chubby phase’. Then there’s my beloved beard. And I wear clothes that look like they have been picked out at random from Oxfam (but are surprisingly expensive…). None of these on their own would be a problem, but the combination of all of them together, plus the chipped tooth, makes me look… how can I put this? Well, on a bad day I could probably pass for a Bromley fan…
The local midges know a pikey when they see one, and made a bee-line for me as soon as I entered the ground, before somehow realising their mistake and leaving me alone. Either that or I mistook flykiller spray for my deodorant… They did spend a great deal of time hovering in the lights in front of the John Smith Stand, almost hypnotising really, if there hadn’t been a quite decent football game going on beyond them.
Fulham’s young side were eager to keep the ball on the deck and play to their strengths, whereas Wimbledon played a hybrid game to begin with, working the ball through midfield with some excellent movement, but also looking to make use of Willock’s aerial ability. With an excellent touch for a big guy, Willocks was to be a thorn in Fulham’s side from the off. He was to create the Dons first opening on ten minutes, some nifty footwork taking him inside a defender before a left footed finish which was tame at best, flying harmlessly into Zuberbuhlers arms.
At this stage the young Fulham were already on the back foot, and only fashioned their first chance of sorts approximately fifteen minutes in when their number 6 (sorry, no names again tonight for the Fulham boys…) let fly from distance, curling harmlessly well over the bar. If Fulham thought this was a rangefinder that would help lever them back in the game, they were mistaken only minutes later as Wimbledon won a corner on the right. Chris Hussey trotted over to take, and fed the ball to Sam Hatton, level with the edge of the area. The change of angle fooled Fulham, and Hatton curled an immaculate ball onto Willock’s head, the big man rising unchallenged to bury his header.
So far so good. It served for a mini-fightback from Fulham, their striker no. 9 found himself clear in the box, blinked, and found Jamie Pullen on top of him. The Dons stopper spread himself well to deny the panic stricken finish that followed. A couple of minutes later their number 10 found himself clear in the right channel, only to direct his shot wide at the near post. Willock showed his aerial strength to divert a clearance into the path of Lewis Taylor, twenty yards out and to the right of goal. His early shot was a good idea and firmly hit, but sadly too close to the Fulham keeper who saved easily. Still a great move and a great example of the strength Willock has, although interestingly he sometimes appeared to hold a lot back in challenges – perhaps as a response to referees calling fouls against him in the past? As far as niggly fouls were concerned in this game, it was Fulham who were giving them away left, right and centre – and usually down to their inability to control Willock.
After some more delightful football from the Dons, Taylor was released down the right and his tantalizing cross just evaded Ricky Wellard who seemed destined to score and was millimetres away from making contact. The Dons defence had remained alert throughout this spell of dominance, until of all people Ben Judge tried to do a little too much and the Fulham 10 robbed him, before racing away down the right channel. Pullen was alert to this, and shut the chance down, again forcing a striker into snatching at an effort which he easily blocked.
Yet more build up work from that man Willock created a chance for Gregory, who struck a low shot from twenty yards that took a deflection before nestling in the left corner. I haven’t really said much about Gregory, however that’s probably more for what he hasn’t done than what he has. Holding the midfield together has been a problem position for us, even last season where Adjei seemed likely to win the spot by default, despite gifting the ball to the opposition far too often. Steven Gregory made that mistake against Wycombe, but has quietly got on with his job since then, winning the ball, moving it on without fuss, and generally allowing more attacking minded colleagues to get on with it.
An incident just before half time, led to a Fulham chance, a cross came over which was volleyed into the ground by their 14, before the number 10 stabbed a foot at it sending the ball just over. What was important was how the chance came about. A ball into the right corner was a 50/50 between Hussey and his man, in fact Chris even looked a slight favourite if he had just attacked the ball and sent it safely into the stands. He seemed reluctant to do so, instead trying to get himself into a position to block the cross (which at best would have given them a corner). Hussy’s decision making in defensive situations draw attention away from his obvious talent going forward.
It was certainly something I dwelt upon at half-time, as I decided where to stand in the second half. I realised it would be my last chance to stand on the Tempest for a good while, so took up position there. I only lasted five minutes, there wasn’t the same atmosphere you get on a matchday anyway, and I needed my elevated position at the newly raised rear of the John Smith terrace to view the game. Its strange how I always seem to be drawn to that position, ironically a similar view to the one I had when I first watched a Wimbledon team at Plough Lane.
Similar to the first, Willock had the first decent chance of the second half, getting under another great Hatton cross and heading over. This was the only chance in a scrappy opening spell before the substitution. Among those heading off was Willock, given a few cheers of encouragement by some supporters. I had so much hope when planning this article. Would Willock prove to be a decent shout for a start against Luton? How did he compare with Kedwell? Sadly, this was to be the last we will see of him in a Dons shirt… for now at least. I really think Terry knew he had no chance of getting Callum for the money he was offering.
Put yourself in Willocks shoes. He is a career footballer. So he would have been used to earning a certain amount of money. If you had a job on, say, £800 per week, and your bills were £600 p/w, would you be satisfied to take a job for £500 p/w which offered no guarantee of long term security? Or would you take your chances and hold out for a deal that will pay your bills? I have complete sympathy with Willock, in fact judging by Terry’s insistence on him training on Monday and playing last night, perhaps he is entitled to feel we have fucked him around a little bit?
At the same time Jamie Pullen made way for another triallist in a make or break situation. You will have read that I have already lost patience with Sebb Brown. I considered him a goalkeeper capable of making mistakes, albeit one who hadn’t actually made one yet. This being Browns fourth pre-season appearance, I began to doubt myself in the run-up to the game, so decided to pay special attention to him for the last half hour, or SebbWatch as I decided to call it. I’ll come to that at the end of the report…
Main and Kedwell took some time to get into their stride, despite the creative influence of both Godfrey and Moore behind them. If anything they were a bit too keen, Main especially finding himself caught offside all too often. It was only twenty minutes before the end that the Dons really looked like adding to their lead. Two identical chances came in quick succession. Crosses from the right were headed away but only to Dons players lurking on the edge of the box. Firstly Main caught his volley sweetly but sent the ball wide of the left post. Next Gregory hit one firm and low but pretty close to Zuberbuhler, still the fierceness caused the Swiss keeper to require two attempts at collecting .
Into the last ten minutes, and Kedwell drew plaudits including from hi manager after a single touch from a tricky dropping ball saw him turn away from nearby Fulham men, before sending his drive just wide of the near post. This was to be Wimbledon’s last clear cut chance, however they kept the pressure up to the last minute, closing out a well earned victory.
Back down the other end for a review of the last half hour from Sebb Browns perspective, and to be honest, he didn’t have much to do. I was planning on picking out a few dodgy kicks, but they were more than made up for by some excellent distribution, especially from ground kicks. And when he was called on, from a dangerous deep cross, he cleared out an onrushing forward and defender to punch well and far from danger, before the referee blew for a Dons free-kick.
In fact it seemed like he could have earned himself a contract almost by default, when with the last action of the game that error he had been threatening to make came along at the worst possible moment. A poor Fulham effort was bobbling wide, though Brown attempted to collect anyway. Unfortunately he never quite got hold of it, managing to scoop it into the path of a Fulham striker to tuck into the empty net.
Now I’ll never hide the fact I thought it would have been a bad decision to give him a contract, but my heart went out to him at that moment. To produce such an error, wiping out all the good effort he must have put in during training sessions, and to see his dream taken from him ten seconds from the end of his trial period… well you wouldn’t wish that on anyone.
If he had earned that contract he would have had time, away from the spotlight, to work on his game. He could have stepped up when required and rammed the criticism from the likes of me back down our throats. Still, it will be correct to send him on his way now, give him a good reference and hopes he finds a route back via a Ryman League club perhaps…
As the last pre-season game at Kingsmeadow passed into the night, another great performance will raise spirits prior to the Luton game. However right now Terry must be pondering how he found himself back at the beginning as far as the search for a target man and back up keeper are concerned. One positive is at least this time he appears content to wait for the right men, even if this may mean we start the season without them.