Oh the joy of a rainy day out in Farnborough! On arrival at Surbiton station I found that during the month of August you can get a weekend return to anywhere on the South West Trains network for just a tenner. I wonder which other towns we could have been playing in today for little more than the cost of my fare to Farnborough. A trip to Weymouth perhaps.
At least the close proximity of a CCL club and a Southern Premier side meant an opportunity for the club to stagger kick off times, a thoughtful gesture taken advantage of by approximately fifty or so Wombles who saw the Reserves take apart Cove 4-0. Enough on that now, I will write more once further identification of players has taken place – I only recognised Jack Turner, and thought I recognised Jack Stafford.
Then the walk down the road to Cherrywood Road, home of Farnborough FC. Arriving there early I had the chance to take a good look around the place. You may remember me speaking of Farnboroughs pre-season schedule in my update on Friday, and how they seem to have gone out of their way to bring in opposition from a higher level, or perhaps more accurately of as higher status as possible. Their stadium has improved greatly in previous years, and yet for each rotating advertising hoarding there is a cracked piece of concrete to trip on. And what is the use of an electronic scoreboard when your stand roof leaks when it rains?
One end of Cherrywood Road is closed off as a new grandstand, the Prospect Road End, rises from the mud. The steelwork is now up, which shows how much the stand will dominate – like the terrace at Weston, it seems out of place. Farnborough are rightly proud of it, yet it seems the foundations for such a grand project have not yet been laid. A Football League quality stand is rising in front of a team that hasn’t yet found its way out of the Southern League, and its like a Gok makeover when what is really required is a soul transplant. Farnborough have money now – but where will they be in ten years time? Crying out for investment from another benevolent backer, as those shiny new seats crack and split.
The matchday programme was bright and glossy, and yet contained very little worth reading. Their chairman Simon Hollis wrote of how AFC Wimbledon give belief to clubs like theirs, but I can’t help feeling taking our fast rise as inspiration is missing the point. We have risen to where we are today not simply by throwing money at it, but by paying what we can afford. Next season our wage bill will be average compared to some sides. Yet through good management we will continue to rise. We will regain what has been taken from us. And when we have risen as far as we can, we will inevitably fall. But we will do so without debt.
As for the game itself… well this wasn’t quite the full strength side Farnborough were expecting. Terry Brown has a strong hand, he knows Luton have a strong hand as well. He declined the chance to show his cards just yet, including Gregory, Moore and Rapson (who we must now consider as in contention for Luton) in the only game this season we will be able to use the element of surprise on one of the big clubs.
The first note I made, several minute into the game, was ‘Ooh! Squad numbers and names on shirts!’. I think there is definitely a side of my mind that wishes to remain traditional, especially as far as 1-11 on the back of shirts is concerned. But every year I see something new and shiny, and another part of my brain momentarily takes over. It’s the same part that suddenly pops into my head every now and then with suggestions such as ‘Let’s watch Big Brother tonight!’. Squad number are a sign we have reached a certain level in the pyramid and therefore should be warmly welcomed, so long as none of you rush out and do one of the following – a) Get the letter ‘I’, the number ‘8’ with a certain club/player underneath (even if it’s Them); b) Get the word ‘Conference’ and the numbers ’09’ (The Conference is our new home for the time being; for those of you who live here, would you wear an ‘I Heart London’ t-shirt? Exactly…) c) have your own real-life surname with no number/your favourite positions number (unless your surname is your actual nickname…). None of the above really apply if your under fourteen years old, although if you’re thirteen you really are getting a little old for that kind of behaviour.
Needless to say the first played I noticed it on was Danny Kedwell, and Kedwell 9 looks good on him. I really should do some kind of insightful commentary on who wore which numbers, but to be honest I didn’t notice who was wearing what. Perhaps the club might like to publish them? The first half was well and truly all Wimbledon despite a few half chances either way. The first effort of note came Wimbledon’s way on seven minutes, Jon Main found space on the right flank and sent a teasing cross that evaded the big men at the near post. Ricky Wellard was attacking the far post, and perhaps wasn’t expecting the ball to reach him, when it did he could only tamely sidefoot at the keeper when a foot either side would have seen him score.
Farnborough didn’t offer much during the half, when they did it was from set pieces, the best of which saw King head straight into Jamie Pullens arms from a corner. It seemed only a matter of time before Wimbledon took the lead, and Wellard missed another great opportunity on twenty minutes. Chris Hussey picked up the ball on the half way line, shrugged off a physical challenge before getting into his stride down the left wing. He had the beating of Farnboroughs right back all half, and this time cut inside before drilling low into the box, Wellard only able to make minimal contact to divert the ball wide.
Some thought on Wellard. Some supporters seem to think that our year long chase for him, as well as the knowledge we paid a supposed twenty thousand pounds on him and Steven Gregory combined, means he should be the finished article. I know he has received some criticism in certain quarters, which baffles me as he hasn’t even featured in a competitive game for us. Perhaps it would have been better for the player if he had the chance to join us last year, to experience that intermediate step between the Ryman and the Conference. Yet he was too good for the Ryman, and he will be good enough for the Conference – just he needs time to get up to speed with the game at this level, which lets not forget, is a position that most of our players find themselves in.
I even read one comment from someone who was of the opinion that, as Wellard is 22, he would never improve to Conference standard. When I had finished laughing, I thought of examples of weakness in Wellard’s game. He misses chances, and he occasionally gives the ball away even when under no pressure. What causes these errors? Certainly not a lack of technique, I don’t think I have seen him lose possession by being unable to control the ball yet. If anything he only needs to sharpen up his concentration, a mental improvement a player of any age should be able to achieve but especially a young guy like him. He just needs to pick that pass out earlier, perhaps trust his instinct a little more; for example to take a gamble on the player in front of him missing the ball.
I probably wouldn’t pick Wellard above Godfrey or Moore at the top of the diamond right now. In fact he could miss out completely for the first squad, although I would expect him to be involved against the likes of Eastbourne and Salisbury and anticipate Terry will look to shuffle the pack a little, especially in midfield, for those games. But I’ll write more about what I think our strongest side will be closer to the big kick-off.
Wimbledon finally took the lead, again after a great cross from the left flank. This time it was Derek Duncan in plenty of space following a Hussey short corner. Normally I don’t like short corners, I feel the likes of Hussey and Godfrey have the ability to whip in dangerous balls directly from the flag. Perhaps Wimbledon have overused this tactic to little effect in the last couple of years, but when the opposition is dozing it makes sense to throw them off mentally by changing the angle. Sam Hatton showed last week by delivering a great ball over for Willock, and yesterday it was Duncan who lofted over for Johnson to nod in at the far post, all alone after Farnborough attempted to push out for offside way too late.
A deserved lead for the Dons, and one that they seemed destined to stretch before the half was over. First though, Farnborough attempted to get straight back into the game with a dangerous ball into the box that Pullen did brilliantly to punch clear. Sadly a couple of Farnborough players seemed to take exception to Pullen, perhaps after something he said. A scuffle broke out with ‘pushes’ being thrown, something that lead to Pullen being barracked by the (ahem) ‘overcompetitive’ Farnborough fans. Perhaps the Zammaretto League are giving out bonus points for performances in friendly games as a twisted response to The EPL’s ‘Game 39’?
Anyway, there was something quite unsettling about the Farnborough fans treatment of Pullen, I couldn’t quite hear it myself (during the first half anyway…), and only put my finger on the problem later in the half when I overheard a female Wimbledon fan complaining to her husband of the homophobic chanting aimed at Jamie. It stuck in my mind a great deal especially after reading this – http://www.twohundredpercent.net/?p=1709 – and I realised, when was the last time you heard a large group of supporters chanting homophobic abuse at a player? Back in the Premiership days surely, it certainly hasn’t happened during our time at Kingsmeadow, where signs warn us every time we enter the stadium that racist and homophobic remarks will not be tolerated.
At Kingsmeadow this behaviour would have lead to mass ejections and probably some arrests, yet at Farnborough – nothing. Perhaps it was down to the bloke who appeared to be their chief steward – a big fat ginger haired guy – seemed to busy wandering around the stadium looking self important (although I have since found out he wasn’t actually a bloke after all.. which sent a huge shudder down my spine…). I suppose no matter how far Farnborough progress there will always be something of the Rymans about them, if you know what I mean… after all money doesn’t buy class…
Back to the game, and Duncan earned himself a second assist of the day, a firmly hit cross that was too close to the keeper. Yet the Farnborough custodian only managed to tip it upwards, the ball continuing on its path to Lewis Taylor who calmly let the ball bounce before thumping it high into the empty net from a narrow angle. It seemed unlikely this would be the Dons final goal of the afternoon. Indeed later in the half Hussey came close from a freekick from twenty yards in the right channel, which drifted just wide of the left post. At some point after that ‘Someone’ hit the woodwork, yet as they chose to do so while I took a bathroom break, their effort will go unrewarded as far as praise from this particular blogger goes. Then just before halftime Hussey – the standout player for Wimbledon in the first half – hit a shot goalbound that was deflected just wide.
Of course, Wimbledon looked nowhere near as impressive in the second half, and Farnborough took advantage by creating a few chances of their own, the best of which saw a freekick lifted over the bar. Ten minutes in and Wimbledon were attacking again, a brilliant Hussey interception lead to him storming down the left, feeding Jon Main who saw his shot saved by the keeper, and fly out for a corner. Brett Johnson almost added to his tally with a flicked header that drifted wide.
I know a couple of people have mentioned Jon Mains lack of goals this pre-season. I also have seen people defend Main by bringing up his fantastic start to last season and eventual 34 goal tally. In my opinion I haven’t seen anything from Jon Main that should cause us any concern. Main had been finding chances easy to come, yet hasn’t been putting them away – a good problem for a striker to have. During his long drought at the end of last term, Main wasn’t even working opportunities to miss. Yes, it does to some effect rely on the sort of service he is receiving, yet he can’t get balls fed into him if he isn’t making the right kind of runs. All forwards go through that kind of spell, and perhaps it wasn’t a great time to go through a drought; as our memory of him last season isn’t of the unstoppable goalscorer. Its of a player who had run out of ideas, and found himself marked out of games.
There are better strikers in the Conference than Jon Main, but he looks happy at the moment and happy strikers score goals. I personally believe there is no chance of him reaching the thirty goal mark again, even scoring twenty would be a brilliant achievement, but believe me when I say any side that doesn’t take the threat of Jon Main seriously next season will be severely punished.
I found myself sitting in front of a number of Farnborough fans in the second half who annoyed me slightly with their Farnborough centred opinion of the game. This is normally why I try to stand well away from visiting supporters at matches, and at that moment I realised that was the last time I would find myself in close proximity to our opposition for the foreseeable future. A lot of people point to a lack of segregation in the ground as a positive to watching non-league football, but speaking personally I hate finding a prime location to watch the game only to find it ruined by the local gobby twat, who delights in constantly displaying his (lack of) knowledge to all around him, as loudly as possible… Although regular readers will know I have a poor opinion of some of the so called Dons supporters who stand around me in the John Smiths Stand. I can understand why so many who missed out on the Tempest after it sold out are not happy having to come into the JSS though…
Around the hour mark, it started to rain… heavily. by this stage the closest Farnborough had come had been a series of corners that Wimbledon had repelled quite easily. That was until around twenty minutes to go, when a Dons defender (it may have been Johnson) slipped under no pressure, allowing a Farnborough man a clear run on goal, squeezing it under Pullen and into the net. Slightly unfortunate, and I don’t buy Steve King’s comments after the game that they were unfortunate not to get anything out of the game – in fact they were fortunate enough to be gifted the chance to start with.
The conditions played their part again when Pullen slipped while taking a goal kick, the ball falling straight to a Farnborough man who perhaps didn’t realise he had so much time and sidefooted wide. It was at this point, with around a quarter of an hour to go, that Jon Main made way for IOM triallist Callum Morrissey. Not long to make an impression, but the big man put himself about a bit, and certainly didn’t look out of his depth. I’m sure the club will want to take a further look at him, perhaps against NGU.
It remained largely Farnborough until the end without them really threatening an equaliser. Morrissey had an effort from a corner comfortably saved, until the Dons last chance – in the last minute. Kennedy Adjei, who had performed quietly and efficiently all afternoon, sent Taylor away down the left. He slid a ball into the box which bobbled around a bit, creating a scramble, Kedwell and Morrissey had a couple of stabs at it, but the ball was cleared to safety.
Shortly after the whistle blew. Perhaps Terry will be disappointed by the way the side just seemed to switch off during the second half, yet he must be impressed by the manner they took apart a decent Southern Premier side in the first. I would imagine the performance of Chris Hussey, by a long way the man of the match, would have planted a few thoughts into his mind. Yet question marks still remain over his ability to actually defend. I suppose it really depends on how Terry anticipates Luton lining up.
So then… We have now completed out pre-season schedule, NGU excepted. Next week its for real… I just hope we are ready…