It felt strange walking out of the ground following a 0-1 defeat and feeling very positive about the performance, but that’s what happened following this game. I know going into the game I felt perhaps the performance against Luton had been a one-off. In the days before the game, deep in the back of my consciousness I had tried to keep dark thoughts of a heavy home defeat at bay.
And yet as I stumbled out of the ground wondering how on earth we lost that game, encountering Oxford fans pinching themselves that they got away with the three points, it suddenly struck me that outside of our little world, other clubs actually look at coming to Kingsmeadow as a tough place to come. We spend much of our time reminding each other that we won’t be putting together a serious challenge this year that perhaps sometimes we forget that.
The reason we took nothing from this game had nothing to do with Oxford being a much better side than us. In fact for long periods of this game they looked quite ordinary. We lost because we showed Oxford too much respect in the first half, and failed to take our chances in the second. While I certainly wouldn’t want to criticise Terry or the players after our great start, I would hope when Wrexham, Mansfield and Cambridge come to town we won’t wait until we are a goal behind until we take the initiative to put pressure on the opposition.
In fact the only aspect of this game that made me think Oxford looked potential champions was the manner in which they rode their luck. They were strong and well organised, yet today they took the points despite not really looking as though they deserved to. You know, like we did last term…
Its annoying looking back on the first half, with the power of hindsight, that we showed Oxford so much respect that ultimately they didn’t really deserve. The first half followed a pattern where Oxford pushed forward without ever showing enough guile to break down the Dons defence, but often enough to worry regular Dons watchers that any mistakes by their team could lead to problems.
It was Wimbledon who created the games first decent chance… well, sort of. A sortie down the right saw the ball break to Conroy, who literally dumped a high ball into the box. Misjudged completely by an Oxford man, it broke to Luke Moore who had space and time but in such a manner the Dons man had to hit it straight away, unfortunately looping the ball over the bar.
Lets not dress this up as something it wasn’t by the way. I’m not mentioning many first half chances, because there wasn’t really that many of them. It must have been a shocking half for any neutrals that bothered getting tickets, as Oxford tried to batter Wimbledon into submission, only for the Dons defence to bang it clear to Kedwell, who had little support to make any decent use of the ball. It was literally all long balls and flicks to nowhere.
Oxford managed a couple of scares just before half time. A deep corner from the left floated over everyone, before being knocked back over Pullen, headed away from under his own bar by Sam Hatton, and somehow scrambled clear. Then a ball played in from the right was met by a flicked header from Adam Chapman that just dropped wide of Jamie Pullen’s right post.
Wimbledon looked a lot more positive at the start of the second half, yet found themselves a goal down just five minutes in. Some poor defending from Jay Conroy allowed Oxford in, as he appeared to leave the ball for an unsuspecting Brett Johnson only for an Oxford man to steal the ball and sweep it right, and Damian Batt’s brilliant cross knocked in along the six yard box was turned into the far corner by the unfortunate Conroy.
Jay Conroy certainly didn’t deserve this after his decent start to the season, and the errors that started and finished the move for Oxfords goal were out of character. You can see why Brown favours him over Luke Garrard. Conroy possesses qualities you wouldn’t normally expect of a fullback, especially his ability in the air. Apparently Jay filled in well at centre half last week after Lorraine and Judge were injured, and by all accounts he did very well. Coupled with his ability going forward, perhaps not of the same quality as Chris Hussey but we certainly don’t look as unbalanced as we did last year when every positive move seemed to come from the left.
Wimbledon didn’t respond to going behind immediately, in fact the game followed its well worn pattern until around the hour mark. Jay Conroy moved forwards with the ball looking for a pass in midfield, but the Oxford midfield backed off him allowing him to fire a low shot that was straight at Ryan Clarke, yet the Oxford keeper did well not to spill the ball with Dons players lurking.
Shortly after Derek Duncan fired in a shot that was immediately blocked, however the ball looped into the air dangerously. Kedwell beat Clarke to the dropping ball but the Dons top scorer could only stab the ball into the keepers arms. With Hussey and Conroy finally getting into the game down their respective flanks, Wimbledon looked threatening.
Oxford should have been reduced to ten men on 68 minutes after a great ball to Lewis Taylor on the right saw him flick the ball past Oxford fullback Kevin Sandwith. However Sandwith cut Taylor down with a shocking challenge that caught the Dons man just above the knee. After extensive treatment Taylor was able to continue, yet the referee determined the challenge only warranted a yellow card.
True, the referees inconsistency had been working both ways until this point (especially his insistence that any 50/50 aerial challenge should be blown for backing in, something that cost the Dons a few free kicks in the first half but almost certainly prevented Paul Lorraine giving away a penalty after a spot of climbing…), and you could say this made amends for a decision made in the Salisbury game when Jon Main should have seen red. But decisions don’t balance themselves out for long, and Wimbledon were on the wrong end of a poor decision minutes later.
It happened when the breakthrough looked like it had come for the Dons on 69 minutes, as Paul Lorraine found himself upfield following a corner and seemed about to pull the trigger to level the scores before finding himself bundled to the floor by Batt. The Oxford man seemed certain to be shown a red card, only for the referee to decide a yellow card would be a more appropriate punishment.
Not only this but the official spent several minutes sorting this out (fortunately remembering to stop his watch… although more on this later…), including ensuring no Oxford player had gained a head-start in encroaching into the box (down to the last inch…). While all this was going on, Danny Kedwell was waiting with ball on penalty spot, presumably changing his mind several times.
After such a long wait it may have been sensible to re-spot the ball and compose himself once more, instead Kedwell’s tame right foot effort was easily kept out by Clarke. Kedwell has had to carry the load of goalscoring expectation so far with Jon Mains loss of form, and maybe this was a big game to far for the man who normally puts in his best work while acting as a foil for his strike partner. A few goals for Main, or the return to match fitness of new addition Ross Montague will take some of the pressure off Kedwell once more, but until then we are relying on our midfield to help him out a little.
While Wimbledon pushed forward, Oxford resorted to picking them off on the break. Pullen had to get down and smother a shot after an Oxford man had muscled past the Dons defence too easily. But in reality it was all Wimbledon. A Hatton deep cross found Danny Kedwell free at the far post but it was just too deep to give the big striker a chance to make up for his previous miss, floating the ball to the keeper from a tight angle.
By this stage Conroy had been sacrificed for Ricky Wellard (with same Hatton moving to right back). Wellard was to spurn a couple of chances that could have put Wimbledon back into the game. However the youngster has looked sharp in all other aspects of his game (except finishing!), and we may well see him start on Monday against Grays.
The first came when Hatton (who had his best game yet this season in midfield) crossed only for Wellard, with the goal at his mercy, to allow the ball to slide of his head. The ball continued to the far post where Main was lurking, the striker couldn’t make proper contact but was offside anyway.
Then, the penalty aside, came Wimbledon’s best chance. A fantastic deep cross from Hussey on the left was met by Kedwell, heading back across goal for Wellard who once again froze, the ball seemed like it hit him and bounced into Clarke’s arms. I have faith that very soon Wellard is going to break his scoring duck by belting one in from thirty yards in a manner that will make Luke Moore’s effort against Salisbury look like a tap in by comparison. Until then, maybe Terry might like to put him on the six yard line, point him towards goal, and have him belt the ball in the net all day until it becomes second nature.
This was Wimbledon’s last chance, although Oxford had a couple of what looked like sitters as they exploited gaps in the Dons defence. Paul Lorraine looked like he had been seriously injured in stoppage time as Jamie Pullen bravely headed a through ball clear, colliding with his centre half.
As I don’t tend to report on incidents like ‘long ball by the keeper, headed clear by Lorraine’ it might not seem like he does a lot by reading my reports, except maybe for giving away penalties and occasionally pushing forward for corners, but I would just like to add now what an immense contribution Lorraine makes. That’s taking nothing away from his defensive partner Brett Johnson, and it was their solid display all afternoon that kept Oxford at bay.
The game didn’t actually finish until close to five, as the referee fortunately added the time it took for Lorraine to be treated to the six he already added on, which mainly came from him stopping his watch to talk to someone every time a foul took place. Of course, this also meant that he blew the whistle as soon as time ran out, which for Wimbledon was just as Chris Hussey was about to play a ball in from the left. Oh well…
Which brings me back to the start. A moment of intense frustration as the whistle blew passed almost immediately, and I could appreciate the performance the boys put in. They deserved the ovation given by the majority of the crowd at the end, and if the boys can put in a performance half as good as this on Monday at Grays we won’t have any problems.
Oh, and I probably don’t need to lose any sleep over heavy home defeats anymore…