I think we were a little spoiled by our early home form. We got used to certain teams with huge budgets turning up at Kingsmeadow and not walking away with the three expected points. Well, except Oxford, but even they knew they had been in a fight. Then, at the start of October, bigger boys from The North started arriving, rolling up their sleeves and bullying us out of the game.
Yesterdays game drew comparisons with our previous two home games, except this week our potent strike force never even looked like they were going to bail us out of trouble. We only managed one shot on target all afternoon. In fact, I’m starting to get used to getting home on a Saturday evening feeling a bit down.
It seems as though the combination of players we have at the moment we can’t beat teams like York at home at the moment. It will be a different game when we travel up there in March, but right now it seems no matter how much of a fight they put up, our current crop were always going to be hanging on against a powerful side. It’s the difference between us challenging for a playoff place and spending the season in mid-table, which now looks likely.
So what was wrong with our lineup yesterday? Working from back to front, there were two clear weaknesses, our goalkeeper and our midfielder. I always thought Sebb Brown was a strange signing, yet over the course of the season when he was called upon to deputise for James Pullen he seemed to have drummed the simple errors out of his game. As a shot stopper he is competent, yet his distribution left a lot to be desired. Time and again he gave up possession with a series of kicks that found touch. I know conditions were poor, but a degree of concentration would have ensured the ball would arrive somewhere near its target.
Several players, as well as the manager, showed a great deal of frustration at this, and I’m not sure it would have been helped by the requirement of our entire team to pack out the area from corners and set pieces in order to protect his aerial deficiencies. This again gave up possession as it meant Wimbledon either had to hoof the ball clear, giving up the ball yet again, or try to play their way out of danger – which lead to the only goal of the game.
I have mentioned in the past that we will have the same issues if we draft in young Jack Turner in terms of having to protect him, but honestly, why not? At least he is positive about coming for high balls. Plus he has a kick that would put any in this division to shame. I understand the theory that Sebb is being used to make the mistakes so Jack doesn’t have to at this early stage of his career, a first team start would be invaluable to his progress. Just send him out there, tell him there is no pressure on him and see whether he takes it. If it doesn’t work, bring Sebb back until Pullen recovers. If this really is a season of building experience, now we have a chance to give a start to a player who could well be our number one in a couple of years time.
The visitors physical nature showed up our midfield as the paperweight unit it is. To be fair to them, they didn’t give the ball away very much, but thats mainly down to them failing to win possession back very often. Plus when Sam Hatton turns out to be your midfield enforcer – well absolutely no disrespect to Sam intended, I though apart from the goal he had one of his better games and looked like the only midfielder capable of winning the ball in the air – but when you find yourself relying on him to win the ball back because no-one else will, then your going to have problems in this league.
It seems strange that Terry didn’t go for a tough midfielder, someone who is strong from box to box and isn’t going to lose out very much in a challenge. Someone who can lead the midfield, and who the younger players can play around and learn from. We saw this deficiency yesterday and it was like playing with a man short. While perhaps I have been one of the worst culprits in glossing over our midfield problems, it’s now the elephant in the room that we cannot avoid to ignore if we have any remaining ambition of putting together a run in the New Year.
The question is, will Terry take the opportunity to do this in January or will he allow the current bunch to lay out a season of comparative mediocrity? Although I have to point out, Steven Gregory is a really good player. You can see him playing at a higher level in future, and playing alongside the right mix of team mates he could be one of the men who help us out of the division. But Elliott Godfrey was lightweight. He tried really hard but he never got into the action. And Lewis Taylor just didn’t get into the game, mainly down to some fussy refereeing going against him.
On the subject of the referee, and moving to the game itself, he wasn’t going to let York use their strength to simply steamroller us. York started the better of the two sides without ever creating anything worth noting down, but I do remember Michael Rankine blasting well wide in the opening couple of minutes. Instead it was all about the antics of the York players, mainly their front two, and their baffling efforts to unsettle the Dons back line.
On another day Rankine would have been booked for an ugly early challenge on Lorraine, who seemed to be targeted by the visitors. It seemed a strange decision, as the big Dons defender kept his cool well – initially. It was Richard Brodie’s turn to have a go a few minutes later, where with the ball out of play he rushed towards Lorraine before barging into him, only to collapse onto the ground himself. It was actually one of the funniest comedy falls I’ve seen in a long while, and drew big laughs around the ground. Brodie naturally received a yellow, although the home crowd didn’t forget his intentions, booing him on the few occasions he found the ball at his feet.
Brodie and Rankine certainly look like a couple of beasts, Brodie himself could do with a mask and a chainsaw and I think he would have found his true vocation in the movies, whereas Rankine looks like the sort of person you see on real life documentaries, living on death row in Louisiana for eating babies. And it was Rankine who had the best chance of the first half, meeting a cross from the right only yards out but steering it well over the bar. If anything this outbreak of football was a mere interference to the more entertaining battle that was taking place.
Rankine was next in the book after a ‘collision’ with the unflustered Lorraine, and to the crowd’s delight Danny Parsloe beat him into the book for his excessive protests. The referee counted out the number of fouls Rankine had made, as usual pointing to nowhere near where these fouls took place but making his point. At this point Lorraine had the beating of his two rivals, and could have really pushed the pair of them later in the half had he not snapped himself, after another Rankine foul he pointed out that Rankine was treading a fine line a little too firmly and found himself in the book as well.
Overall an interesting but ultimately fruitless war ended from that point with all parties seeming to accept a draw. The fun and games were put aside as all parties put their minds firmly back on the football. Not that there was much taking place. York had the better of possession but they couldn’t turn it into chances. And in injury time of the first half Danny Kedwell managed what turned out to be Wimbledon’s only effort on target, taking down a ball on the left edge of the area before striking firmly towards the near post but easily smothered by the otherwise untested Michael Ingham.
Half time came as a relief with the hope that Terry might find those few magic words that could spark our misfiring team to life. A swooping flock of parakeets dived down in front of the Tempest and added a bit of colour to the occasion, but before anyone could ask whether they fancied displacing our problem pigeons they were gone. Still, they added a bit of colour to an otherwise drab afternoon…
The teams returned to the field and it quickly became apparent that it was the visitors who were most likely to take the game. Kicking towards their large but relatively quiet contingent of 400 or so in the KRE they seemed a step ahead of Wimbledon. Yet it took them a while to create anything, and the Dons had a couple of half chances. First a deep corner from the left was met by Lorraine, who nodded back into the six yard box. For a moment it seemed as though Brett Johnson was about to apply the finish from yards out but was beaten by a York head to turn it round for another flag kick. This corner was taken short and ultimately cleared, only as far as Steven Gregory, whose low effort was deflected into the air and just past the top left corner.
It must have woken York up for the need to find a goal of their own. A number of corners were cleared in desperation by the Dons defence, which even included Jon Main leaving very little choice but to hand possession back to York. Then a deep cross was met at the far post by Brodie, kept out via a desperate arm of Brown before the crossbar, the ball eventually hooked away to relative safety. I wrote in my notes that Wimbledon would be lucky to survive this spell, and like clockwork the goal came.
A couple of Dons defenders had chances to clear the ball before it fell to Sam Hatton in space on the right side of the Wimbledon box. With nothing ahead of him Hatton tried to dribble clear, only to be easily nudged off the ball for it to be returned at an angle for Rankine to meet with a firm header that gave Brown no chance. It was unfortunate for Hatton, who up to that point had been a man of the match contender thanks to his no-nonsense tackling and aerial ability, but it taught him that there are certain times when you can’t play football, and have to weigh up the percentages and knock it clear. If that means booting it into touch and regrouping then so be it. I get the impression they will have to learn th hard way a few more times this campaign before it finally sinks in…
With their backs against the walls a fight back looked unlikely, even with nearly half an hour of football to play. The referee had helped the Dons in the first half with his no-nonsense approach to infringements, but seemed to have taken a disliking to Lewis Taylor. Playing in his usual free role on the right, Taylor found himself tugged back time and again only to see the award go against him. I can’t be too unfair on the referee here, he did have a decent game when many others would have lost control, and maybe it was down to Taylor’s strange habit of waving his arms around like a man lost at sea whenever he gets involved in a footrace with an opposition player.
Gregory struck wide of the left post from distance with twenty-five minutes to go, yet Wimbledon only looked like they had half a chance of getting back on terms following the introduction of Luke Moore to replace Godfrey. He immediately looked the most impressive player on the pitch, picking up a ball on the left before finding the touch-line and prodding past Ingham across the six yard line, only to see Hatton beaten to the ball by a despairing York challenge.
Moore set about unsuccessfully trying to pick a hole through the York defense, one strong run from his own half was crudely halted by an unidentified York man on the edge of the box. With the ability to get everyone behind the ball it was no surprise that Hattons low free kick failed to beat the wall.
And that was pretty much it. Conroy made way for Montague as Terry Brown switched to 3-4-3 for the remaining few minutes, but this was to little effect. Really you had to question the decision to bring on Montague who never really looked like putting in a challenge capable of winning the ball, especially as Moore’s introduction had suggested perhaps bringing on Cumbers might have produced results while trying to play through York, and created space for Main and Kedwell.
Neither of the front two had a bad game, Kedwell forced back to defend all too often and Main isolated as his team mates dropped further and further. But to get the most of our talented front to we need to start creating chances for them. I think back to the number of chances Main wasted against Luton, Eastbourne and the like, and how he would just gobble up those kind of openings now he is back in form.
Perhaps the chances will come on Tuesday, and the Dons will regain a bit of confidence before a tough trip to Kidderminster next weekend. But before we can think of a comfortable win on Tuesday, we need to think about making sure of the win. Ebbsfleet have had their problems this season and are very much there for the taking, if Wimbledon feel the pressure too much to find a home performance we could find ourselves with all sorts of problems… and would a big win just paper over the cracks?