Monthly Archives: August 2010

Eastbourne Borough 2 AFC Wimbledon 3

I do like to be beside the seaside, especially when it ends with the Dons topping the table…

This was the sort of away game that makes you wish every game could be like this… a million miles from slogging up the M1 in midweek to watch crap. As soon as I set foot off the train I knew this would be different. For a start, I’d heeded a two-day weather forecast and therefore found myself clad in a waterproof top that was earning its money, if only to hold all the sweat in. Fortunately, this was one of those very rare away trips that involved an overnight stay, so I had the chance to change clothes and grab a quick beer in my sea-front hotel before jumping in a taxi to the ground.

The reason for the luxurious travel arrangements was down to the first appearance at a Dons game by Mrs Anonymous Don since Maidenhead at home almost two seasons ago… a fixture notable for the opening of the Strank Stand extension (which we sat in), a 4-1 home victory…. oh, and the first appearance in a Dons shirt of our current captain. You have to wonder where we would be right now without Danny Kedwell. Would we still be scrapping in the BSS? It’s possible… Jon Main’s goals may have taken us most of the way there, but Kedwells input was huge, as was his contribution last season when we couldn’t rely on Main.

Speaking of JM, he found himself on the bench for this one after an ineffective start to the campaign. Whether this is just him getting used to the new system or not, I don’t know. I mentioned in the Rushden report how isolated he looked. For all his hard work tracking back, he is being asked to perform a role that Christian Jolley is just far more effective at. Young Jolley got his chance from the start this time around, things may be a bit different when Newport roll into town on Monday, if Main starts we need not read any more into this than he needed a rest…

In Ricky Wellards absence, we saw the first start from Lee Minshull after his rather unfortunate suspension, and judging by his performance I think he has been missed. His passing was as crisp as Gregory or Moore, yet he brings a physical presence we miss when he isn’t there. I don’t want to overstate his size, it’s not a key factor in his game… but it helps. Lee managed to get himself on the score sheet, yet also managed to give away the free kick that helped the hosts back into the game…

As far as Eastbourne were concerned, you couldn’t wish for a nicer place to go or nicer club to visit. As far as the game was concerned, we faced the divisions top scorers and they showed their early attacking potential – it’s great to come across a side with limited resources who don’t just ‘park the bus’… I’m sure they would have created a whole lot more had Jamie Taylor not found the deck more often than I seem to remember him doing when he played for us, and Richard Pacquette reminded everyone he is only in the game for the pay packet.

As the half progressed Wimbledon came into it more and more, once Kedwell opened the scoring with a near post effort that seemed to pass through Rikki Banks in the home goal. If the Dons used up a bit of fortune with that effort, the hosts rode theirs for the rest of the half, with some woeful finishing capping off wonderful passing moves as Wimbledon threatened to run riot. I’d love to write more about the half, but I spent most of it explaining to the missus what was going on; and why, no, the man standing behind us was by no means an expert despite shouting quite loudly!

The early second half followed a similar pattern to the first. This time the Dons managed to hit the woodwork twice before finally adding to the score, first a Minshull floated cross/shot effort bouncing clear from the top corner via the inside of the post, then Steven Gregory smacking one off the bar, all in the space of a few seconds. Finally, Luke Moore found Lee Minshull at the far post, who made no mistake with his header to double the Dons lead, and with Luton losing, send us top of the league.

Of course an Eastbourne win would have taken them top, and despite the odds looking like they were firmly against them, they set about clawing their way back into the game. They managed it, to their credit, thanks to a couple of well worked free kicks. I could highlight the soft underbelly that was the Dons defending for both of these goals, yet that can wait for another day. Defending like that will come back to haunt the Dons if it becomes habit, we can only hope for an improvement as the season progresses (with fingers very much crossed…)

The day had been building up to one moment. Eastbourne had helped out by pushing for the win themselves, which left space for Sam Hatton to pick up the ball deep in his own half. He cut through Eastbourne before picking out Danny Kedwells run and threading the ball through to him. The captain rounded Banks, before sidefooting home, sending AFC Wimbledon top of the non-League game for the first time. Watching from the side, what a wonderful view it was watching those Dons fans behind the goal jumping around – I haven’t seen celebrations like that for some time…

I missed what must have been an interesting train ride home, but it was worth it to spend an evening watching over the water from a pub, supping a pint, just enjoying the moment. In 24 hours time the Dons may relinquish top spot, and may not regain it for some time. But at that moment… well, it didn’t seem to matter much.

Apologies for the trunkated nature of report for what was an action packed game, very much more to follow in the second part of the Dons Bank Holiday double when they return to action tomorrow against Newport…

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Rushden 1 AFC Wimbledon 0

The problem with starting the season with a winning streak is even experienced supporters with twenty-five full seasons of following their team (like myself) can be fooled into thinking this might be the year we break all records as we romp to the title… until the first defeat shatters the illusion and we resign ourselves to a season of frustration and joy in equal measures.

Our first defeat of the season came in frustrating circumstances as the Dons dominated the game. Hang on, sorry, the Dons dominated the game for the first three minutes. For the remaining ninety-two minutes of play both sides played as if they had their memories wiped and were just coming to terms with this new spherical object bobbling around the place.

The hosts satisfied themselves with the basics – getting the ball forward quickly, keeping it tight at the back, etc. Wimbledon tried to play their normal brand of passing football, sadly not realising that the spell that makes the ball magically go where they need it doesn’t work away from home, where they are reduced to mere mortals cursed with poor touch and little vision.

Yet it could have been so different if either Yakubu’s header had veered either side of Rushden keeper Roberts (more on him later…), or Luke Moore had buried the rebound rather than looping his header onto the bar (it hit the bar right? It was quite murky down the far end…). It could have been a repeat of last season. Instead the game settled down, the Dons started to come apart and the visitors began to come into it themselves, especially once Sam Hatton left the game half way through the first half. Hattons replacement, Ryan Jackson, has been one of the highlights of the embryonic season so far, but when used in an attacking position on the right. When introduced as Hatton’s replacement at right back, he looked a little lost, unsure when to press on or hold, often finding himself not quite there positionally because of it.

As well as this, Rashid Yusseff was having a few difficulties fitting into midfield in place of the injured Ricky Wellard. Toks has looked impressive during his cameo appearances against Histon and Tamworth, but after a disappointing start he disappeared into anonymity midway through the half only to reappear occasionally to give the ball away. Up front Main and Moore looked isolated either side of Kedwell… Moore seemed to receive more than his fair share of high balls, which he stood little chance of converting into anything meaningful… and I have no doubt Jon Main will be his awesome self if presented with a chance in front of goal, but suffers when he receives the ball awkwardly on the half way line with little support.

Against a better side (perhaps that is a little unfair on Rushden – it would probably be more accurate to give them the benefit of the doubt and say ‘against a more confident side’…), the Dons would have gone in a couple of goals down. But the hosts were having their own problems creating chances, unless a chance counts as a mishit shot from twenty yards skewed wide these days. Their best effort came when Howe found space on the right, only to loft a back pass into Seb Browns hands while attempting to chip the goalkeeper.

Half time came with presumably the majority of the sparse crowd wondering why they had bothered making the journey, especially the Dons fans who paid £17 for the privilege. You have to wonder what Premier Sports viewers (sorry… THE Premier Sports viewer) will make of this tripe on a regular basis… and there are too many games like that at our level. At least a highlights package with a more mainstream channel would have given as much exposure to clubs whilst also papering over the rather boring cracks…

The Dons fans could cheer themselves up in the second half however – Dale Roberts was only yards away and well within earshot of some rather loud abuse from the Dons support, chants of ‘Where were you when Terry scored?’ and absolutely nowhere for the goalkeeper to hide, after his girlfriends rather public indiscretion with his former team-mate Paul Terry. If you’ve never seen Dale Roberts, consider this. John Terry has been beaten a few times with the ugly stick, and his brother resembles him if crossed with a slightly retarded pit bull. Now imagine the sort of guy who would make Paul Terry seem a looker, and you’re half way there…

Not that Roberts had anything else to do but listen to the good-natured ribbing… The Dons started the second half in pretty much the same manner as they did the first. This might have worked at Southport where the luck went our way, but tonight nothing was going for the Dons. Despite this the defence were holding firm… and by ‘the defence’ I mean Yakubu and Johnson. Yakubu in particular was solid, real no-nonsense defending at times, on several occasions having to recover after his initial clearance was gifted to the opposition by a lacklustre midfield. As for the full backs – I mentioned before Jackson was learning a hard lesson, and Andre Blackman, despite admittedly getting stuck in, seemed to spoil his hard work losing possession following one touch too many on rampaging runs into the opposition half.

It was slightly frustrating watching Andre, as there wasn’t much wrong with the performance except in the detail. Like Jackson, when he gets his positional sense cracked and learns to distribute the ball at the right time, he’ll be fine. It is slightly annoying to hear people accuse him of being greedy with the ball, it’s actually a blessing to have a player who feels comfortable running at opponents (especially ones who scare so easily…), and hopefully it won’t be too long before he starts to realise when he’s running down a blind alley and becomes the devastating force we know he can be. Having said that he did pick up a rather unfortunate booking before later firing the ball into the stand following conceding a throw. Fortunately, the referee saw it as a misguided attempt to speed up returning the ball to the opposition rather than any petulance, yet it didn’t exactly endear him to the home support. Still, in my experience these provincial types don’t normally need much of an excuse to hurl abuse at a Blackman…

When the goal came it was the sort of incident that makes you want to storm the referees room en mass to recover your travelling and ticket expenses from his wallet. And if he didn’t have enough to cover all of us, I’m sure the still thriving slave market in certain parts of the world would have appreciated a bit of fresh blood… The incident that started this course of events should really have finishing with Rushden’s Howe trudging down the tunnel in disgrace, having thrown an arm in Blackmans direction. The referee managed to make a bit of a meal of the incident, but it seemed certain a red card would follow… in fact for the first time that evening I felt comfortable, knowing the man advantage would at least secure a point. Yet eventually he had a quick word with the culprit… then let him off completely.

Of course the Dons managed to make a mess of the resulting free-kick, and somehow conceded one themselves… which was taken very quickly and nowhere near the incident (something the Dons had been pulled up for all evening long), finding its way to Howe in the right channel about twenty yards out. As the Dons stood off, he hit one across Brown that seemed to do something strange in the air, dipping over the keeper before finding the net via bar and post.

As I said before, this kind of blow is normally easier to take knowing the Dons were playing poorly, but the opposition had really given them a run for their money in the crap stakes, Finding ourselves a goal down following this type of incident was really tough to take. The Dons attempts come back into the game only seemed to end up resulting in Rushden counter attacks which were fortunately wasted as frequently as they were presented.

In the absence of Ricky Wellard and with no Lee Minshull to fall back on (and boy could we have done with him in the last few minutes…), Toks was eventually replaced with Reece Jones. To be fair Jones deserved a chance to show what he could do, but you get the impression that it was more for the experience than any realistic expectation he would make an impact. Jones will come good for us, with a little hard work and a lot of patience, but the pace of the game seemed to take him by surprise from the off. 

Eventually, one of the Dons few shining lights in Christian Jolley started to get a grip on the game. Rushden had little answer to him on the left, the only disappointment being his team mates inability to feed the ball to him with greater regularity. Jolley had replaced Jon Main, and I have to say I felt sorry for Mainy on the night, he had little impact on the game and it was an obvious call to bring on the pace and width of Jolley, but as a striker he got little decent service from his colleagues and it can’t be all that fun to endure that for sixty minutes before being hauled off for the fourth game in a row.

While Jolley gave the ball away (no one was immune to that on the night), he also provided two wonderful balls into the box from the left that were begging to be put away by someone, only for the ball to ricocheted around the box before somehow ending up in the grateful hands of Roberts. Four minutes of injury time were played, although Rushden had realised they weren’t going to score again and had one eye on the clock well before then. This reached its nadir when the referee ordered Corcoran from the field for treatment, yet allowed the Rushden man to hang around on the pitch for an age before finally yellow carding him, much to the anger of those in blue as time ticked away.

To be fair to the referee he had been very much in charge earlier in the evening, and only lost control when he blew his whistle at around 7.45 and allowed the game to begin – we would have had a decent time together if he hadn’t bothered… Fortunately he had added time on for the Corcoran incident, enough in fact to allow him to turn down a huge Wimbledon penalty appeal – and to be fair to him it was the sort you appeal for knowing he will only give it to make up for some earlier injustice… and those who read my Southport report will know what I think about that! It was very much a corner though, which explained why the referee gave a goal kick…

The final whistle went, which allowed Roberts his own personal moment of triumph and meant we had to endure this gurning oaf pumping his fists and wagging his jug ears in our general direction. I’m sure that went a long way to killing a few personal demons, at least until he woke in the middle of the night, noticed the cold empty side of the bed and remembered once again how small a man he really is. Well, we can only hope…

On another day we would come out of this type of game with a point. There were periods of the match when the Dons seemed unable to string more that two passes together, but the opposition were equally weak. They may have managed to get the ball into our box more than we did theirs, but for all their territorial advantage the hosts had the nervous manner of a side yet to claim a win. They were there for the taking, but Wimbledon put in the sort of shift that was way below recent performances in terms of quality. If they could have captured just a hint of what they showed during the second half of the Tamworth game it would have been a different story. Digging deep and earning points when you haven’t played well, even if you don’t particularly deserve to, was probably the difference between a play off place and upper mid table for us last term, and it will be again this year.

And yet… despite the poor performance, despite the negatives, it was just only ninety minutes. Two big games await this weekend, two winnable games. Lets not set ourselves any targets, but things could look a lot brighter come Monday evening.

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AFC Wimbledon 3 Tamworth 0

It’s when you notice the league table reads three wins out of three that things reach the stage where you have to say, regardless of the relative strength of the opposition, its been an impressive start. In fact, the only side above us so far, the only other club in the division currently unbeaten, are the bookies favourites Luton. The Dons are down in second due to one goal scored, and remain the only side yet to concede… I get the impression the down-to-earth reaction of the majority of Dons fans echoes my gut view that we should enjoy it while it lasts. A difficult September looms ahead, and perhaps the fear of dropping points then is propelling the side to greatness now. Either way, if we play like we have done in the last two homes games at least, and avoid injuries,  I don’t feel we need to fear anyone – in September or any time…

In fact the visitors best chance of breaching the steel blue gate that is the Dons back line came in the first minute, when a back pass saw Sebb Brown slip in his six yard box, successfully hold off a Tamworth challenge before picking the ball up. Unfortunately in the referees opinion the Tamworth man hadn’t got enough of the ball to justify moving to the next stage of play and awarded a free kick six yards out. Tamworth changed the angle slightly but still relied on the ‘smash it in the roof of the net’ routine that almost never works in these situations, the Dons back line charging down well.

From then on, it seemed like it was pretty much all Wimbledon. Although the result might not suggest Tamworth were miles better than Histon were on Tuesday, their ambition was the reason we saw such an open game. The Dons had various half chances before Sammy Moore found space in the right channel to fire across the Tamworth keeper into the bottom left corner.

Going a goal up didn’t dampen the Dons desire to extend their lead, and the only shock was it took until the hour mark to go further ahead. This time Jon Main worked a position in the left channel and attempted to hit the bottom right corner. Tamworth keeper Atkins got a hand to the ball, only for Danny Kedwell to run in the rebound.

The small-ish 3100 crowd were rewarded with a wonderful third goal. Shortly after Sam Hatton had narrowly missed the top corner from a similar position, he shaped to fire in another free kick from around twenty yards. This time, he dinked it over the wall, while Kedwell peeled off to finish brilliantly guiding his volley wide of Atkins right hand and into the left corner.

The Dons could, perhaps should, have had more. Three was enough, not to go top of the league, but that can wait for later in the season. Possibly even Tuesday night perhaps? Tuesday is now set up for an interesting tussle with Rushden, and a repeat of last seasons result will go down just fine…

AFC Wimbledon 2 Histon 0

Its quite difficult to find an angle for this match report. On one hand, the Dons were persistent, frequently tore Histon to shreds and could have had a hatfull by half time had they been a bit more collectively focused in the attacking third. Some of the football they produced was breathtaking at times, and they really deserved to have won the game by several more.

On the other hand, well, they didn’t score earlier, nor did they win by more. This can be considered a fault, a trouble, a worry that needs to be discussed. The opposition were limited, and right from the off a big win seemed to be the order of the night… but it didn’t materialise.

The third and final hand (this report is already turning out to be a bit of a monster…), were Histon really that bad? With hindsight, I’m not even sure they were that negative? We’ve seen a lot worse during our battle through the feeder leagues, and judging by last nights performance their organisational qualities alone will give the likes of Southport a run for their money. For all the talk of Histon having no cash, of being the whipping boys this season, it looks as though they might just be a bit more competitive than many of us thought….

Histon shouldn’t really have been given the opportunity to hold on to what they had in the second half. Wimbledon tore them to shreds in the first period with some wonderful passing football, although for all their possession they produced few clear goalscoring opportunities.

Something strange was happening in the Dons midfield. Ricky Wellard was using his left foot for purposes other than simply passing the ball sideways… or occasionally passing the ball forward… or very occasionally passing forward and finding a team-mate. In fact he seemed to have adopted a shoot on sight policy. Hindsight has shown this was probably due to a quite word in the ear from the manager asking him to weigh in with a few more goals, although by the time this reached the press it mutated into BROWN THUNDERING that Wellard would FACE THE AXE if he failed to find the net.

Actually the start of that previous paragraph was pretty unfair on Ricky. He would have been regarded as our most consistent midfielder last term had it not been for Steven Gregory, and I have no doubt that should he continue at his current rate of learning at this level, he will be the sort of player that strikes fear into even the strongest opposition in six months time… and the sort of player opposition fans identify on web forums as one to watch…

No wonder he looked so happy when he finally put one away. During the first half however, while it was great to see a Dons player shooting when given the opportunity, and even better not to see the ball hit a passing 131 on the Kingston Road, Wellard needed to calibrate his x-axis with a little more precision – his efforts too close to Histon keeper Welch, but still drawing excellent saves from the stopper who also came up big when required from an Ismail Yakubu header from six yards… 

When half time came, the team left the field to applause, it seemed not to matter the scores were still level – the Dons were playing some awesome football, and goals were coming… As you would expect, football is a bit more complicated than that, and AFC Wimbledon more complicated still, and as the second half wore on without a Dons chance forthcoming Histon began to fancy their chances of an unlikely reward.

I don’t blame Histon for the way they went about defending their point, although it isn’t great to watch. Especially as a frustrated home supporter willing them to get on with it… although I did notice keeper Welch ALWAYS took his goal kicks on the right hand side of the six yard box, and I was willing the Tempest end to throw the ball back to him on that side to see if he would take it back to the left… but they never did, allowing him to trudge back over to his favourite kicking spot, find a good bit of turf, rotate the ball a few times to make sure he’s kicking the valve… this probably only killed a few seconds each time, but Dons fans lived a lifetime each time he did it.

The delays were strangling the Dons performance. All of a sudden things seemed a bit more urgent, passes were becoming more forced and the natural football we saw in the First had been replaced by a team now desperate for the breakthrough. The closest they came was a reaction header from Sammy Moore that drifted wide of the right post… it might have gone miles wide, but from my view down by the corner flag it was agonizing… and it wasn’t in the net…

Brown saw Main and Moore were becoming less and less effective and made the same change he had on Saturday, bringing Jackson and Jolley on to replace them. This was a different challenge for the youngsters, with a massed defence ahead of them and little chance to get behind and use their pace, but presented a different challenge to Histon than  Main and Moore had (again, neither had a bad game, but a change was required…).

Then the Dons were handed a massive lifeline… midfielder Oluwafemi Ilesamni, who had been deservedly booked in the first half, for no reason slammed the ball against the wall behind the goal. That it ended up only yards from where it started mattered little to the referee, Ilesamni can probably consider himself a little unlucky… but cards get given for that these days, especially as he hit it with a little anger and directly at the Dons fans behind the goal (if he’d got under it a little and the ball had struck a supporter there would’ve been REAL trouble…).

The game had actually restarted by the time the Histon midfielder had reached the tunnel, but it seemed the Dons had blown their chance before Histon’s lack of experience got to them once more in the second minute of stoppage time. Danny Kedwell burst into the box, turning his man who left half an arm and half a leg out… not much, not enough to stop a rampaging Danny Kedwell in full flow under normal circumstances… but he saw it, and said ‘I’m having that’…

The referee was definitely having it too, and Kedwell was given the opportunity to make the most of the opportunity he earned. Unlike Mains effort on Saturday there was no uncertain sidefooted effort from the skipper, rammed home with such pace this writer can’t remember a Dons penalty despatched with such intent since a certain V. Jones bashed one in during injury time against Sheffield Wednesday in the mid 90’s. Same corner too.

This certainly knocked the stuffing out of Histon, and Rashid Yussuff capped an impressive cameo by picking up a rebound off the referee, skipping past a couple of challenges before feeding Danny Kedwell on the right. The captains measured ball was begging to be put away, and Ricky Wellard bounced it into the far corner, grabbing the goal he richly deserved for his own Man of the Match performance (well, in my eyes anyway…). Wellard can stick one in the top corner from thirty yards every game, but this type of goal will please his manager most – this is the type of goal Brown wants to see from his midfield, actually attacking balls into the box and getting their reward.

Was this a lucky Wimbledon victory? Well, you could look at the clock when the ball went in the net, and you can question whether on another day a different referee would have given the penalty, and I would still deny luck played any part. Wimbledon got their reward for persistence, and after their first half performance went unrewarded could easily have let their heads drop and stop fighting. That they didn’t is a great credit to them.

Are their still questions over whether this squad can mount a title challenge? Well, yes. There are at least forty-four of them I can think of. While we have every reason to get excited going into the Tamworth game on Saturday, it’s still early days.

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Southport 0 AFC Wimbledon 1

It was at about 8.25 in the morning that I first came to regret not investigating train tickets before they became prohibitively expensive, being as I was on the coach, with the seat in front digging into my shins and knees slowly turning to concrete… find me someone over five foot ten tall who actually enjoys taking the coach and I’ll show you someone who in all probability has a pretty severe bondage fetish… but to be honest, I would have endured a seat of spikes to see the Dons opening fixture (although the game itself would turn out to be pretty excruciating). You see, we just don’t lose on opening day… and we normally win!

It’s the sort of record we can start getting cocky about… the last time we lost on opening day, if my memory serves me right, was against Manchester United back in the days when I was still having difficulty getting served at the bar… And its the subject of alcohol that really piqued my jealousy – everyone, and I mean everyone I spoke to who had travelled up by train seemed considerably (and by considerably I mean a LOT) drunker than I was. As I have mentioned in previous posts, this is likely the last opening day fixture I’ll be attending for some time (no, not just until next year…), I should have celebrated Jolleys winner by stripping to the waist and invading the pitch – that would have been a story for the grandkids to be proud of!

But I suppose someone needs to maintain… someone needs to tell it like it is – and that person is destined to be me! Instead I had a quiet couple of pints in the Southport bar, chatting to some very friendly locals – with the exception of one jobsworth steward whose life’s work seemed to be ensuring that people stood quietly enjoying a drink moved away from the bar entrance, despite being NOWHERE NEAR THE ENTRANCE! You get those at every club though, and it doesn’t disguise that they are a nice club, Southport; one that had their own experience of a moneyed local rival suffering a case of Crawleyitis, and in their case they beat them to the title last season – an example to us Dons as Crawley (well, just Steve Evans actually…) kick off over not being able to sign a player under contract that seemed to have no real interest in going there to start with…

Around six hundred Dons fans packed onto the away terrace, a roofless affair meaning the Dons fans racket, pretty impressive up close, dissipated into the openness merely a few yards walk away. This was a larger turnout that Fulham managed at Bolton, by the way… although I’m sure Bolton charge a bit more than Southport’s £12.50, an impressive boast all the same.

As for the game, it wasn’t a good start to the season for the Dons. The passing was no-where near as crisp as it has been in pre-season, possibly held up by what looked like a pitch that hadn’t been mown for a good couple of weeks. If the first half had been a boxing match, you would have given it to Southport on points (albeit accompanied by fans throwing chairs into the ring and demanding their money back…). On a couple of occasions some ponderous defending led to Southport chances, with only last-ditch challenges keeping the ball out of the Dons goal. Having said that, Wimbledon ended up having the best chance of the half, in bizarre fashion.

As Sam Hatton cut in from the right, he was clipped by his man and went down. Free kick to the Dons, or so we thought… the ref had other ideas and awarded the Dons a penalty. I can only presume the ref had no idea where the incident took place, for which I don’t blame him really, the lines had barely been marked and us Dons fans had great difficulty working out when the ball entered the penalty area closest to us, never mind one at the opposite end of the pitch!

The problem with getting cheap decisions like this, is we never seem to take them. It seems to be the Wimbledon way… rather than giving the ball to Keds to smash past the keeper, thus going in at half time with an ill deserved lead, Jon Main stepped up, almost apologetically side footing to the keepers left and making no effort to disguise what he was about to do. The Southport keeper made it look easy, it really was an absolute let off for the home side, one that could have changed the game considering what was to follow in the second half…

The Dons started the second half with a little more purpose, Sammy Moore in particular could have done better with a chance presented to him. Southport seemed content to simply throw the ball forward and hope for an error, something that presumably served them well in the BSN last season when they were the biggest and strongest, but looking a bit one-dimensional against the Dons more refined football. Having said that, the Dons looked a little creaky at the back, the Johnson/Yakubu partnership still needs working on, as though both players had decent enough games, the performance as a unit didn’t quite add up to the sum of its parts. This wasn’t really helped by Andre Blackman’s continued positional drifting, I know Andre is the sort of player, like Chris Hussey was, who looks to contribute more in an attacking sense than a defensive one but it does leave us rather lacking at the back when he finds himself on the halfway line with his man streaking past him.

Fair lay to Andre though, he put in a fair few thunderous challenges himself, on a day my worry was he would get bullied out. He wasn’t the only one I had my fears for, but the young Dons stood up pretty well to the physical challenge. I’m sure most of us thought it would be like Land of the Giants, with our poor lads bundled off the ball at every available opportunity. It didn’t quite work out that way, if anything the Dons players looked the more aggressive… but before we get carried away, I have to say Southport did look very weak indeed. Even for a part-time side, and this could be something that causes them a fair few problems during the course of the campaign. In fact, it even got to the stage where these supposedly big tough players resorted to throwing themselves to the deck and pleading to the referee… a bit embarrassing for the locals I would presume, watching a team of kids rough up their boys… but something that almost worked for them in no small part due to inconsistent refereeing (which would ruin poor Lee Minshull’s debut, as I will explain later…).

As for inconsistent refereeing, the Dons were denied a stonewall penalty at the start of the half, as a big Southport defender (a quick reminder – I’m not taking notes at away games this season, so identifying opponents isn’t going to be easy!) fell on the ball, making contact with his right arm a couple of times before swatting it away with his left arm. Maybe the referee and linesman thought they would make up for their earlier error by not giving this one, but as the Dons failed to take advantage of their previous good fortune… in fact what am I talking about? Previous decisions should have no bearing on a referees next one, it’s not down to him to ‘level things up’…. more misfortune for the Dons…

Something had to change either way, and it was fortunate that it was Terry Brown who had the game changing card up his sleeve. This time last season we may have taken off a tiring Lewis Taylor and asked Ricky Wellard to play the free roll. Or switch the strikers around. A change for changes sake if you will. This time around, Terry Brown was able to remove Main and Moore – neither of whom had been poor, but then neither had changed the game either – and bring on Ryan Jackson and Christian Jolley. This had an immediate positive effect, changing the philosophy from trying to feed the strikers through the channels, adding a lot more width and allowing these pacy players the freedom to try to get in behind Southport.

The Dons now looked far more dangerous, especially as Hatton and Blackman were looking more effective going forward, having someone to work with on their respective flanks rather than just mucking in. Danny Kedwell started to come into the game more, receiving the ball at feet allowing him to terrorise the hosts back line. And eventually the goal came, good awareness from Christian Jolley to round the keeper and slot into an empty net after a fantastic ball from,,, well actually I’m not even sure who played the ball over, it could have been Hatton, it could have been Jackson (two players who obviously look very similar…) but whoever it was, the goal had finally come, and at that stage it seemed the Dons could go on and win comfortably…

That was until the referee intervened again. Lee Minshull was given his debut, and won the ball perfectly in the middle of the park, only for the referee to call play back with another of those ‘what’s he doing there?’ calls. Perhaps looking to make up for the phantom penalty (Again: Why???), the referee decided this was actually serious foul play by Minshull, and sent him off. ‘play on’ would have been the correct course of action in this situation, but this clown genuinely believed it was a dangerous challenge. If that was the case we should have been at seven a-side at that point, as he would have had to send off those responsible for more serious offenses earlier in the day. A quick review of the tape should ensure Minshull won’t have to serve a ban, but that didn’t help the Dons see out the last ten minutes or so a man short.

Southport gave us a few nervy moments in the final stages, a mishit shot across the face of Sebb Browns goal that he locals got pretty excited about, a smart save down to his right by Brown following and a hopeful appeal for a penalty that might have carried a bit more weight had both players not been holding each other… Southport might consider themselves a bit unfortunate, and they may be able to channel this into a sense of injustice that carries them through the next couple of games – but this is a big strong division, with tougher sides than Wimbledon… Big, cynical teams that will play for the decision, and I’m not sure Southport can live with that. Having said that, there is enough driftwood making up the numbers at the bottom of the table for Southport to be confident of staying up – as well as the usual financial basket cases that make the last two relegation places redundant most seasons.

As for the Dons, well there’s no point saying we need to play better against the bigger sides in the division, I presume that’s what Terry Brown was doing at full-time with the lads on the pitch. We can at this stage only look for the positives. We learned some lessons, and we did so while also taking three points with us back down the motorway. Histon and Tamworth shouldn’t scare us, despite their respective positions of second and first in this very early season table, and we can look forward to seeing the Dons play their football on the bowling green that is Kingsmeadow. Beyond that, we can be confident, but in terms of a promotion push? It’s still very much ‘wait and see’…

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Pre-Season Preview

I wrote a long and interesting piece previewing tomorrow first game of the season at Sunny Southport, but while trying to post it, ‘someone’ pressed the wrong button and it disappeared! Knowing my luck I’ll find it in some trash folder in three days time, if I do I’ll re-post it (it was a good read if I say so myself… and remember correctly…).

Effectively, it all boiled down to this…

COME ON YOU DONS!!!

See you all there…

AFC Wimbledon 2 Arsenal XI 1

If this pre-season had been a movie trailer, Terry Brown will right now be relaxing against his dugout with a big fat cigar, muttering ‘I love it when a plan comes together’… After a nervous summer for Dons fans, mostly wondering who these young players were that were being signed up, the tables are now turned. In fact, I am reading comments suggesting next weeks trip to Southport will see us embarrass the hosts, run out easy victors… the truth will be far from it, the Sandgrounders first game back in the Conference is bound to be a quite different test than the one they overcame at Kingsmeadow against Arsenal’s technically gifted but inexperienced XI.

In just about every aspect yesterday was the perfect way to send the squad off into the season proper. A young, pacy Arsenal squad full of potential (eventually) stepped off their team bus, along with several hundred curious Arsenal fans who swelled the crowd to just short of 3,000. You never sensed there was any danger of a last-minute injury caused by an overzealous challenge (well, not a challenge made by an Arsenal player…) and the ball, by and large, was kept on the floor throughout.

The first half lacked many real goalscoring opportunities. Jon Main had a couple of efforts smacked just wide, whereas the Arsenal number 7 made the most of Andre Blackman’s venture up field to blaze wide when he should have scored. I didn’t make notes – as I won’t be this season at friendlies, reserve and away games – so cannot determine which Arsenal player made the most of some static defending to smack one against the corner of bar and post.

Last week I pondered which of Ed Harris and Fraser Franks Terry would prefer, and although he didn’t answer that question today, he certainly gave a strong hint by selecting Harris alongside Johnson in the absence of Yakubu. Sam Hatton was solid if unspectacular at right back once more, but after an uneven first half Andre Blackman really took it to his former club in the second period.

Firstly he danced round the Arsenal defence to the left byline before pulling back for Sammy Moore (who looks to be a fantastic acquisition) to slide home at the far post. Then he created and scored the second, his footwork too quick for the surrounding Arsenal defence before smashing across the keeper into the bottom corner. There has been much said about Andre, how he has ignored the fans, perhaps given the impression he thought he was too good to be at the club… and to be honest he may have a point. But all that was forgotten after the goal, he headed straight for the Tempest, not to but over the barrier and into the supporters. I’m not sure this was the safest celebration ever seen at Kingsmeadow (although I vaguely remember someone doing it before, perhaps Kevin Cooper?) what with the sunken walkway at the front…

Arsenal grabbed a consolation late in the day, so late in fact that I had left the ground already – as these friendly matches are all about the performance, and I had seen all I needed to from the first 88 minutes. And it was a dominant second half performance from the Dons, without Yakubu or Lee Minshull and with Mark Nwokeji to come back, hopefully on Monday ay Walton Casuals.

With the exception of the Casuals game, which it seems has been arranged to give a few of the fringe players ninety minutes, that is it for pre-season. Perhaps  its due to full-time training, but in the past we seem to have started impressively, then limped through remaining games with unconvincing performances. Not this year. You get the impression that a fair bit of momentum and self-belief will be carried up to the North West next Saturday, when we finally get a chance to see whether all this potential will translate into results in competitive football…

Exeter City 2 AFC Wimbledon 1

Game five of my personal pre-season and it threw up one of those moments my non-football friends hold up as an example of the madness of following my team around the country… I missed our only goal as I was returning from the gents at the time. So just to pre-warn you, there will be a Jon Main goal shaped hole in this report unless someone posts a shaky mobile phone clip on youtube within the next hour or so…

While we are on the subject of poor match reports, I was in a bit of a distracted mood yesterday as my on-off move to the States looks back on again as of the end of this season. Naturally this, on the whole, is a good thing; but there are large parts of my life in England that I’ll miss. My family and friends, obviously, but watching the Dons will be irreplaceable. I could go and watch my new local side New England Revolution during the summer (I commented before on how watching them play in the vast Gillette Stadium reminds me of the early years of sub 6,000 crowds at Selhurst – although that’s not really a good thing). The big problem is the Revolution won’t be my team, and neither will the Bruins, Celtics or Patriots… I suppose I am fortunate in that friends of mine in New Hampshire share the sort of relationships I have with the Dons with their own beloved Red Sox, meaning at least there are people there who understand my own obsession.

It was my first visit to Exeter for fifteen years (and my first ever for football reasons…), and being Cheapo Cheaperson himself I booked the early train to save money – meaning I had at least four hours to explore the place before the next Dons fans showed up. I actually lived in Devon for a couple of years myself back during my Failed University Experiment and loved the place, albeit I lived in Plymouth and therefore I’m undoubtedly offending both our hosts and Janners by comparing the two cities…

I got to see slightly more of the city than most Dons fans as my train stopped at Exeter St Davids, a twenty-minute walk further down the road… I really should check the location of the stations I’m going to before I book in future… I would be rubbish if I lived outside London – think how many stations we have…

As for the game itself, well a few pre-game pints meant I arrived , ironically, a few seconds late. We had been allocated the normal away seating section and not the terrace, presumably to cut down on stewarding costs, and we actually did a pretty good job of filling it with around 200 Dons in attendance. Well I say 200, there were at least a couple of Dons who initially found themselves in the home terrace – flag emblazoned with AFC Wimbledon – Wearside and all… and despite seemingly going unnoticed by the home fans, were eventually marched round to watch from behind pillars and the low roof like the rest of us had to…

Exeter look like they might be preparing for the away end to have some kind of work done to it, certainly they now have the room to increase it in size or at least steward it a little easier. From my vantage point high in the stand I couldn’t help noticing the state of the pitch, which seemed to be scorched in places, but still thick enough to hold the ball up when played on the deck. Having said that, we will play on surfaces that are far from the lush bowling green that is the Kingsmeadow pitch in the coming few months…

The game had barely settled before after a promising Dons opening, Exeter took the lead. This was particularly frustrating as the Dons were looking promising, like they were really going to make a game of it, then capitulated to a piece of defending which… well, I suppose the nicest thing I can say about it is at least it was made in a meaningless warm-up rather than when points were at stake. The finish from Nardiello was tidy enough, but it’s fair to say he would have been closed down a bit quicker most times in a League One fixture, as Dons defenders stared at each other like quizzical puppies.

But the Dons were not only holding their own, but providing the sort of test I’m sure Exeter boss Paul Tisdale must have hoped we would. Of course, now I would normally describe how Jon Main equalised, but all I have to say on the subject is that due to the strange acoustics of the old stand we were housed in, the only sound that could be heard in the gents were Terry Brown and Simon Bassey barking out instructions. I say I was in the Gents when we scored (what was the Gents like? Dated, as you would expect, but with a great view over the terraced houses behind…), but I was actually climbing the steps back to the away section, which made it even more frustrating… I could actually join in with the end of the celebrations…

In terms of our line-up, It was pretty much first choice with a couple of exceptions – despite Christian Jolley’s decent form Blackman will be preferred at left back if fit, and Steven Gregory should be preferred to Sammy Moore, despite a standout performance from the former Dover man. Ryan Jackson’s continuing improvement has perhaps put a question mark against who will start up front with Main and Kedwell… Jackson acts as a winger when in this position, and worked extremely well with Sam Hatton again yesterday. On the other flank, Jon Main is more effective playing almost on Kedwells shoulder, something that encourages Jolley to get forward with regularity.

Which is why we seem to be putting a lot more crosses in than the same stage last season… and the balls themselves are of a much better quality too. Which when you have the presence of a Lee Minshull getting forward with regularity, bodes well for the season. Minshull was actually the only player replaced, allowing the remaining nine outfield players to pick up an invaluable 90 minutes. Exeter on the other hand, with their season kicking off on Saturday, were able to refresh in several positions. Which showed, and had it not been for a couple of near misses and one outstanding save from Seb Brown could have made the scoreline look a bit more convincing. Not that it would have been fair on the Dons however, who had great second half chances through Main and Kedwell to level up.

The goal itself was a bit unfortunate really, the ball took a deflection off an unnamed Dons player (i.e. he was on the opposite side of the stadium…) and fell to Jamie Cureton, who was never going to miss and gave Brown no chance by despatching into the roof of the net. The two managers shard a word after the goal, as they did on the final whistle, and the hope is that the reward for Exeter’s generosity in staging this game is it has prepared them for their season as much as it will have helped our squad.

Terry now gets a full week on the training pitch with the boys, followed by the Arsenal game, followed by another full week working with the boys (although there is a friendly game scheduled for next Tuesday at Godalming which could be invaluable for anyone coming back from injury…). The Arsenal game is really a godsend at this late stage of preparation. The Arsenal boys are just going to want to come and pass the ball around, which will suit us as that’s pretty much what Terry will be looking for our boys to do as well. Effectively its a way of keeping key players match fitness topped up, while reducing the risk that anyone would pick up a dreaded last-minute injury – which we could have faced if we had played an overenthusiastic Conference South team. And none of this is to say the Arsenal game is not going to be watchable – far from it! I know some fans are planning on making that their only pre-season game, and they couldn’t have picked a better one.

Plus after thirteen games with only one fixture played, heres hoping the chosen eleven, whoever they may be, are geared up to rip the Sandgrounders apart on opening day…

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