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…