Keep The Shirt (Basingstoke Preview)

I started this preview for the Basingstoke game a day earlier than usual, because the sponsors kindly decided to release the demo version of their 2011 game, and I know what would have happened… I would have download it, opened it up to have a ‘quick look’ and end up being found by my family five days later still in the same clothes, unwashed, suffering from malnutrition and the early stages of mental illness caused by sleep deprivation. Its a good job the wife isn’t around as its safe to say no housework will be getting done for a few weeks…

I’ve got to say I’m not really into computer games, and haven’t been since I was a kid and the first Championship Manager game came out, consigning all other games to the dustbin via several years in the cupboard gathering dust. I know its a bit of a cliche to go on about its addictiveness, but if you’ve never played the game before it’s fair to say you’ll probably be doing yourself a favour by leaving it well alone…

We’ve heard the stories of grown men (and women) finding social lives, relationships, even marriages cast out of the window because of it, and I think many of the more extreme stories are embellished by the publisher for publicity reasons… but I still know people who remember with great fondness winning the European Cup when they were teenagers – what other pastimes create moments that live with you for decades after such as this?

So while I still have the ability to write, lets talk Basingstoke. Will the magic of the FA Cup encorage a vast travelling army of Dons down the M3/South West Mainline to cheer our boys into the First Round? Well, maybe, but the fact that it’s a rare(ish) local(ish) encounter should be enough to see a more than healthy travelling contingent. For more than obvious reasons the FA Cup will always hold a special place in the hearts of Dons fans of a certain age, but the 4QR doesn’t hold the same air of mystery it did when we invaded Sittingbourne and Crawley en-masse. Been there, done that, been destroyed by the powerhouse team running away with promotion two divisions above us in the next round…

In fact, you wonder whether we might be heading for a bit of a fall here. Our captain has been idly discussing who he would like to play in the next round with the local press. The WUP guestbook has pondered a potential tie with Them in the next round – in fact even I considered jumping on the bandwagon with an article about it until I remembered we have to actually beat Basingstoke first… Lets not forget, while Dons sides in the past have revelled in the underdog tag we haven’t exactly been immune to the boot being on the other foot occasionally. I mean, who seriously thought we would lose at home to Workington in last years Trophy?

OK, this is a very different Dons sde to the overpaid and over rated part-timers of last term. But the fact is, for all their brilliance so far in the League, the current squads limited FA Cup experience in most cases hasn’t stretched as far as being such overwhelming favourites for such an important tie away from home. You wonder what it’s doing to their heads, for all the managers insistance they treat it with the seriousness it deserves will they even subconsiously lose focus, for long enough for it to be fatal and Important Lessons end up being learnt the hard way?

Ultimately the attitude certain young players show will decide whether its a comfortable victory or a nervy afternoon. And perhaps more than any of them, the performance of Andre Blackman could be key to our chances. Its probably pretty obvious that Andre is a far more technically gifted footballer than Chris Bush, for all the promise Bush has shown in his short spell at the club. And yet, Bush is starting games and Andre isn’t. Its a simple fact that if you are a full back then no matter how many players you can beat, how many impressive tricks you can use to bamboozle the opposition… if you can’t do the simple things right – defend solidly, concentrate at all times, clear your lines when under pressure – then the guy who can will get to play instead of you.

Andre now has the chance to show what he’s learnt from his time on the bench thanks to Bush’s enforced absence, and if he performs he will keep the shirt. I’m sure this is something he is very much aware of going into Saturday, as will Jon Main, Luke Moore, etc. One huge boost is the news Steven Gregory looks like being fit, as I mentioned after Saturdays game I feel he is every bit as important as Kedwell in terms of our ambitions for the season – if we can keep those two fit we will go a long way.

Before I go just a quick congratulations to The Youth, who progressed in their version of the FA Cup with a 1-0 win over Wealdstone – Maidstone or Dartford await them in the First Round proper, and once again The Youth are giving the senior boys a run for their money over which Dons side will play on a Premier League ground first…

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