Play Our Game, Not Theirs…

Terry Brown was a frustrated man at around 1.25PM on Saturday afternoon. Rather than the patient football he had seen all season, his Dons back line were simply launching the ball into the midst of a Stevenage midfield that seemed to have on average a clear six inches height advantage over the home side. Not surprisingly, the ball was coming back almost as fast as it was propelled forward, and only some solid defending was keeping the League Two side at bay. ‘Have some courage!’ and ‘Play our game not theirs!’ seemed to be Browns two favourite phrases, but even when Sebb Brown chose to play it short to a defender he invariably thought twice beforehand, giving that extra couple of seconds for a Stevenage man to close down and ensure the ball would be pumped forward, and inevitably lead to a Stevenage move rather than a Dons one.

The problem was, the Dons players had frozen under the spotlight. The knowledge they were being watched by a worldwide TV audience with a place in the Third Round of the FA Cup their prize, seemed to have collectively stiffened them. To a man they had lost faith in their own ability, and rather than commit to their game plan seemed desperate to be rid of the football as soon as it came into their possession. And by this stage they were already a goal down. A panicky Steven Gregory challenge on the edge of the area gifted Stevenage a free kick – the decision raising the ire of the Dons fans as Gregory seemed to get plenty of the ball, but watching the replay later even the most blinded Dons fan would have to admit you’ve seen them given. The visitors new loan signing from Watford, Josh Walker, struck the ball low past the wall, it bounced off the inside of the left post and into the opposite corner past a static Brown.

At around this time a bell should have been ringing in Dons fans heads… we’ve been here before. Thurrock, Exeter City, Wycombe, Millwall… whenever we edge past our previous best in this competition, we come across a team that are a step to far. Progress is slow and seems related to our League status, tough to take when you see ‘inferior’ sides such as FCUM and Dover having a real go at it. Without the pressure of expectation on their backs our young side have managed to exceed all expectations by finding themselves top of the Conference after twenty games, a play off place has gone from being a possibility to an expectation, but Stevenage just seemed to be too much of an ask.

Not that they completely caved in. They gave it a real go in the second half, and finally had Stevenage on the back foot. On another day, given a bit of luck, the equalizer would have come. Perhaps Kedwells cross would have been six inches in front of Luke Moore rather than six inches behind. Perhaps the skippers rampaging run would have been turned in at the near post by Yussuff rather than blocked. It gave the crowd the chance to crank the noise up a notch, the support was fantastic as you would expect, yet despite this the away supporters could be heard above the home fans – not verbally of course, but their collection of drums that suggested an impromptu performance of ‘Stomp’ was taking place in the visitors section. Losing to Millwall last season was in a way acceptable, we would expect to play Millwall on a regular basis in future, but losing to Stevenage requires a little bit of patience and forward thinking – looking to the past can help in this respect, as well as the aforementioned Thurrock debacle, we also managed to lose an FA Cup tie 0-3 at home to Walton & Hersham… and what became of them???

Just when it seemed we were set for a pulsating last ten minutes, with the Dons pushing hard for a leveller, they were caught by a sucker punch ten minutes from time that effectively ended the game. Hatton and Yakubu probably could have done better to snuff the chance out, as Yemi Udubade hit a volley that bobbled into the corner. As if that wasn’t game over anyway, the referee then pulled out a second yellow for Ed Harris following an earlier incident that on first viewing looked more of a ‘collision’, but TV cameras later revealed to be more of a ‘desperate lunge’. Unfortunate for Harris, and unfortunate for the Dons who now head into Tuesdays game with Luton without Harris and the injured Johnson (how we could have done with him…), with only Franks and Ismail Yakubu available, with the manager only last week questioning Yakubu’s fitness regarding playing two games in four days… Is anybody else hoping the weather worsens ahead of Tuesday? We surely can’t afford to give a promotion rival such a big advantage…

So what positives can be taken from this experience? Well, we were a lot better in the second half, one of the reasons for this was the change to a simple 4-4-2. This brought Kedwell into the game, and was a big factor in almost getting back on terms at the start of the second half. This doesn’t mean of course, that we should immediately drop the 4-3-3 that served us so well for the opening couple of months. I just love the fluidity of the system, the way it brings the best of Christian Jolley and Ryan Jackson, it is a genuine 4-3-3 rather than the 4-5-1 it appears to be when we are penned back. But sometimes its obvious that it isn’t working, and it doesn’t seem fair to ask the players to persist with it, especially when the knee jerk reaction is to bring on someone like Jon Main and asking him to run the flanks. Here’s hoping the manager has the confidence to make the switch more frequently in future.

Beyond that, the only positive we can take is the experience our young squad will hopefully take from this. While we need to be worried in the short-term that we froze, that we found ourselves brushed off the ball quite easily, etc, the squad can only improve. We know that if promotion doesn’t come this season it will come next, the squad will gain a years extra experience and we will come good eventually. Patience is a good virtue to have in football, we obviously have the right manager, we know we have the bulk of a team capable of winning promotion to and surviving in League Two, so lets just enjoy the ride over the next couple of years. While visiting a Premier League or Championship ground would have been a fantastic experience for all of us, it’s not to be this year, and never before has the cliché of being able to concentrate on the league been more apt. We have a big six months or so ahead of us…

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One thought on “Play Our Game, Not Theirs…

  1. maliniok says:

    I like your comclusion and agree with it. FA cup is a nice distraction from reality and should be enjoyed while it lasts. But now concentrate on the league. My dad watched the game in Poland via internet streaming and praised the atmosphere. He was really surprised that even at this level fans make so much noise!

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