Monthly Archives: April 2011

Dead Rubber

The tickets are being sold, coaches filled and debts paid off, now its all go for the playoffs… but first we need to get Grimsby out of the way, in what might count as one of the most pointless competitive fixtures in the AFC era. I would suggest this fixture is going to have a pre-season vibe about it, but lets face it us Dons fans seem to turn out in vast numbers for the most meaningless of games… Our final first season game against RPV stood for ages as Dons record crowd at Kingsmeadow, and discounting the novelty factor of playing at Wembley the Corinthian Casuals game was a pointless distraction that could have cost us. Plus did we really pull in nearly 3k for a game against Arsenal’s youth team? It seems so long ago now…

To be honest, I’m suffering a bit of playoff envy at the moment hearing all these stories of people booking train tickets and gaining a place on the terrace, after being knocked back for the thirteenth time while trying to get next Friday off work. I suppose they are showing a great deal of understanding of why I’m repeatedly asking the question – before they say ‘no’ of course – but I’ve now screwed myself over, as any unexpected bouts of ‘sickness’ next Friday will merely ensure I won’t have a job to worry about the Friday after…

So its time for another of the famous Anonymous Don’s About Turns… I just want to say a big thanks to Premier Sports for showing the game, all is forgiven. Well, not really, but that and the fact tomorrows game has been put back to 5.15pm – I’m on a stag do today where the only rule seems to be make sure you don’t get more trashed than the groom, and I appreciate the recovery time – have made me appreciate the Worst TV deal in Sports History, just a tiny little bit. It’s still the worst deal ever though, even worse than when the UK ice hockey league ended up having to pay Sky to show their sport…

But onto more immediate matters, and we welcome Grimsby to Kingsmeadow for the first time. Obviously our to clubs have developed a bit of history over our years together in the Football League; that Group Cup final that I was too young to remember, the arrival of Harry Haddock in the eighties, a 2-6 walloping in the Championship years… Then of course Grimsby became every Dons fans second-favourite team a few years back when they took on Them in the Johnstones Paint Trophy. It’d be fair to say Grimsby fans probably won’t be looking back on their first season with a great amount of affection,  unless they get a kick out of losing at places like Bath and Newport, but much like Cambridge or Mansfield they’ll get it together sooner rather than later, and Wimbledon could do themselves a favour by getting promoted before that happens…

There’s two schools of thought as to how TB should line up for tomorrows game. Firstly, we are on a bit of a run of form, so pick your strongest side and go for continuity. This is apparently the approach Brown favours, and that’s fair enough, as long as we don’t pick up any injuries and no-one is stupid enough to get themselves sent off… oh, and we might want to avoid a demoralizing tonking while we’re at it.

The other method would have been to just play the stiffs and take a defeat, it doesn’t matter and there is no chance of them getting injured if they’re sitting in the stands. A bit over-cautious perhaps, and I know we do have a big squad, but I get the impression something is going to happen to someone either tomorrow or at Fleetwood…

Locked In

So the playoff positions have been pretty much decided after todays round of matches, and ignoring the ongoing Wrexham saga it seems the Dons will travel to Fleetwood for the semi-final first leg, while Wrexham entertain Luton – unless Wrexham manage to defeat Luton by a mere sixteen goals, in which case they would have more than earned their second leg home advantage.

Fleetwood are going to be tough, let’s make no mistake about that, but it could have been worse – much worse. In order to progress to the playoff final we’ll either need to remain unbeaten against a strong Fleetwood side over four games this season, or run up a big victory in one of the games. A repeat of our league encounters would be nice, the Dons gaining a draw up at Highbury before winning the return thanks to a fortunate late goal.

Wimbledon did enough today, with nine changes to the starting lineup it was never going to be a free-flowing performance. We now have the chance to play a stronger side against Grimsby, our final chance to prepare. A victory would be nice, of course, but merely getting through without any injuries is probably Terry Browns main concern.

Saturday will round off a fantastic season for us, second place is an unbelieveable return from what should have been a rebuilding period. Against Grimsby we get a chance to celebrate what was achieved… and it is worth celebrating. But May brings with it the opportunity to take another step towards gaining back part of what was rightfully ours, and we have every chance of doing so. Enjoy Saturday, as it will be the last chance this season you can relax and watch a game, before the pressure starts again…

Clear As Mud

With such clichés decent posts are built – possibly. It’s fair to say the playoff picture has somehow become a little murkier after the last round of matches… Ok, the Dons are looking good for second, and Luton will follow us into third place, but despite Wrexham’s victory their ability to contest the playoffs has been called into question once again, while Kidderminster’s victory over Fleetwood has ensured that battle goes down to the wire.

The Wrexham thing is interesting. Reports in todays NLP suggest that not only may they be barred from competing in the playoffs, but the side finishing sixth will not be replacing them, instead the second place side will receive a bye.Now of course this was just a report from a media outlet, and I’m not buying it… I don’t mean I don’t believe it, I mean I haven’t bought the NLP for ages, but had a quick skim of the article in my local newsagent, cursing the fact I hadn’t bought more change with me but accepting the extra detail I could have discerned from actually buying it probably wasn’t worth £1.50 of my money anyway.

Effectively, Wrexham need to pay their outstanding £200,000 tax bill before the Luton game or face the prospect of being barred from the playoffs. I say prospect, as we still haven’t heard anything officially from the Conference to confirm their actions, but it seems likely if the bill isn’t paid Wrexham’s place in the playoffs will be pretty untenable regardless. Under these circumstances, the second place side will go straight to Manchester, with the third place side facing off against whoever else manages to qualify…

Now, firstly this seems strange, as the Conference already seem to have rules in place relating to what happens if a club is excluded for ground grading purposes – we are seeing it in the BSN with Eastwood. Which is all right and proper… if Eastwood were to pip Nuneaton or Guiseley, they would have effectively gained a financial advantage by failing in their requirements to ensure their stadium was up to scratch, as their competitors had managed to do.

Yet in this situation, a club cheated out of a playoff place misses out, you have to wonder why it seems this course of action will be followed? Did the Conference already have a ruling on this, was it published and advised to clubs in advance, and if so why does it differ to their policy on ground grading? Have they taken a look at the league table and noticed another financial basket case in Kidderminster could be the ones to benefit? The Conference have been pretty strict this season on financial mismanagement, and rightly so, but football clubs seem to have a knack of managing to find more and more creative ways of getting into trouble, to the point entrance into the playoffs may end up being decided by which contenders have been financially mismanaged the least. 

Either way, the news gives the Dons a huge incentive to gain that vital point in order to confirm second place, just in case… You know if Luton pip us for second place it’s just our luck they’ll go on and get a bye to the final… that’s just our luck. 

My hunch is the bill will get paid. I’m by no means an expert on the financial goings on up at the Racecourse, but it does seem they’re fairly odious owners stand to lose a lot more than £200,000 if they allow the club to slide into administration. The Wrexham Trust has a tidy little nest egg tucked away, which the owners have been trying to get their grubby hands on for quite some time. Naturally the trust don’t want to hand over the cash, which will pay off this debt quite easily, only for their resources to be drained and the club find themselves in similar problems next season… and if Wrexham were ever to fall into administration or worse, you would imagine that money will come in quite handy.

The owners recent attempts at bluffing the trust out of their cash revolved around some disinformation relating to a reformed Wrexham side being barred from the English pyramid and forced into the Welsh system, and failed miserably. Now they are gambling on football supporters more base instincts… if the money isn’t paid, the club won’t have the money to cover the bill and will be barred from promotion. While both sides have their poker faces on at the moment its hard to know who will crack, but as the owners have before its likely they will again… unless of course they really can’t find the money, in which case all bets are off…

Battling for that final position, the race now seems to be solely between Fleetwood and Kidderminster. In fact victory for the former at Barrow coupled with the latter failure to beat Rushden will finish it, yet for the time being even Darlington still have a mathematical chance of making it, although their 2-0 victory over York on Saturday was probably more notable for effectively ending their visitors hopes.

Amid all this uncertainly the Dons head to Forest Green, fielding a rotated side that will presumably be missing Hatton, Johnson, Gregory and Kedwell, among others. An unprecedented five Dons players found themselves in the provisional England C squad, but there is a reason it’s provisional… congratulations to Brown, Hatton, Gregory, Jolley and Luke Moore, but here’s hoping none of them get the opportunity to represent their country this time around – with the playoff final only days after England take on Portugal, I’m kind of hoping the Dons contingent will be otherwise engaged…

Voucher E

I’ve done my fair share of moaning about the Premier Sports deal, but if the weather next Saturday is anything like it was for this one I’ll be grateful the kick-off has been moved back to the cooler early evening. Having said that, it’ll probably rain, and it doesn’t exactly make up for having to shift the Kidderminster game to a Sunday, or those Friday night fixtures… Under those circumstances I reserve the right to rail against an inappropriate kick-off time, particularly considering the game is extremely unlikely to (a) be shown on said channel or (b) affect in any way the game they do choose to screen (my best guess at the moment would be Cambridge v Fleetwood, possibly deciding a playoff and relegation place…).

To be fair, temperatures like these are not unknown for football, just normally we experience them in pre-season or August/September time… so early in the year we haven’t had time to acclimatize yet. For some reason I decided to soak up the sunshine pre-match by the Coronation Stone – the riverside and market place were packed, and I couldn’t go straight down to Kingsmeadow as I had to get measured up for a suit for my mates wedding.

This was a bad move for a couple of reasons – firstly, the measuring process took a lot longer than I thought, so I had to rush to the ground, ensuring I arrived later and hotter than I previously thought. Secondly, in these superstitious times, I’ll invariably find myself having to visit the bloody Coronation Stone before the play-off semi… and if that goes in our favour, well I can’t exactly go before Manchester as I’ve already made plans to be in the north that weekend (for family reasons, Football Gods!!!). I’ll probably end up trying to chip a bit off to take with me, not a sensible idea as its right opposite the police station, and I’ll miss the our ascension to the Football League due to being up in court facing charges of damaging a priceless ancient artifact… still, if it means we get promoted, you gotta do what you gotta do, right?

The clubs decision to offer cheaper terrace tickets seemed to have paid off judging by the busier than normal Kingston Road End, at least proving that no matter how unappealing or weak an offer may initially seem, people will buy into it if there’s a chance there might be a slice of pizza in it for them. A higher than normal percentage of season ticket holders had turned out too, which always makes the eventual announcement of the crowd figure seem lower than it looks, due to the weird way football clubs work out crowd figures based on number of tickets sold rather than how many people are actually in the ground.

Mansfield turned up in their away kit, a very English looking red cross on a white background which kind of reminded me of the Inter centenary shirt, but also the England Rugby League shirt circa the mid nineties… On the whole the visitors play mainly resembled the latter more than the former, although the opening goal on the quarter-hour would have graced the San Siro… Ok, a couple of Dons players stood off and watch the guy hit it, but it absolutely flew in the bottom corner and gave poor Jack Turner no chance.

After the Hendon game I wrote about how Jack needed a league game for experience, and it must have been a little frustrating for him… picking the ball out of the net was pretty much the first time he touched the ball, and he wasn’t called upon to make another save all day. The problem is the Dons defence are in mean mode, a good thing for our playoff chances, and the only other big chance Mansfield created came via Turner himself, blasting a clearance against an onrushing forward the ball bounced high and seemed to take forever to come down – fortunately landing on the roof of the net rather than gifting the visitors a two goal advantage.

Before all this happened, the Dons had actually started really brightly and could have been a couple of goals up before eventually falling behind. Mo squandered the two best opportunities, although the first wasn’t really his fault… tugged back by the last man and only able to stab the ball into the keepers grateful arms – even if the referee couldn’t see it the linesman certainly should. His second effort followed some wonderful one touch passing from the Dons around the edge of the area, and when clear saw another tame effort, this time under no pressure, that was pretty much a back pass.

Sam Hatton fired a free kick that had to be turned under the bar as the Dons ran the game early on, Reece Jones integral to many moves in the first period. On his full, Jones turned in the sort of performance that makes you regret that he didn’t get more first team chances this term, like Jack Turner he is a great prospect for the future. Which makes it all the more disappointing that Terry Brown made the announcement post-match that most of us probably expected – the reserves will remain part-time next season, and thus will stay in the Suburban League. This is a prudent decision, I don’t think we’ll see a move to a higher standard of reserve football until at least a season after we join the Football League (whenever that may be…), but it means Jones and Turner, along with our other fringe players, will surely have to head off for an extended period on loan next term.

Once Mansfield got their noses in front, I got the impression the Dons would have great difficulty finding their way back into the game. The stale atmosphere didn’t help, it felt more like a pre-season game at times… and I suppose that’s pretty much what it was, as both sides head onto bigger things in May. But as half time came and went, Dons fans forgot about plans to join the ticket queues and remembered there was a game on, as their team started to gain the upper hand against rapidly tiring opponents.

Being able to introduce players of the quality of Minshull and Jolley probably helped. Jones was made way in midfield, presumably pre-planned prior to heading off for international duty after his two hours of football in the week, and Minshull immediately began to stamp his authority on the middle of the park.

Wimbledon got on level terms in fairly simple terms, a deep corner from the left swung over everybody and was bundled in at the far post by Jamie Stuart for his first Dons goal. The game could have petered out into a predictable draw from there, had it not been for the enthusiasm of Christian Jolley, who could have given the Dons the lead seconds before he actually did after seeing his header cleared somewhere close to the line.

Almost immediately after he stopped what was quite a long enquiry with the linesman over whether his previous effort had passed over the line, Jolley picked up the ball on the right inside the box and drilled an effort towards the near post. Somewhere along its trajectory the ball struck Bret Johnson, enough for there to be some doubt over who the goal should be credited to, but the more important statistic was the Dons claimed their 26th victory of the season, to move within a point of guaranteeing a second place finish.

Almost immediately Dons fans started to file out in their dribs and drabs, not in order to get home any quicker but to join the ever lengthening queues clutching voucher E in order to pick up tickets for the playoff semi final. More time spent in the hot sun, a few Dons fans will have spent the evening picking dry, dead skin off themselves. The Dons now have another two dead rubbers to encounter before the fun starts, and at the end of this long weekend might have more of an idea what faces us in May.

8 Days

The next couple of weeks are going to be sweet – very little time wasted at work as the Dons league campaign reaches its denouement… The only problem we now face, with playoff football a certainty, is maintaining interest in three fixtures that for most fans have very little purpose or meaning. Grimsby shouldn’t be a problem as Dons fans congregate to cheer their heroes into the playoffs, FGR is our last away (for now…) and on a Bank Holiday Monday should be an occasion. But what of Mansfield?

The club have noticed there might not be the sort of holiday demand they were expecting, and have therefore slashed ticket prices by £4 for the terrace (if you buy online in advance, of course… you didn’t expect it to be an open and honest offer did you?) I’ve found meaning in the game by artificially exaggerating – in my own mind – the importance of finishing second, but you have to ask exactly what the value would be.

Finishing as runners-up, behind such a dominant and well financed champion club, is no mean feat and something to be proud of. Previously it was thought pipping Luton would avoid a potentially tricky trip to Wrexham, since then the Welsh club have gone through what the understated would describe as ‘a bad spell’. Their well publicised off-field problems have put an element of doubt over their participation in the playoffs, but with Fleetwood, York and Kidderminster breathing down their necks there is a chance they could miss out thanks to events on the pitch unless they manage to pick up a couple of wins. But with trips to Gateshead and Luton sandwiched between a home encounter with relegation-threatened Tamworth, that’s easier said than done.

Mansfield themselves would have fancied their chances of a promotion spot back in August, but it didn’t really work out for them as planned and they find themselves destined for a mid-table finish. Still, they seem to be in a stronger position going into the summer, with new directors promising funds to boost their promotion chances. This is not the sort of news paranoid Dons fans want to hear – should Wimbledon fail in the playoffs, having to face a rejuvenated Mansfield (as well as one or two others) could be a daunting task, especially if the much-feared mass departure of talent results in a rebuilt Dons side struggling to find their feet.

If ew don’t go up, who would these Football League clubs be looking at? Kedwell will be the obvious one, his goalscoring record alone over the past two seasons will have scouts in the lower two divisions of the Football League sitting up and taking notice. But to be honest, his age alone will be enough to make at least half of them think twice about making the trip down to Kingsmeadow.

A more obvious target would be Steven Gregory. Kedwell might get the goals, and to a lesser extent Seb Brown keep the clean sheets, but TB’s Dons gameplan this season has been pretty much built around Gregory, to the point newcomers normally immediately notice the impact he has on the game. Yet many Dons fans don’t appreciate him, even myself from time to time… although Gregory will undoubtedly be rested for one of the Easter games its unlikely we’ll see an otherwise full strength Dons side without him this term. I have a feeling Gregory is the tumble dryer of the Dons side – not always noticed, or even needed, but you miss him when he isn’t there.

The other prime candidates would be his England C team mates Brown and Hatton, both the right age, both in fantastic form, and Sammy Moore – despite his injury, someone might want to take a punt on him based on the first half of the season alone.

I suppose the easiest way of keeping hold of our star players is to go up, this season. Tomorrows game isn’t going to have too much of an effect on whether that happens… it’s all part of the preparation process, I suppose. A fifth win on the bounce would breed even more confidence, and going unbeaten into the playoffs would give the squad unreal self belief. But ultimately the side head into tomorrows game in the rare position of being under no pressure – here’s hoping this results in an entertaining affair, and us supporters can relax and enjoy the game before it all kicks off again in May… because if there’s one word I definitely wouldn’t use to describe watching your side in the playoffs, it’d be ‘entertainment’.

Omen

Well, we missed out on a London Senior Cup final – and as you’re undoubtedly aware after I drew it to your attention earlier in the week, the Dons have never entered the Football League in a year they haven’t won the LSC on all one occasions it previously happened…Plus it seems likely we’ll finish second, and runners-up almost never gain promotion via the playoffs. So take down the bunting, cancel your ticket for the semi, it’s not going to happen this year…

Ok, so it might… last night was merely an enjoyable distraction from the playoff stress and tension. Thats right, enjoyable. After a low-key first half only really notable for an early Hendon goal, a Reece Jones piledriver from downtown that bounced back off the post, and Ryan Jackson’s worrying loss of directional sense, the game really caught fire in the second 45. As I had a hunch it would… the mashed together Dons reserve/first teamers in need of game time combo were the more technically gifted side, but lack of game time meant they failed to gel together ensuring a close encounter with what was Hendon’s strongest, rested XI.

After Hendon took a two goal lead, the Dons embarked on a Christian Jolley inspired comeback and seemed certain to progress after tieing up the scores, yet Hendon somehow survived, regrouped heading into extra time, and won it thanks to an unfortunate defensive mix-up. Jolley’s hour on the pitch was the standout Dons performance, I felt a little sorry for the Hendon left back in the second half as he was finding it almost too easy… but what of the other first teamers on display?

Jack Turner was named captain, it turns out largely because he was the only one who asked, but he seemed the natural choice to bridge the gap between reserve and first team. The problem Jack has is not only is Seb Brown an outstanding goalkeeper, he doesn’t get injured, he hasn’t been suspended… in other words Jack hasn’t yet been thrown in at the deep end. Which means there is almost an extra pressure on him to take the rare opportunities he does get, and last night he kind of snatched at it a little. 

His shot stopping goes without question, but like many a young goalkeeper his decision-making hasn’t yet caught up with his natural ability. Did he really need to come so far for a ball he was second favourite for in the lead up to Hendon’s second goal? The same goes for his distribution, accurate, but not always clever. It will come for him, he just needs an extended run of decent, first team football, perhaps an extended loan period at a BSS or even lower Conference side. Until then, he’s backing up Seb for the remainder of the season and playoffs, so here’s hoping Terry does the right thing and gives him one of the three remaining regular season games – the experience could be invaluable.

I mentioned Ryan Jackson earlier, and while he didn’t have the worst game in the world he was hit and miss. Not having been a regular over the past couple of months getting two hours of football under his belt was more important than a performance in this type of fixture. Similarly James Mulleys half of football was all about fitness, and I’m sure we’ll be seeing them both get a league start over the Easter period. Mark Nwokeji has looked sharp since his return from Eastleigh, but was quiet last night and shackled for long periods by the Hendon defence.

Along with Jolley, Kirk Hudson had the standout performance. When he was named in the starting lineup I didn’t know quite what to think,  but his performance was what you would expect of a League Two player, completely comfortable in possession of the ball, I can’t remember him giving the ball away once… Obviously playing Hendon is a little different to facing a Wrexham or a Fleetwood in a Conference playoff game, but we know he has the pace to frighten anyone and here’s hoping he can apply a little of what we saw last night if he is called upon over the next month or so.

Like Mulley and Jackson he will get a chance in the league over Easter, and if TB had no thoughts of using him in the playoffs there would have been no point giving him a game at the expense of someone like Dos Santos, in fact he’ll probably have been bombed back at Aldershot by now.

I have to admit I haven’t seen much of the reserves this season, but I was surprised at how fit they seemed. Callum Dunne had a decent game, holding the midfield together Stephen Gregory style, the back two looked solid, and Nathan Gordon combined a recent defensive display with some dangerous and pacy forward runs overlapping down the left flank.

In fact, none of the Dons players really had a bad game… on another night one of the chances created would have gone in, they suffered on the night thanks to a determined display from a tough Ryman Premier side – and lets not forget the Hendon side have been playing together all season, whereas our county cup lineups are normally thrown together on the night. Fair play to Hendon though, I hope they go on and win the thing. As for us Dons fans, things are about to get very interesting…

Dons v Dons

The pressure of the promotion race can be put to one side for a moment as the (younger) Dons turn their attention to cup glory. Ladies and gentlemen… its London Senior Cup semi final time! The LSC, or to give it its full name The Coventry Scaffolding London CountyFootball Association Senior Challenge Cup, might not be the most prestigious of competitions, even to sides playing their football at a much lower level than ourselves… but it also happens to be a trophy we haven’t yet won since our reformation, despite those ’25 years unbeaten in the LSC’ posters we produced to publicise the only cup competition we bothered with in our first season. I get the impression that should we somehow overnight become a Football League club at some point in the future (without wanting to anger those all important Football Gods…) we’ll regret not winning this tournament… not in an ‘I regret not travelling the world when I was on my gap year’ kind of way, more ‘I wish I’d put chilli sauce on this kebab’…

Back in our first year we played about four games just to take a third round home battering by Barkingside, all home encounters watched by crowds in four figures. This time around we entered at R3, defeating Dulwich and Beckenham to set up a Dons v Dons semi-final showdown, between last years finalists and 2009’s winners (at our own Kingsmeadow, which I attended and produced a full report for the now dormant general football little brother blog of Anonymous Don, which can be found here).

Despite being hot favourites for the game, Wimbledon came away empty handed last season after a shoot-out defeat at the hands of the Met (although the back four that night did subsequently pick up a Perrier Award nomination for the debacle…), in a game that in contrast to those early LSC encounters – and indeed SSC finals at Woking – was watched by a gate of less than a thousand. There could be another reason behind why we appeared to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory that night, and I’ll allude to that at the end of this post…

The Other Dons remain exactly where they were last time we met, the Ryman Premier, which must count as something of a success following the sad loss of their characteristic old Claremont Road ground to share with Wembley. As a trust owned club I’ll always be more inclined to wish teams like Hendon greater success… I’m sure supporters of non-supporter owned clubs wouldn’t really understand that view, perhaps even seeing it as a form of snobbery – but the way things are going the trust owned clubs will be in a majority soon anyway, at least in the lower levels of the game. The only real downer is trust ownership normally follows a traumatic experience, be it financial meltdown, the loss of a ground… the theft of a football club…

We left our spiritual home twenty years ago, and with all due respect to our current home, have never come close to finding anywhere that even comes near to the feeling I got when I first started watching my Dons at PL. Kingsmeadow means a lot to me, if only for being the stage our radical reinvention was played out on, but it seems likely we will one day find our own new home, somewhere that at least in part captures the spirit of Plough Lane. We can only hope Hendon find a place they can call home a lot sooner than we eventually will…

Hendon seem to have rested a few first choice players for their 0-3 home defeat at the hands of Horsham at the weekend, and will be going all out to lift the famous old trophy for a fourth time. This will be a stiff task for a mixture of Dons first team squad players and the cream of reserve and youth… as always in this type of game there will be no doubt Wimbledon will be fielding a better calibre of player in their XI, but the scratch nature of the line up in mixing players who won’t have had much experience playing together will probably make the Other Dons slight favourites for this one.

Despite that, the day we do return to the Football League I’ll miss occasions like this… the senior cups are low-key without being reserve fixture stale. There is still a bit of an atmosphere around the place – one of my favourite trips last season was the defeat at Godalming in the SSC. We might not be promoted this year, we might not even go up next year, but we will do, one day… and of course the last time the Dons won the LSC was in 1977, the year we last left the non-league game – if you’re hoping history will repeat itself, a victory tomorrow night will be the start of what could be a good omen.

Confirmed

So its done… the Dons are mathematically assured of taking part in the end of season madness that is the playoffs, and are all but assured of a top three place as well – unless Wrexham start racking up double figure victories, in which case a point will do it.

A comfortable victory it was too. The Dons were never in trouble in a game that effectively turned into a training exercise. Beyond the obvious bonus of not picking up any injuries, we also welcomed back Christian Jolley following his magic sugar injection (or whatever it is…), and Luke Moore rediscovered his goalscoring touch. All in all, a good day… We can only hope our remaining three games are as sedentary as this one sounded…

The playoffs are starting to take shape now, with the Dons six points clear of Luton, still requiring seven points to guarantee second place but in reality probably only need to take four to be sure once Lutons stuttering form has been taken into account. Luton play Histon and Eastbourne before finishing against Wrexham, which should at least ensure they pick up enough points to stay ahead of the Welsh side. Before that they face a tricky trip to York, who pretty much need to win to stand any chance of hauling themselves into fifth place.

Kidderminster face a distracted Wembley-bound Darlington side on Tuesday night, victory will set up their big game on Friday against Fleetwood – a match which could go a long way to deciding who the Dons face in the semi final. I’ve already admitted Kidderminster will offer my best chance of actually making it to the first leg… I think the selfish reasons for my desire to see them qualify could backfire – I might not even get the afternoon off for a start… And we know whoever we face will provide a stern test.

The next couple of weeks are going to be a bit weird, I’m sure most of our attentions will be on who is going to join us and confirmation of who we will play and when. I don’t know about you but as far as I’m concerned the playoffs can’t come quickly enough. Before then, there are four games in the next two weeks to look forward to, starting on Tuesday when a combination of young reserves and first teamers in need of game time take on Hendon in the LSC…

WUP 8.8

This article was originally published in WUP 8.8, March ’11. With the playoffs looming, Terry Brown’s mid-season acquisitions were reviewed…

What a difference twelve months makes. This time last year, despite attending games left, right, and Gateshead, my mind was elsewhere. The sun had started to show itself and thoughts of beach BBQs and beer gardens were muscling out mediocre football, as the Dons settled for a mid-table finish. This column is written in part to publicise my ever popular and award-winning blog of the same name (for that’s where the good stuff lies… and this wouldn’t be one of those lame marketing plugs if I didn’t now request you ‘Search ‘Anonymous Don’ on Facebook’…), so I decided to check my archive and find out what I thought of the miserable end to the 09/10 campaign – only to find one post, a single line effort apologizing for the lack of updates. I’d never claim to be the most hardcore of supporters, I do a fair few away games and I can be bothered to keep a blog going about my beloved Dons for over two years, but it probably says quite a lot about the standard of entertainment at the time that, to be honest, I just couldn’t be arsed with it.

Flash forward a year, and I’m starting to hope football never ends. We have been richly spoiled this season by the standard of football – ok, not quite good enough to sustain a title challenge, but the sort of improvement we couldn’t have envisaged at the start of the season. The obvious explanation would be our move into the brave new world of professional football, but starting with such a young squad we were always going to be found wanting when the injuries piled up. Fortunately, thanks to ESPN and ITV (and to a lesser extent and entirely unintentionally, a franchise outfit in Buckinghamshire…), we found a bit of cash to supply Terry Brown with a January war chest to pick up the cream of available talent, supplement our threadbare squad and bolster our promotion charge. But hang on… Wasn’t the unsettling introduction of various journeyman loanees one of the reasons we slumped so badly towards the end of 09/10?

Certainly more than one Dons fan pointed out a sense of deja vu between last seasons recruitment drive and this January window, even if the only similarity was the number of bodies passing through the Kingsmeadow entrance. January is always going to be a much harder time of year to bring a player in, everyone who is anywhere near half decent will be on a contract and staying put elsewhere. On top of this, moving to a new side mid-season must be an unsettling experience. Having said that, how have Browns class of 2011 reinforcements worked out? I decided to run the rule over how they have got on so far – but bear in mind like the Man of the Match award announced with ten minutes to go, we still have the most important part of the season remaining…

James Mulley (Hayes & Yeading) – Non-contract

When I was a kid I remember reading a cartoon strip, perhaps in the boxes of old Roy of the Rovers comics my Junior School kept to keep the kids entertained when it rained at lunchtime. Anyway, the story revolved around footballs version of a ‘gun for hire’, a player available on a match by match basis to any club who could afford his fee. Mulley is a little different in that he doesn’t seem to be swayed by money (well, no more than anyone else…), his prime motivation appears to be to play in the Football League. The decision to bring in Mulley was described by TB as a ‘no-brainer’, in that his non-contract status meant he could be discarded if not required, yet it very quickly became apparent that if Mulley were to leave the Dons it would likely be his own decision. Fans were soon fretting he might be snapped up, the club mentioned most were Crawley, which was more an insight into Dons fans paranoia following the Kedwell bids in the summer than any realistic concerns. This wasn’t surprising as he fitted in immediately, and seemed an automatic choice for the rest of the season once Sammy Moore’s kneecap decided to relocate half way up his thigh. A brain-dead red card picked up at Crawley and resulting three match ban coincided with the return to fitness and form of Minshull and Wellard respectively. Will have a big part to play over the remainder of the season, whether he’ll still be with us next season is anyones guess and will probably depend on which division we find ourselves in.

Kirk Hudson (Aldershot) – Loan

On the face of it the loan of Kirk Hudson must have seemed a complete gimme as Brown saw it. With first year professionals Jackson and Jolley having been exceptional, but overdue a run of poor form, we needed someone to fill in for them when required. And Hudson seemed to tick all the boxes. He has pace, isn’t afraid to shoot and can put in a decent cross when inclined. Plus, he’s done it before in this division for this manager. And yet… it hasn’t quite worked out for him so far. I get the impression if he’d joined us in the summer and got the chance to settle in he might have had a storming season, yet joining in mid-season probably hasn’t done him any favours. Perhaps it’s because, mentally, dropping down a division is a step backwards for him? Or perhaps this division has moved on even in the two years since he played in it last? Either way, at the time of writing Luke Moore, Ryan Jackson, a fit again Christian Jolley and new signing Kaid Mohamed are ahead of him in the pecking order to flank Kedwell, and it seems unlikely he’ll play a major part in the remainder of the season. Stranger things have happened, of course…

Jamie Stuart (Rushden) – Nominal Fee

Ed Harris and Fraser Franks hadn’t really done anything wrong covering for the perma-injured Johnson and Yakubu, but the signing of Stuart was a masterstroke. Stuart is a real pro, fitting in immediately, including a standout performance chaperoning a makeshift defence to a clean sheet against Luton. Of course, the irony now is that Johnson and Yakubu returned and consigned Stuart, somewhat unfairly, to a place on the bench. Yet we can be sure that if anything happens to either of them, we have a capable body standing by ready to fill in. In fact, it wouldn’t weaken us too much if it happened, and that’s what you need heading into huge playoff encounters.

Gareth Gwillim (Dagenham) – Loan

The loan signing of Gwillim probably says a lot about the state of football these days in that there are players operating in the two divisions below us who are professional in all but name, yet we find ourselves taking a League One fullback on loan and it turns out he spends most of his evenings maintaining the London Underground. I’m not sure whether Dagenham were aware of this when he turned out for them or if he was just moonlighting? Dons left-backs are going to suffer from Hussey-comparison for the forseeable future, and hoping Gwillim was going to compare going forward was always wishful thinking. What we have really needed, in fact have been crying out for since Hussey departed, was a solid, no-nonsense full-back whose priority is to get the defensive part of the position right, and we have that in Gwillim. A perfect example was his wonderful last-ditch block that prevented a certain goal in the first half at Cambridge – that we dominated the game for eighty minutes was in part down to a solid defensive performance, and we can ony hope Gwillim’s performances go from strength to strength moving into the playoffs.

Drewe Broughton (Lincoln) – Loan

I know he’s gone now, and the circumstances surrounding his departure will presumably be mentioned elsewhere in this esteemed publication, for now I just want to make the following point. Broughton was the perfect example of crap lower league target man (dire first touch, no positional sense, poor scoring record, no pace, etc), yet this sort of player seems to be de rigueur in League Two… perhaps Brown merely signed him six months too early? On the other hand, I have no idea who is responsible for scouting players in the north for us, but judging by the last couple of target men he’s sent our way you have to wonder whether he’s taking the piss…

Kaid Mohamed (Bath) – Permanent

It was nice to see Mo come in and make an impact on his debut. While Broughton appeared to be a square peg in a round hole, Mo is more our sort of player. Of all the new arrivals, Mo’s task must have been tougher than any. To walk into a squad challenging for promotion with little more than a month remaining, and be expected to turn it on immediately was a big ask of anyone, but it looks as though Terry has got this one right, touch wood. He could have added more goals in his first few games but we’ll forgive him for that, his bustling run into the box against Rushden and instinctive finish at Cambridge have shown us he has the potential to score a lot of goals for Wimbledon.

Overall?… There is a reason Steve Evans went out and bought three squads worth of talent was due to signing players not being an exact science. You can scout them as much as you want, you could have managed them in the past, it doesn’t matter… sometimes a move doesn’t work out for no other reason than it just doesn’t. Evans had the money to bring in as many players as he needed (the fact they were parachuted in from League One or the SPL probably helped too…) because he could afford to in order to pretty much guarantee success. Terry Brown didn’t have that luxury, we know he missed out on some of his top targets, so under the circumstances I think he’s done pretty well. Ok, Broughton was a throw of the dice that didn’t come up in his favour but we lost nothing taking that gamble, beyond a few hours lost debating the rights and wrongs of signing an ex-franchiser (and I still don’t think we’ll get over that until we sign someone who left them in acrimonious circumstances and goes on to be a success for us…).

We can look back on a top three league finish with pride, and the knowledge that a fairer promotion/relegation system (such as exists between L1/L2…) would have seen us involved in a scramble for automatic promotion. As it is, it’s the playoffs, a completely different type of challenge. We might be promoted, we might be beaten by the better side, we might perform poorly and look back on what might have been, but the one excuse we no longer have is a lack of depth in the squad – they take us into May carrying hopes and dreams so important to us that to be honest, I’m finding difficult to even visualise right now…

Further WUP articles can be found in the Features Index

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Plate Spinning

I’m not sure I’d want to be a football manager. Don’t get me wrong, I like the idea of being the man in control. I’ve done the whole Football Manager thing (the computer game that is…). I’ve even taken it to the extent of dusting off my suit and watching the whole miserable ninety minutes of an 0-2 FA Trophy final defeat (against Bournemouth, for some reason that escapes my memory)… Our long and loyal sponsors have a fine game there, that’s for sure, but no matter how in-depth they make it victory depends on meeting a series of requirements the programmers determine makes a good manager – and once you’ve worked that out by a process of trial and error, success is achieved whenever you want.

Sadly, in the real world there is no magic formula that can be transfered from club to club, year to year. Thinking of all the variables required; juggling a squad of twenty or so blokes, ensuring the best eleven available are on the pitch at any one time and can coordinate a game plan to defeat the other eleven blokes who have turned up to play you – put simply it’s probably akin to keeping a thousand plates spinning while trying to juggle a thousand more. 

And yet the best managers appear not to micromanage. Legend has it Our Greatest Ever Manager was barely seen on the training pitch, turned up in the dressing room before games to shout a bit, dished out a few bollockings at half time then buggered off, leaving poor Terry Burton to pick up the pieces…

Whichever path you follow, the closer you get to success, the harder it seems to get. Lets consider the challenges facing Terry Brown over the next four, on first glance largely meaningless games. He probably wants to coat Danny Kedwell in bubble wrap and store him under the Strank Stand until early May, but even the more practical arrangement of leaving him on the bench will hardly see him match fit and raring to go. Viewing April as a mini pre-season is probably more appropriate, but there’s always the paranoia that amidst all the experimentation, they might lose the recently reacquired knack of winning matches.

Picking two entirely different teams for the Mansfield and FGR games probably sounds sensible, but won’t win us many friends at Altrincham, Southport or Tamworth… and that’s not even considering the ear-bashing Brown will receive from our army of volunteers, making the journey down to Stroud for their once-a-season jolly only to see our scratch XI fall to defeat against motivated opponents…

Yet even a mixed bag should surely pick up three points at a Histon side who have gone ten matches since picking up their last point… and their ‘time since last goal’ stat is edging ever closer to 500 minutes. It’s been a rough old season for the Stutes, and the worry is they’ll disappear down the pyramid as quickly as they have risen… their best possible scenario will surely involve a Lewes-esque scrap at the bottom of the BSS before being swallowed up and finding their level in the Southern/Isthmiam Premier a la Canvey Island.

At least they’ll have a tidy little ground to show for their travels to the verge of the Football League, albeit one I’ll probably be waiting a long time to see the Dons play at – I’m missing the game tomorrow for reasons you’ll have read about in last weeks Cambridge report. Then again, by the time I get to visit an enterprising chairman might have sold their new stands off to the latest village side elevated beyond their natural level. (A quick aside while I’m talking about second-hand grandstands – I see Farnborough are buying the old Darlington stand, or at least the structure of it… presumably they feel Cherrywood Road looks a little strange with only one unfinished steel structure looming over the pitch?).

It was only two seasons ago that Histon themselves had the pleasure of the playoffs, following a third place finish that saw them pip their eventual conquerors Torquay to third place, whilst the Dons were basking in the post-BSS title glory. A victory at Bridge Road will confirm the Dons at least match that, and with only long-term injury victims Sammy Moore and Fraser Franks now missing from the squad,Brown  has a multitude of choices. I’ve been shying away from trying to guess the Dons lineup of late (under those circumstances who could blame me?), so today I’m going to do something a little different, and select the XI I would prefer that Terry names…

Brown; Hatton, Gwillim, Johnson, Yakubu; Wellard, Minshull, Yussuff; Moore L, Mohamed, Nwokeji

Theres an argument for giving Jack Turner a game, but will he learn more by playing against Grimsby on the final day? Keeping the back four together seems sensible when they are on form and I think TB will agree with me on that. Midfield is where I depart from what I think Terrys thinking will be – he likes to build a midfield around Steven Gregory, but I’d rest him and let Ricky Wellard continue. Yussuff will probably miss out should Gregory play, and there is the returning Mulley to factor into all of this. Mulley hasn’t had any game time in three weeks, but it was a silly sending off and thems the breaks… besides, he’ll undoubtedly get some time over Easter, and there’s the little matter of a London Senior Cup semi-final before then…

At Cambridge, when Kedwell was withdrawn Nwokeji was sent on as a pretty much like for like replacement – I rate Nwokeji but I think we’ve seen that he can’t emulate Kedwell, I would however like to see him flanking Mohamed… I have no idea how effective Mo will be down the middle, but surely Histon is the ideal place to experiment. Again, Brown will go for Kedwell at least until the game is won, and will look to Hudson if he wants pace and width ahead of Ryan Jackson and not yet match fit Christian Jolley.

Then again, if I was Dons manager right now I’m sure a few of those plates I mentioned earlier will be crashing down around me. These are the sort of situations where good managers earns their money, we are in Terrys hands now, hopefully until 21st May and beyond…