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