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…