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’.