AFC Wimbledon v Fulham XI – Preview

Football is back, well at least for the couple of thousand of you who turn up at Kingsmeadow – I won’t be at the Fulham game thanks to a clash as one of my good friends decided to get married on Saturday. Fortunately he knows well enough to avoid the season proper, a mistake my own mother made a few years back… of all dates to pick the first day of the season was chosen…

Luckily the wedding was in the morning, the choice of reception location (The Albert by Kingston Hospital) was ideal for me to nip across to the Meadow and watch Shane Smeltz bang a brace in a 4-1 victory over Folkestone Invicta in what was our first game in the Ryman Premier. It was actually quite a warm afternoon packed into a three-sided Kingsmeadow (with the redevelopment of the Tempest End overrunning into the season), and I was sweating away in my suit before I had to run the last few hundred yards to make it in time for kick off, I can still remember the prickly heat and weird looks I got that afternoon. Never again…

I have a more relaxed attitude to pre-season. It’s not proper football, in reality paying £10 to stand and watch what is effectively a public training session is a bit of a rip off. This sort of occasion is the nicotine chewing gum equivalent of football, and for that reason I’m not going to cry too much about not being there… although having said that a small part of me is still wishing I could be there…

My pre-season kicks of on Tuesday at Staines, or failing that Saturday at Sutton. Nice of Fulham to bring a team down, we should see a slightly stronger side than the development squad they brought along two years ago, much like the Arsenal game last year it was a nice way to end pre-season, and was rare in being one of the few watchable friendly games I can remember. The Dons won that one 2-1 in a game played in the week before the season kicked off, which perhaps explained why both sides approached it in such a positive manner.

This time around, I suppose the only advice I can give is expect little from the game, anything more will be a bonus. I can remember a few appalling early pre-season games, last seasons encounter with Charlton being a case in point.. the Dons run out 2-0 winners on that occasion, fairly unsurprising considering Charlton fielded pretty much a team full of trialist (including one James Mulley…). Then there is the previous seasons 0-1 with Wycombe. And who can forget that classic goalless encounter at Croydon Athletic in 2008?

Fulham are of course in competitive action already, taking on NSI Runavik of the Faroe Islands in their Europa League qualifying game second leg. Fulham have a bit of recent history in this competition, something that ensures Martin Jol is going to take no risks with his line-up despite their 3-0 first leg advantage. I have to say I’m officially jealous of Fulham and their European excursions of recent years, something robbed of us after our FA Cup victory… and in these enlightened times no sign of Fulham hiring a team full of Manchester United youth teamers and switching the games to deserted stadiums fifty miles away, leading to hilarious additional European bans.

I’m still to this day a little miffed we didn’t take the Intertoto Cup a little more seriously. Admittedly Bursapor, Kosice and Charleroi were hardly European minnows, but a full strength side would have seen them off as well as giving themselves a good workout prior to our League season kicking off… lets face it, we were hardly going to win the League, but the squad was too strong for relegation, surely?

Sorry for the tangent, but sixteen years later it still riles me, despite the good memories the tournament provided… Beitar Jerusalem was a game so poor it gave the encounter an element of entertainment – two sides so bad neither could score, even spurning three open goals between them (including one memorable miss from Aiden Newhouse that made Nathan Elders own-save look respectable…).

So with Fulham’s European squad have already been given a workout, the visiting squad will be filled with those not selected who particularly need game time, which at least means we won’t be hammered by their big guns. But whoever does take the field should still be a few notches up on the Dons in terms of basic fitness and technical ability, pretty much ensuring the Dons players should spend the afternoon doing a lot of chasing, even accounting for the slower pace these games are normally played at.

For the Dons, it appears Sammy Moore is fit and ready for game time. TB has commented having Sammy back is like a new signing, I’m certainly guilty of forgetting how important he was for us during the first half of the season. Lets not forget there were rumours circulating a League club might come in for him in January, while we are fortunate that didn’t happen he does face a bit of a battle winning his place back in midfield, having seen Toks come on during the later stages, as well as the arrival of the aforementioned Mulley.

Rumour has it TB has been looking at a few trialist during training, including Bas Savage, rumoured to be on his way to Kingsmeadow last term. Savage has drawn criticism for not having the best goalscoring record, yet there is a reason there aren’t proven League Two goalscorers knocking about looking for a deal… if someone like Savage becomes available, I would expect TB to take a look and see what he can bring to the team. I’m sure we’ll see one or two other new faces, as is usually the case early in pre-season surprise trialist appearances seem to make up the majority of entertainment on the day…

As I won’t actually be at the game, there won’t be a match report as such, but I’ll try to cobble something together based on first hand reports. And for those of you who will be there, I sincerely hope my lack of optimism over the expected level of entertainment are proved wrong!

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