So the Dons find themselves in the rare position of being eliminated from a Cup competition before the season has even begun, before its even August… I suppose we were more than half expecting the result, in my preview I mentioned I would be happy with a battling performance in defeat, and I was more than impressed with the Dons last night.
Yet I was expecting us to be a bit stronger defensively, and still finding our feet going forward… if anything the reverse looked true. While brave and determined at the back individually, we seemed to lack organisation… less a defensive line than a defensive squiggle. This was probably the consequence of a lack of preparation caused by our truncated preseason, I’m prepared to accept we will improve defensively.
What was a bonus was how dangerous we looked going forward, especially on the break. We came up against a team who will be challenging for promotion, the bookmakers preseason favourites for the title, and at times we caused them all sorts of problems. Yes, this was one performance, and we will have to put in the same high work rate we did last night in each and every one of the forty-six league fixtures ahead of us. But if we do, and we put right some of the defensive problems we saw last night, we might find the Dons will exceed the expectations of all but the wildest of optimists among us.
But, for those of you who weren’t there, what of the game? Well it had everything you would ask of a cup tie… goals, a sending off, a comedy villain… It was nice to see a huge contingent of Dons fans, presumably starved of competitive football despite the short summer break, making up around a third of the total attendance and making a lot of noise. It’s fair to say the Dons were particularly shaky to begin with, although both sides looked seriously rusty… passes were going astray left, right and centre; shots found the car park…
The Dons took the lead out of nothing, and I literally mean out of nothing. When Luke Moore received the ball just inside the Crawley half, the hope was this could kickstart a Wimbledon move, but there didn’t seem to be any immediate danger. However, after beating a couple of men and heading diagonally across the Crawley half, a shooting opportunity opened and Moore made no mistake with a fierce drive across Kuipers into the bottom left corner.
As far as season opening goals go, they don’t come much better than this, and I can’t remember a better one. Someone is going to have to do something outrageous to top that this season… I’ve mentioned it before and I’ll go into more detail more when I get to my squad preview of the strikers, but if really feel Luke Moore could take a step up this season, he really could turn out to be an important player for us next term if he keeps clear of injury and gets the sort of run in the side he had at the end of our last campaign.
Toks went close to giving us a 2-0 lead shortly after, although being situated at the opposite end of the ground I won’t know how good a chance it was until (if?) I see the video. Crawley were doing a good job of stopping the Dons playing football from the back, Sam Hatton in particular suffering, a red shirt closing him down almost as soon as he received the ball, although to be fair he could have been a bit quicker releasing on a couple of occasions. The problem for Sam, and the back four in general, is there is no secret that we like to play out from the back, so every manager in the division will assign someone to chase the Dons down, our first few games could be a tricky transition phase for a few of our younger players.
You knew the hosts would come again, and come again strong, and it took some serious defending to keep them out, to the point I started to feel if Wimbledon could hold the lead going into half time we might stand a chance. The problem was, due to a combination of commitment to playing football and sheer desperate defending, Wimbledon kept handing the ball back to Crawley still deep within our own half. Eventually an error would come, and when it did it proved very costly. A cross form the left evaded a clutch of players and fell to Hope Akdan, all alone at the far post, who dug the ball out from under his feet and gave Seb Brown no chance.
In fact Crawley should have had the lead before the break, only a bit of miraculous defending (and to be honest, some not exactly positive forward play from Crawley)keeping the ball out of the Dons goal. Half time came with the scores level, Dons fans a little frustrated the game had swung against us during the last ten minutes of the half.
It took less than thirty seconds for the Dons to regain the lead, much to the surprise of those returning from epic queues for toilets and snacks. While we are on the subject of the snack bar – and this is an unusual criticism not normally levelled at football clubs – but Crawley sell bottles of drink in 600ml bottles, then confiscate the cap, meaning you have no option but to down over a pint of cold fizzy drink, in confined quarters… But back to the goal. It was all down to Christian Jolley, closing down Crawley defender McFadzean, forcing him into a slip, then nipping in to pick up the pieces and lay the ball perfectly for Midson to tap home from close range.
My first thought was how long we could hold the lead this time, and the answer was… not very long. Crawleys equalise five minutes later came in slightly similar circumstances to their first, this time Torres left all alone beyond the far post, slotting across Seb Brown into the right corner. The hosts really stepped up the pressure from that point on, and it was no surprise they finally sneaked ahead just after the hour mark.
Although he scores so many goals, Matt Tubbs is a danger to anyone thanks to the nine other guys in red shirts supplying him the ball in the box. When several other guys in blue shirts give him the space to do as he wish, there’s only going to be one outcome. I thought we stood a chance of at least forcing extra time as long as we didn’t go behind, but if anything the Dons had their best spell of the game during the final quarter-hour.
Neither Dons fullback had really crossed the half way line, but that all changed when Gareth Gwillim made way for Chris Bush, who immediately played a big attacking role. Christian Jolley was also sacrificed for Charlie Ademeno, who had been promised a poor reception from his old club… there were a few boos but it was all pretty muted, you got the impression the vast majority of home fans didn’t have a clue who he was.
One person obviously not happy with Ademeno’s arrival was the referee, who immediately resolved to blow his whistle whenever the ball went anywhere near him. We had some shocking referees in the Conference and below, some ridiculously weighted decisions in favour of either ourselves (if we were lucky) or our opponents… it seems Football League referees consider they have had a good game not if they get the majority of decisions correct, but if both sides are equally unhappy with their performance. Ademeno’s crime was, not being the biggest guy on the planet, he needs to get his body between the ball and man, and was therefore consistently penalised for ‘backing in’, an offense only called when a smaller guy outmuscles a bigger guy…
To be fair, Crawley were equally miffed, it seemed, although after a couple of early dramatic falls in the penalty area the referee had obviously decided to avoid all incidents in the penalty area. These were accompanied by more and more exaggerated shocked actions from Steve Evans on the side of the pitch… at one stage I really thought he was going to throw himself to the ground and start kicking his legs about like a toddler. All of this just drew the attention of Dons fans, who by the end of the game had a repertoire of half a dozen or so chants and songs to aim at him… including one previously only reserved for Charles Koppell.
You get the impression League Two fans are going to have fun coming to Crawley, even though the majority of them are going to lose there you always find yourself leaving with that sense of superiority. Evans (and from speaking to a couple of Crawley fans, who seemed normal enough, it seems the majority of them actually believe most of what he says, which reduces the sympathy you may feel for them subjected to his management), the guy with the bell (!), images in the programme of kids at the training ground wearing Chelsea shirts, with no sign of any Crawley merchandise… it all gives the impression you’re at the sort of place that might melt if left out in the hot sun. There truly is no substance here, maybe there never will be… when times go bad just how many of them will still bother turning up? Its less than two years since they had a crowd of less than 700 for Wrexham. I see whats happened to Rushden this summer and can’t help but see parallels…
It might sound snobbish, but we really aren’t like them… we might have a few regulars who actually support other clubs, maybe because the circumstances surrounding our ownership, maybe because we are cheap and convenient and play some decent football, and very welcome they are too – but either way if football ever gets its house in order and these people can go back and support their own clubs on a regular basis, we’re going to lose what? 100, 150 off our average? A small minority, as opposed to the vast overnight fanbase that will abandon Crawley, which is why I don’t think any of us of us are that bothered about Crawley’s sudden wealth driven rise.
I mentioned comedy villains earlier, and it was Kuipers, a goalkeeper who could well prove to be Crawley’s Achilles heel, who provoked the ire of Dons fans. Although not the referee confusingly, as Ademeno chased down a long ball, the Crawley goalkeeper seemed to delay his clearance in order to catch the Dons frontman. Ademeno wasn’t hurt, he got up pretty much straight away, and if Kuipers intention was to draw the freekick it worked, and somehow managed to earn Ademeno a yellow card as well. The Dons fans were close enough to the referee to notice the look of impatience that ran over his face, as he realised he might just have made a mistake. To be fair, he did make a point of adding on every minute the Crawley keeper spent on the floor,as eventually the goalkeeper made a miraculous recovery.
As for the sending off, well it came shortly after, as holding on became the name of the game for the home team. It was one of those brain-dead moments you see sometimes from so-called professionals, Akpan already being on a yellow when he decided to blast the ball into orbit after the Dons were awarded a freekick. It could have been costly had the Dons forced extra time, but to be honest they had already spurned their two best opportunities, Ademeno getting the ball caught under his feet six yards out scrambled clear by the hosts, and a Chris Bush volleyed cross that hit Toks in front of goal and could have gone anywhere… but went wide.
That extra long period of stoppages was supplemented by an additional two minutes when Evans decided to make his three substitutions separately after ninety minutes were up, but the Dons were getting desperate by then, and I think every Dons fan knew when Seb Brown rushed to take a free kick by his own corner flag it was going to end up in the stand.
So no Carling Cup run for the Dons this season, but no huge loss. Judging by that performance you wonder just what the Dons would be capable of if Brown can get one of the experienced strikers he is chasing… although all three starters and Ademeno impressed me, you can’t beat a bit of experience, as well as depth. We should find out who that will be early next week, as we start to build up to Bristol Rovers, and on last nights performance there is no reason why we shouldn’t at very least add another year to our long opening day unbeaten record.