After our hectic opening few weeks back in the Football League, two back to back run of the mill home games brought us back to something resembling normality, fixtures-wise. Hell, for the Cheltenham game it was even possible for folk to walk up to the turnstiles, pay cash, obtain a ticket and gain entry to the ground. On Tuesday night, supporters had to face the frustration progress on the field was going to be a little slower than we might have imagined, come Saturday the Dons put in a performance to restore a little faith and show everyone what, on their day, they can be capable of.
We’re also seeing signs the club are learning off the field from our League Two experience… and I literally mean ‘sign’… Maybe its been there previously and I just hadn’t noticed, but a large board on the Kingston Road advising visiting supporters they can’t access the ground that way, and have to head towards the entrance on the left… shame it isn’t entirely clear it means left as you look at the sign, I spotted a visiting Cheltenham supporter read it, turn around and then turn left back towards the Cambridge Estate…
Still its better than simply expecting supporters to know where they have to go. Plus it made the stewards job a little harder, on top of their other duties having to catch away fans wandering down Jack Goodchild Way, scratching their heads wondering where they should be.
Actually, thanks to the increasingly efficient stadium management, I ended up watching this game from a slightly different location. As the Tempest started to fill up, I abandoned my usual position just to the side of the goal to catch up with a few people I know in the JSS – with Cheltenham’s travelling support taking up a lot less space than most League Two visitors I thought there would be more than enough room for one more.
On reaching the corner I found I could go no further, as stewards were checking supporters had the correct ticket before letting them through. Ignoring personal inconvenience, it’s about time we started doing this, controlling the numbers in each area of the ground will probably go a long way towards the stadiums capacity being increased slightly. My problem was having walked down to the corner I couldn’t just turn around and walk back – that’s the behaviour of a weirdo, or even worse, that of someone who made a minor misunderstanding and doesn’t mind admitting it publicly… So being a normal bloke I took up position by the corner flag and pretended that had been my intention all along…
It gave me a decent view of a returning playoff hero in Kaid Mohamed. It’s slightly unfortunate Mo’s last action as a Dons player was being the only Don to miss in that epic shootout at Eastlands, he’d run himself into the ground that day, and his hat trick in his last game on this ground went a long way to one of the most astonishingly complete performances I can remember from a Wimbledon team. I understand the practicalities of allowing him to sign for a club closer to home, but I don’t think I was the only one fearing he might come back to haunt us.
Yet, what was this? Rather than sticking him on the shoulder of the last man to latch on to through balls and destroy us with his pace, Cheltenham stuck him out on the left-wing. As the visitors tried to gain the upper hand in the early stages Mo tried to join in with the fun by cutting inside, but Sam Hatton saw it coming every time. Unfortunately the remaining nine outfield Cheltenham players were proving a little more difficult to shackle despite a more determined Wimbledon defensive display, and they managed to force a couple of half chances to ensure a nervy opening spell.
Yet this time around the home side weren’t prepared to let the visitors have it all their own way (and perhaps more importantly, didn’t find themselves looking at an uphill battle after conceding a nothing goal). After a couple of forages forward while sizing up their opponents, Wimbledon took the lead with a goal of a quality that came from its simplicity. Hatton and Jolley worked a triangle on the right flank before the former’s cross found Ricky Wellard unmarked on the edge of the six yard box, his downward header skidding off the sodden turf giving visiting keeper Butland no chance.
Tails up, the Dons grabbed a second just before half time. Excellent work by Lee Minshull down the left saw his cross turned in at the near post… and after Ricky Wellard became the ninth different Dons scorer this season it was nice to see OG notch his first of the campaign – with the subsequent damage to the Kingsmeadow pitch hopefully we’ll even see old favourite Divot chipping in soon. Seriously, this was all about Minshull, capping off a much improved performance compared to this disappointing showing against Northampton.
Those of a nervous disposition might have feared a Cheltenham comeback in the second half, but were spared a nervy second half as the Dons took a stranglehold on the game. Third and fourth goals were added in clinical fashion, a smart volley from Midson (by the way, would it be unfair to point out the current score is Midson 6 Kedwell 1?…). The common denominator in the two goals was Rashid Yussuff, who created the third before finishing off the final goal after capitalizing on Butland’s parry from Midson’s volley.
Toks was poor against Aldershot, but his second half performance was back to the sort of commanding form we saw him end last season with. In this kind of mood he is as close to a complete midfielder as you could hope to get in League Two, great touch, picks a pass and can finish, and also fantastic ball winner… wait, fantastic ball winner? Toks is never going to be the sort of midfield enforcer that takes ankles as often as he does the ball, but think of how often he nicks the ball off opponents, how his sheer athleticism allows him to pick up loose balls in the middle of the park – in the modern game you can’t underestimate the importance of his knack of turning the ball over by being in the right place at the right time, and works well in conjunction with more robust operators like Minshull and Sammy Moore.
All three finishing midfielders performed well together, as well as first half scorer and asthma victim Ricky Wellard, our defence looked solid with two rugged full backs and a couple of centre halves who just will not let the opposition pass (how frustrating this partnership will be torn apart when McNaughton returns to West Ham early next month…). Which meant we just needed our forwards to be firing to claim the points… if only every game could be that simple…
Where does this performance fit in the bigger picture? It was the stride forward we were looking for, but we shouldn’t read too much into this being a sign of an immediate upturn in form. We were a work in progress after the Northampton game, and are still a work in progress. Looking through our fixtures until the end of October, we’ve got some tricky fixtures – we’ll do well to average a point a game from our next seven fixtures, as the weather turns wintery the Dons will have more of an idea of their standing in our new division.