Monthly Archives: November 2011

Cup Week

It’s the Anonymous Don’s birthday weekend, and for the first time in three years the Dons won’t be travelling to Barrow… Not that I travelled, a day of celebration over sixteen hours on the coach for two fixtures that ultimately resulted in a solitary Wimbledon point. Slightly disappointing scheduling, as I normally would have been all over the sort of fixture that is essentially a loyalty test. Gateshead away with nothing to play for? Tick. Goalless draw at Darlington? Tick. Barrow sadly left blank unless fortunes really turn for them, or we get a fortunate (or unfortunate considering our record up there) cup draw at some point in the future.

But before Scunthorpe, we played the first of the clubs four cup games in little over a week at Swindon on Tuesday night, crashing out of the Paint Trophy on penalties. What have we learnt from our first experience of the Paint Trophy? Obviously it’s not the most prestigious of tournaments, I’ll move on to the issue of attracting people to watch a little later as this seems to be affecting all cup competitions at the moment, a problem not exclusively the most minor of first team knockout efforts.

The biggest issue we’ve had, especially as a club that for a multitude of reasons can’t enter a bona fide reserve competition at the moment, is the six player rule. A good idea in principle, you wonder whether the rules as they currently stand are too inflexible for a club such as AFC Wimbledon, especially as the competition in certain areas means we could go exceed the limit and still field a stronger squad than we would by sticking to the rules. Midfield for example, we could play Sammy Moore, Yussuff and Porter on the Saturday, then Minshull, Mulley and Wellard on the Tuesday night, and you wouldn’t say there’s a huge difference in the quality between the two selections.

Then you have to consider all the others who need game time – Fraser Franks needs a game, Bush wants to prove himself, Ademeno is looking for a start, then there’s Djilali… All of a sudden you have a game of selection musical chairs going on, and this time around when the music stopped there was one very big loser in Jack Turner. Personally I think the management team made a mistake not just playing him and working around the six player problem in other areas of the pitch, the kid is having huge problems getting game time with no one willing or able to take him on loan and no other obvious opportunities presenting themselves.

And this really is a big issue, not just for Jack personally, but for AFC Wimbledon. I mentioned in my Stevenage report I thought he made an error in judgement for the first goal – he didn’t directly cause it, the experienced centre half who should have kicked the ball out of the ground takes the majority of the blame – but the point is his eagerness to get involved was probably all down to the fact he spends most of his time on the bench itching to be out there proving himself. And that’s all well and good in a Paint Trophy game that didn’t really matter and we won anyway, that’s the point of blooding him in that type of fixture – he can make mistakes and learn from them without the pressure of a full house.

But what if Seb is unavailable for any reason, and Jack comes in for a League game? Will he be suitably prepared? If he makes a mistake, which as an inexperienced keeper he almost certainly will at some point, all of a sudden you’ll have knee jerk reactions on the terraces and message boards with people saying ‘he ain’t good enough’ and ‘we need to bring in someone on loan with a little more experience’.

More importantly, I was under the impression the Paint Trophy was supposed to be Jack’s competition, and right up to Monday lunchtime Cash was giving interviews to the press saying Jack will definitely start. Then all of a sudden the rugs been pulled from under his feet… I’m sure this is a problem other clubs have with their bench keeper, promising to give them game time in cups, for that reason wouldn’t it be simpler to change the rules to outfield players only, be it 6+4 or 5+5, and let clubs change their keeper with impunity if they so wish?

Whats the solution to the Jack Turner problem? Do we try to give him game time in the League if we’re a couple of goals up with twenty minutes to go? Wait until we’re safe and give him full games? Play him up front??? The player has shown a lot of loyalty to the club during his time here, I don’t begrudge him moaning the situation he finds himself in, and maybe its time for the club to show him a little loyalty in return?

Moving on, we face Scunthorpe tomorrow, a club many Dons fans will have fond memories of thanks to their playoff victory over the footballing subsidiary of a Buckinghamshire property development a couple of years ago. And effectively they are something of a realistic example of what we can achieve as a smaller club… Presuming the construction of our new stadium, whenever that happens, doesn’t uncover a bunker containing thirty thousand Dons fans sealed in an underground bunker by Hammam or Koppell or whoever, League One with a couple of years in the Championship here and there is probably most Wimbledon supporters pipe dream right now.

Yet even the visit of a club recently competing at Championship level probably won’t be enough to tempt more than three thousand or so to the ground tomorrow, never mind actually fill the place. This is the polar opposite to football as I remember it as a kid, where the hardcore turned up for the bread and butter of League action, but the ground filled for the FA Cup. And it’s not exactly hard to see how the most magical of cup competitions lost its shine… The introduction of the Premier League meant that far from looking forward to FA Cup ties, filling ground and coffers alike, clubs at the highest level found they were making more money from League fixtures… The influx of foreign players and coaches, while raising standards, also brought a culture not raised on knock out competition. This combined with a certain sports channel losing the rights to show games and simultaneously forgetting the competition ever existed had the knock on effect of supporters of top-level clubs seeing the FA Cup as a secondary competition.

Somehow that fed its way down to the lower levels of the game, as sure as supporters steal chants they hear at top-level games they’ll ape their Premier League counterparts. You don’t need to be a behavioural specialist to work out why – most people subconsciously copy their more successful counterparts, if only to fit in at the pub or workplace. The attitude that ‘its only the FA Cup’ has worked its way into English football and its hard to see exactly how it can be reversed.

I’ll admit it, even when we’re losing I can’t get enough of watching the Dons… due to the physical nature of the game we only get to play once, maybe twice a week if lucky, and to be honest this just isn’t enough. The majority of my spare time outside of the ongoing quest to hold on to my rapidly diminishing social life is spent either watching someone elses team on TV, or even worse, having conversations with my wife… The more games the Dons play, the more competitions they are involved in, the better.

Where did this strange modern version of ‘loyalty’ come from? Those who love their team, but will only venture out to actually watch them if certain conditions are met in terms of the competitive nature of the fixture? The weird thing is cup ties normally provide just as much entertainment as league games, if not more… Yes we’ve all seen two sides clam up with nerves on the big occasion or set out with an over cautious nature such as the Ebbsfleet game last season, but you don’t normally see League fixtures as pulsating as the replay of said game either…

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not slagging off those who genuinely can’t make it, times are hard financially – I know that more than anyone and the amount of away games I’ve made this season reflects that – and I’m not having a go at those who travel sometimes hundreds of miles to watch the Dons for whom this might be one game too many. Those people make up a moderate minority of our fanbase, but for everyone else, whats your excuse?

Depending on how full your glass is the Dons are either going through a six game winless streak or are unbeaten in three at the moment, and face a Scunthorpe side going through their own spell of indifferent form. The visitors are definitely there for the taking as long as we can get back into the same frame of mind we were in about a month ago, where we looked unbeatable. The last thing we really want is those Scunthorpe fans going back knowing they were in a game, but grateful the Dons switched off for twenty minutes allowing them to nick a couple of goals and take the tie.

The Dons squad have the opportunity to answer a few questions that have been posed of them of late, it’s a big day for most of them facing off against opposition from a higher division, seemingly none more so that Kieran Djilali. A trial spell at Scunthorpe in the summer came to nothing, and he’s been pretty open about the fact this one is personal for him. Now finally back to full fitness, Djilali’s arrival from the bench on Saturday changed the game adding much-needed impetus to the Dons play… I mentioned in the report it looked as though he dropped in from another planet, and questioned whether we would be seeing him longer than a season. Yet its one thing looking far too good for the division in one game, it’s another to turn it on week in, week out, and I’m hoping Kieran can get a run of games and goals under his belt, turning the Dons form around and easing the fears of those of us currently looking over our shoulders…

I can’t finish this preview without presumably sharing what every Dons fan is thinking right now, absolute delight that Terry Brown is back at work and will presumably be in the dugout tomorrow. Terry always seems such a positive character, but thrown into that situation once more he undoubtedly would have had some very dark moments over the last couple of weeks, so I’m delighted to hear Suzy is on the road to recovery.

Finally, those two other cup ties next week. The U18’s face Bristol Rovers in the FA Youth Cup on Tuesday, and development squad travel to Tooting on Wednesday in the SSC, good luck to both…

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The Mexican

Admission time. The bulk of this post was intended as a preview to the game, unfortunately I ran out of time, but couldn’t bear trashing several hundred words. Try if you dare to spot the seamless joins where new text meets old, and vice versa…

The visit of Barnet on Saturday allowed us the opportunity to welcome back perhaps the most unlikely of Wimbledon heroes in the shape of Lawrie Sanchez. From the goals that brought us First Division football and an FA Cup victory, through to his current role as unofficial ambassador and media cheerleader, via those uncertain last few years in the first team (the Selhurst years, when every overhit Dons pass or wild lash at goal was greeted with the exasperated cry of ‘Sanchez!’… even when the man himself was nowhere near the stadium, let alone starting lineup…).

I say unlikely hero… you’re average football fan, when quizzed to name a member of the Crazy Gang of the 80’s and 90’s, would probably plump for one of the more well-known figures – a Fashanu, Jones or Wise – characters that epitomised the attitude and aggression associated with the club at the time. Yet the Dons formula for success at the time was more complex than that, genuinely more like the Bash Street Kids, the unwanted, coming together as a unit to gatecrash the big time.

In that respect, the thoughtful and intelligent Sanchez probably summed up the side of that era just as well as his outspoken colleagues, even if his crowning moment and outspoken manner lead to conflict with at least one of the team mates previously mentioned. And it was this single-mindedness and strength of character that saw Sanchez carve out a career in the top flight and international honours with Northern Ireland, before moving into management. A spell in Ireland was a precursor to him taking on the Dons reserves, later making his name with cup exploits at Wycombe, achieving the near impossible with Northern Ireland and only blotting his copybook slightly by saving Fulham from relegation.

Which is where things started to unravel… With Fulham teetering around the relegation zone, Sanchez was fired. A four-year spell out of the game ended towards the back end of last season as he was drafted in once more to save a club from relegation, overseeing the finale of a crazy season for Barnet. But lack of resources have meant the perennial strugglers are struggling perennially once more, Sanchez seemingly lacking the nous to make use of what is available to him, and Saturdays encounter sees a Barnet side shipping goals left right and centre visiting a Dons team who touch wood seem to have found some defensive stability.

Despite his previous success, you have to doubt Sanchez managerial ability in the club game. Brilliant at coming into jobs late in a campaign and guiding teams to safety, yes, fantastic in the national arena, but the jury is definitely out on his capabilities running a Football League club on a day-to-day basis… Football changes, sometimes very quickly, and you wonder whether Sanchez is being left behind.

Which brings me neatly (cough) onto todays game (or whenever you happen to be reading this…). Sanchez side certainly showed they aren’t lacking in the physical side, and showed a good level of commitment, which is probably the bare minimum you can ask of a team at this level. Interesting how he elected to ignore the very warm reception he received from the Dons fans before the game, presumably slightly paranoid at lapping up the adulation in front of the visiting supporters, but surely he isn’t under so much pressure he wouldn’t dare risk criticism for a quick wave?

Barnet were assisted by a very disjointed looking Dons side, who never really looked like building up a head of steam in the first period, and ultimately got what they deserved by trailing going into the break even if the goal came about in unfortunate circumstances. More than a hint of offside in the buildup, and in trying to recover the situation a stretched Dons defence completely lost their shape, leading to an event I personally feared all week. It’s not the fact he scored a preventable goal in front of the Tempest, it’s not that he predictably milked his big moment by antagonizing the Dons fans… whats frustrating me is that there are probably two dozen franchise customers who’ll go to bed tonight creaming themselves at the thought of one of their rejects scoring against us. Grrrr. Another reason why we can NEVER play them… it’ll probably be enough to turned old mild-mannered Anonymous Don homicidal.

Commentary of the game can’t go without mentioning the performance of the referee. I don’t normally mention them because, well, whats the point? They tend to be poor week in week out, and most weeks we end up watching two sides trying to engineer some kind of spectacle around some chump in black whistling almost at random. The guy we had today took incompetence to a whole new level however… there were instances where Dons players were hauled down, and we all expected a whistle that never came, but that was probably a blessing compared to the times he did blow, then give it entirely the wrong way. I’m wondering now why it surprised me, arriving at the ground to find one of his assistants was one Ronald Ganfield… the guy was incompetent at Ryman level, that he is running the line in the Football League is symptomatic of the ongoing problems facing the game official-wise.

We can only hope the return of TB inspires a bit of a reaction among the squad, although the half time introduction of James Mulley made the difference and inspired a much better second half showing playing… at left back? Whatever the reasons for his introduction, be it injury to Johnson or a piece of tactical inspiration from Cash, but it worked! I feel the side misses James Mulley, such a positive player, and even though he looked slightly awkward at times over on the ‘wrong’ flank, he really turned things round going forward.

Sometimes it just takes the introduction of one player in a positive frame of mind to turn a game, fortunately the Dons had two… Kieran Djilali came on around the hour mark, and for ten minutes or so the Barnet players just didn’t know how to deal with him. It was almost as if he dropped in from anther planet as far as they were concerned… which is partly true, I know Crystal Palace supporters were disappointed he couldn’t stay with them, and you wonder when he finally settles just how long he’s going to be with us – he looks a cut above this division.

A smartly taken Sammy Moore goal (followed by a not so smartly taken celebration) seemed to have turned the game, but the Dons weren’t able to convert the change in momentum into a winner, and in the end some shaky defending meant I was quite happy to see the game peter out for a draw.

A point is a point, que sera (hang on, that’s not until next week…), I’m personaly quite glad we have a couple of games in the cups, a change is as good as a rest (no it’s not, but a rest isn’t an option at the moment, unless we pray for some early snow…). A few squad players putting some pressure on the first teamers at Swindon might stir a one or two people into getting back to their early season form (Rashid Yussuff, we’re looking at you).

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