Category Archives: Competitions

The Dangers Of The FA Cup First Round Draw

Still chipper following an unexpected point ground out at Shrewsbury the day before, Dons fans settled down on Sunday lunchtime for the FA Cup First Round draw. Thanks to years of slogging our way through qualifying rounds the draw still has an element of novelty about it, despite this being the first time in many a year we actually find ourselves entering at this stage of the competition. League Two clubs seldom have runs as such… the most any of us could hope for is a couple of easy ties against plucky non-leaguers at home, before a money spinning trip to one of the big boys in the Third Round.

And yet the sheer nature of the draw means that despite the presence of your Redbridge’s and your AFC Totten’s, it was just as likely we’ll pull out a decent League One club away from home – with Terry Brown’s Dons team not exactly famed for being cup battlers, this could have seen us mentally eliminate ourselves two weeks before we’ve even played (kind of like how I’m feeling right now about the JPT…). Plus there’s always the danger of a repeat performance of last years Second Round draw…

What you sometimes forget is just how long it takes for two former players or occasional minor celebrities to pull eighty balls from a clear plastic container – and I’m not just talking about the preamble here. The physical act of putting ones hand in, swirling it around, before removing a ball before holding it up for the world to see takes long enough as it is, add in Jim Rosenthal’s occasional dramatic pause after losing track of his notes, on top of knowing balls three and twenty-six are still in the hat… the process is agonizing.

And all the while those potential deal breakers are waiting for you. After our bizarre League Cup encounter back in July I’m sure I wasn’t alone in breathing a sigh of relief when Crawley came out early. After that, every home team drawn resulted in me loudly expressing to my bemused wife whether or not I desired a trip there… Luton (No), Cambridge (Yes), Morecambe (No), Swindon (No), Redbridge (Yes! Yes! Yes!… Awww…..).

It took approximately five minutes of this until the Buckinghamshire Supermarket Enabling Development came out of the hat, a moment of sheer panic as Matt Hanlon groped around before bringing out a ball, holding it up to the camera… blinking through the sweat I couldn’t see the number at first, but there it was, the one we all hoped it would be – anyone but our ball…

Which meant we could relax for the remainder of the draw, ball three eventually being drawn at home (thanks Keith Houchin) to…. Scunthorpe United. It could be worse, it’s by no means glamorous (and to be fair there were probably only three teams in the draw that could have inspired such a description) but it certainly will be interesting, and isn’t completely unwinnable.

In fact it should be a decent game. Scunthorpe have had a little difficulty finding their feet back in League One in only winning three games to date, but have also secured a point against promotion favourites such as Charlton, Sheffield United and Huddersfield along the way. A decent challenge for the Dons, who after halting our three game, twelve goal losing streak will be looking to take a bit of form into the game.

The bigger problem the board might have is tempting a decent crowd along. The modern phenomenon of treating even FA Cup ties as second class fixtures means a slashing of ticket prices might be required to even come close to filling the ground. I know the Dons aren’t the only club to suffer from reduced attendance for cup ties, but with the fixture sandwiched by important league games here’s hoping the powers that be can come up with a way of ensuring the fixture is played out in front of a good crowd and decent atmosphere.

By the way, if we do somehow pull of a shock, it’ll be balls twenty-eight and thirty-three you’ll be praying are kept apart in two weeks time…

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AFC Wimbledon 2 Stevenage 2 (4-3 pens) – A Match Report

I’m going to do the match report a little differently today, which will probably end up with it being longer than recent efforts… all in the name of experimentation… I’m finding the O/S report is far in advance of anything I have the time to put together, so I’ve decided to look for a new angle (match reports won’t always be like this from now on by the way, just trying something different…). So from front to back, our entire line up, plus subs and a quick word on the opposition…

JACK TURNER – I was delighted Jack was getting a start, but his night didn’t exactly begin as we would have hoped… He probably knew he didn’t need to come for the ball that lead to the first goal as soon as he moved, and ended up caught out of position. Still, you would expect to get away with it 99% of the time with your defender favourite to pick up the pieces, extremely hard luck that it ended up cannoning of the forward and dribbling in.

His head could have gone down after this, and if he was the sort of talented keeper many clubs tend to produce who go on to do nothing in the game it probably would. Instead he showed an admirable amount of mental strength to keep not only his concentration, but the Dons in the tie with a number of excellent saves in the first half.

Beyond his impressive (although sometimes a little over eager) distribution, he barely touched the ball in the second half, and could consider himself a little unfortunate to find himself picking Roberts sweet strike out of the net in stoppage time. Still, it gave him the opportunity to be the hero in the shootout, with a couple of great stops. One of the benefits of our involvement in the JPT is extra game time for Jack.

I hope he is an automatic pick for our next JPT game, and fingers crossed later stages of the competition – he deserves it, it can’t be fun and must be extremely frustrating not getting to go out on loan, but he seems to be pretty grounded about it, accepting Seb is the number one for now… Experience such as last night will hopefully ensure if anything happens to Seb in the short to medium term he can step in for him, and he will hopefully develop into his ultimate replacement should our number one go on to bigger and better things.

SAM HATTON – You would expect on occasions such as this your more experienced players would hold things together early on while the squad players feel their way into the game, but the reverse was true as Sam uncharacteristically gifted possession away on two or three occasions during the first half, but as the Dons turned on the gas in the second Hatton was back to his best – solid defensively, and driving forward to assist Jackson down the right.

He dispatched his penalties in an ice cool manner (despite some rather obvious attempts at delaying from the Stevenage keeper Julian for the first), and as Midson was on the field when the first was given, the question must be asked… is he our new penalty taker, or was this just to get him off the mark? If it’s the former, we probably couldn’t ask for a more reliable taker.

CHRIS BUSH – You get the impression Bush was going to play anyway, but his appearance held added importance as it looks like he’ll be filling in for Gwillim for a little while yet. Like Hatton very solid defensively, unlike Hatton he has a bit of pace about him when he gets forward, even if the final ball isn’t always there just yet. A run of starts is just what he needs at the moment, and who knows, if it goes well he might not just be filling in for Gwillim after all…

SAMMY MOORE – A forty-five minute cameo from Mr Consistency Moore, who held things together in midfield, wasn’t afraid to put in a few crunching challenges, and was generally neat in everything he did. His half time withdrawal was more than likely preplanned, and testament to the amount of work he’s put in that he was given a rest.

BRETT JOHNSON – Extremely unfortunate that his attempts at intervention lead to the opening goal, Johnson dealt with a very direct opposition very well. Dominant in the air, calm and in control with ball at feet, a return to form will be very welcome should Brown elect not to extend McNaughton’s loan spell.

CALLUM MCNAUGHTON – Very much a player in the mould Terry Brown is looking for, McNaughton put in the sort of performance that makes you wish we could hold onto him for a little longer, at least until Mitchel-King resumes fitness (cue the more cynical readers out there assuming I’m calling for him to stay all season…). Another that made way at half time but was this for fitness reasons or an experiment to see how our next player fared at centre half?…

LEE MINSHULL – A game of two halves for Lee, equalled an impressive performance all round. Solid in midfield and always looking to drive forward, looking more and more comfortable both in possession and distributing the ball. While his immediate future probably lies in midfield after recent stellar performances, it was great to see him step back into the defensive line and perform as well, if not better than during the first half. Plus the cherry on the cake… the guy can take a penalty! Probably way down the pecking order for League games, but progress in this tournament could come down to more shootouts, so nice to see he’s another we can rely on.

RAHID YUSSUFF – Sometimes Toks puts in a performance thats so tidy, amid his neat link play you barely notice he’s there. Last night I can’t remember him giving the ball away, and his night should be remembered for his neat finish for what should have been the winner rather than his Kaid Mohamed impression in the shoot out.

JACK MIDSON – Worked hard once more holding together an untried forward line, exemplified by teeing up Yussuff for the second. While some of our squad looked a little rusty to begin with, Midson started the season strongly and has kept his performance level high ever since.

JAMES MULLEY – Another player badly in need of ninety minutes, and Mulley didn’t disappoint with a performance that suggests there is plenty more to come from him. Playing the link role that Luke Moore has filled recently, Mulley looked especially impressive in the second half, holding the ball with ease and looking strong against a tiring opposition.

RYAN JACKSON – Perhaps the player who had the most question marks hanging over him prior to kick off, Jackson only had an erratic cameo at Aldershot under his belt so far this season. The Dons game plan in the first half involved hitting big cross field passes over the Stevenage left backs head for Ryan to run onto, with varying degrees of success. Still, fairly stop-start until the second half, when he started combining with Hatton down the right flank, and running at defenders with the ball at his feet.

His persistence won the penalty that tied the scores early in the second half, and was one of a few players guilty of missing decent chances to wrap up the tie in the second period… the only issue being rather than his well saved drive he would probably have been better off cutting back for Ademeno in a better position. Still, hindsight is a wonderful tool, and one Dons fans put into use approximately one minute later when the ball found its way into our own net…

MAX PORTER – On at half time, his introduction changed the game. An energetic performance saw him popping up all over the field winning possession, the difference between struggling to find a foothold in the first half and dominating the second. After a shaky start, Porter is starting to find his feet back in League Two at a time when pretty much all the Dons midfield are in form, unfortunate, but his time will come.

RICKY WELLARD – Again, just what the Dons needed in the second half, providing an outlet and moving the ball on sensibly. Another Wimbledon midfielder probably unfortunate not to be commanding a starting spot in the League at the moment, but what a great problem to have.

CHARLIE ADEMENO – For a smaller player, Ademeno constantly amazes me with his ability to hold the ball up. Frequently got the better of a much taller defender purely down to his ability to get himself between him and a dropping ball… and once in possession Stevenage found it difficult to get the ball off him. The guy is an absolute bull, just pure muscle, and it was great to see him get some game time. Obviously his injury history makes you wonder whether we’ll ever see the best of him, but if he even gets close we’ll have some player on our hands.

OVERALL – Decent first half showing perhaps lacking in the final third, the Dons turned things around in the second, giving a strong Stevenage side the run around. Missed chances meant the scoreline could, and probably should, have been convincing at the end, but holding a single goal lead is always dangerous no matter how dominant you’ve been. Having said that, no harm done, the victory was ultimately earned thanks to some cool penalties.

Stevenage didn’t disappoint, very well organised to start with, but this being lower league football they lost a little shape as the game went on and the Dons were able to exploit that. They obviously set out to unsettle the Dons by putting in a few questionable challenges early on, and when the referee somehow failed to show any cards just continued in the same vein.

As for our progression in the JPT, well we won through with an experimental side, but as to how seriously we’ll be taking the area quarter-final, it depends on the draw and the injury situation at the time. Progression in this tournament seems to hang on that element of luck, yet regardless of selection if we perform like we did last night we’ll have a chance of doing quite well…

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Stevenage JPT Second Round Preview

I remember the days when these minor cup competitions held a strange attraction to the young Anonymous Don. Way back when a trip to watch Wimbledon actually meant crossing the A3 and heading into the town that bears our name, I was reliant on my dad to take me to games. I’d heard of the Full Members Cup, that went on to become the Simod Cup, that went on to become something called the Zenith Data Systems Trophy… in fact I’d been to Wembley to see the Chelsea-Man City final a few years previously (which my juvenile mind seems to remember finished 5-4 to someone…).

Yet despite seeing the Dons in FA Cup and League Cup action, friendly and West London Cup games against Fulham (which might have been one and the same thing…), even a weird mid-season fixture against HJK Helsinki which we won 3-0 (again, this seems extremely unlikely, I wouldn’t believe it myself if I didn’t have the programme). But I’d yet to see us feature in this strange tournament – not surprising seeing as though we rarely troubled the later rounds.

And therefore I yearned to tick that box. One night, I got my chance. The visit of Ipswich brought with it a visit from one or both of my Town supporting cousins (again – bit hazy on the detail), and we attended more as a family meet up than anything else. Naturally the Dons lost, which was the way whenever we played them, but the cold evening air, the floodlights, the empty terraces… I was hooked.

Since then I’ve got them all under my belt… From the Intertoto Cup to the Cherry Red Books Trophy, I (and presumably most, or at least some, of you) have seen them all. With the obvious exception of one – which explains my current excitement at the visit of Stevenage. The Dons have history of sorts in this tournament, in fact we made it to one of the first finals – sadly not played at the national stadium, instead at the home of our opponents was chosen, and a trip to Grimsby saw the Dons fall to defeat. The Dons history in various minor cups would probably be worth a  ‘Short History’ article, if I had the time to prepare and write it (if we stay in the competition beyond tonight I’ll resurrect that for the next round…).

Tonight we welcome Stevenage, slightly unfortunate that we find ourselves up against semi-regular opponents over the last couple of years, a chance for us to avenge our FA Cup defeat last year or very least actually score a goal against them for a change. Stevenage have a pretty poor rep among some lower division fans and Dons fans in particular… without wanting to offend anyone who might be harbouring dislike of them, I’ve always presumed this was mere jealousy of seeing a smaller club doing well. My article on them during the summer outlined my personal view but if you can’t be bothered to read all that, basically good luck to them. They’ve got a decent enough manager, play to their strengths but nowhere near as crudely as some, but above all else are probably operating slightly above their natural level at the moment. So no need for Dons fans to demonize them (especially when they did us a pretty huge favour last season in their FA Cup first round game…), in ten years time we’ll more than likely find ourselves at the same level or possibly even  above them…

With Brown having named his side in advance, no need for me to guess his starting lineup this time around. Instead I’ll try guessing the crowd. Not naming you all, that’s probably taking it too far, but in terms of numbers I’ll stick my neck out with 1611…

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AFC Wimbledon 3 Gillingham 1 – A Match Report

He scores with his left. He scores with his right. That boy Jack Midson makes Kedwell check his bank balance and at least be assured he can pay off his mortgage. It wasn’t our former skipper, or his team mates day, kept very quite by the Dons defense. Although to be honest this was more a case of the Dons having a particularly good day while catching the visitors on a bad one… we’re fourth at the moment, and loving it, but an ordinary looking Gills side still had enough about them to cause us a few problems in the second half, albeit at 0-3 down.

Had it not been for that clinical early spell this could have been a much harder game than it turned out to be – seasoned Dons fans were left biting their fingernails after a well taken Lee goal half way through the second period threatened a Gills comeback. But as the Dons were forced further and further back, that goal proved mere consolation as the at times desperately defending Dons held on. In fact the home side could have extended their lead on a couple of occasions, Jolley leading pacy counter attacks looking for either the repeat performance of his Port Vale goal (which you would guess is going to work for him sometime or another), or someone to get on the end of one of his crosses (again, were hit into decent areas, but his fellow forwards have great difficulty catching him when he’s in full flight…).

Actually it was a bit of a surreal day all round. This hot spell we’re having made it seem more like I was heading off to a pre-season game… only the full house when I got there convinced me otherwise. It was a little hot and sticky in the terraces to say the least, not that I’m moaning about that – we’ll be shivering away in a couple of weeks. And we certainly caught Gillingham cold (hmmm…) with a red-hot start (hmmm… again…).

You could probably question Gillingham’s defending for the three goals, but then again if you scrutinise every goal scored in this division you’ll find somewhere the conceding side could have tightened up in 95% of them. The first Dons goal was just unfortunate, a big Dons punt up field, the visiting defender just slipped… yet you have to take advantage of such fortune, not something Dons teams have exploited in the past.

The second arrived just two minutes later, Hatton delivering a low cross from the right that Jolley just wanted more to double the lead, much to the home supporters surprise. It was probably inevitable on this particular day that Jack Midson would find his way onto the score sheet, and when the goal arrived in the twenty-second minute it was a bit of a Wimbledonesque disaster for the Gills defence. They looked like they had dealt with Christian Jolley, who looked more likely to fall over himself than cause the visitors any problems. Yet a panicky stab goalwards found Midson, who was never likely to miss.

Wimbledon being Wimbledon the only danger of holding a 3-0 lead with pretty much seventy minutes of the game remaining is our leaky defence might throw it away, but they’ve improved considerably in recent weeks and were unfortunate not to go on and keep a clean sheet. Gillingham might have had more luck if they hadn’t left it until the second half to add playing some football to a game plan that had previously only involved trying to rough up the Dons players. Their front men barely had a sniff – the aforementioned Kedwell looked a shadow of the man who was destroying Conference defences on the same ground twelve months previously, and I only realised Nouble was on the pitch when he somehow stayed on the pitch after slapping Seb Brown to the floor ten minutes into the second half.

Gillingham’s goal was the best of the game, Lee picking up the pieces and guiding the ball into the top left corner from the edge of the area, and the fear was the home side would fall apart. A second goal would have been crucial, but the home defence stood firm, held together by our new skipper playing like a man possessed. Despite some inconsistent defensive performances as a unit, Jamie Stuart has been in form this season, the master of the last ditch interception, and although he didn’t perform his party trick of a knee-high headed clearance, he did just about everything else.

That’s three wins in a row for the Dons, and although you still get the impression of the two sides on the field yesterday the visitors are more likely to be in the promotion picture come May, we’re doing fine. October is a tricky month for us, so the more points we can put on the board early the better, if we find ourselves still in the top half of the table going into November we’ll have done very well indeed.

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Gillingham Preview

So yesterdays ode to Kedwell means I’m all Dannyed out right now, its time to concentrate on tomorrows actual game rather than what sort of reception the great man will get. Although interestingly Keds himself seems unsure of what sort of welcome he’s going to get – proof if anything that not only do players take note of what is said on social networks and message boards, but negative comments have a habit of overwhelming the majority of well wishers looking forward to his return. Fortunately the minority who want to boo him (without wanting to demonize them – they have every right to express the disappointment we all partly share) should be overwhelmingly drowned out by those of us looking forward to thanking him for his contribution to our amazing story. That is until 3PM, when we’ll join together to remind the fat pikey he should have stayed at the big club…

One thing I do want to say before I move on to the preview itself is this story where Danny promises not to celebrate any Gillingham goals… and I have to say I don’t really agree with this type of taking respect way too far that is creeping into the modern game. Goals are the most glorious part of the game, what strikers live for, yet even the most prolific will only get to feel that moment of elation twenty or so times a year. If Kedwell repeated his effort at Luton a couple of years ago tomorrow, I wouldn’t expect him to hold back his celebrations for my benefit – as long as he isn’t baring his arse to the Tempest I’d probably be too caught up with the shock of conceding a goal to notice. Still, a nice sentiment, says a lot about the man, but Danny – what makes you think Gillingham are going to score anyway?!

The Gills management team of Andy Hessenthaler and Nicky Southall seem to be building their visit up as a trip to play the Crazy Gang circa 1986 in downtown Basra, rather than a side who has the potential of laying out the welcome mat (despite recent improvements, we all know they still have it in them), combined with an atmosphere – despite the best efforts of the Tempest and a handful in the KRE and JSS – that more often than not barely reaches simmering. Those 750 Gillingham fans might make a lot of noise, sadly the away enclosure seems to act as some kind of sound bubble, so they’ll only be heard by anyone wandering within a twenty yard radius of them.

Kedwells return has brought the prospect of a Kedwell/Stuart battle, the sort of clash that you would expect more often than not would result in at least one of them picking up a card of some colour, had they not apparently been quite good mates who were still in regular contact with each other. Yet another intriguing battle could be taking place alongside, with Callum McNaughton taking on West Ham team-mate Frank Nouble. With McNaughton looking as though his loan may not be extended, this could be his last appearance at TCRRFSKM for a while, and hopefully he’ll want to go out by keeping his fellow Hammer quiet.

Another player facing his former club is Rashid Yussuff, not that he had much of a Gillingham career, by all accounts he wasn’t exactly highly regarded in his eight appearances. Yet he’s had a full season in a Dons shirt, and is starting to look better and better, to the point he is becoming the sort of player who can run games. He still has the odd stinker as shown against Aldershot, still very much a work in progress – like the team – but could go on to be a leading midfielder in the lower division.

All this talk of former players coming up against their old side, friends and team mates squaring off has disguised the fact we’re looking at an early season top of the table clash. Now we’ve passed the ten game point we can look at the League table as some kind of guide to strength – it’s still nowhere near accurate, and won’t be until nearer Christmas, but the Dons sit seventh on merit. I always like to judge which game is the ‘biggest’ in each division by adding the positions of each team and seeing which fixture has the lowest sum… and we aren’t quite game of the week material, Southend-Shrewsbury comes in at a meagre five.

Yet it’s another of those moments when I catch myself wondering how the hell we got to a position where we’re facing off against Gillingham in a ‘promotion’ clash. We might not find ourselves troubling the top seven for much longer, so lets enjoy it while it lasts. And hell, I haven’t even thought of what I might do if we actually win tomorrow, which is probably more likely than a few of us are allowing ourselves to believe.

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AFC Wimbledon 4 Cheltenham Town 1 17/9/11 – A (Late) Match Report

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.

AFC Wimbledon 0 Northampton Town 3 13/9/11 – A Match Report

Ok. Not really sure where to begin this piece right now, so I thought I’d just bumble on for a couple of paragraphs until you’re all ready for the meat of the piece. Hope you’re all ok with this. If you’re a busy person I can only apologise and suggest skipping on a paragraph. I normally try to start the really tricky reports with a joke to lighten the mood, but I’m having difficulty coming up with one right now… would ‘the Wimbledon defence’ be too cruel?

I think the majority of us were expecting a problematic start to the season, so last nights result probably wouldn’t have raised too many eyebrows. I’m not going to jump on any bandwagons right now… there’s no point telling you things need to change defensively, we all know that. To be honest, performances have improved. Last nights effort was better than the Aldershot effort, which in turn was marginally more competent that the Port Vale display, itself light years ahead of the horror show on opening day… The real problem is these are marginal shuffles forward, mere pigeon steps opposed to the giant strides we hoped for.

It means in real terms, six weeks later, we’ve barely moved forward at all. We’re still reliant on the failings of the opposition, for our forwards to outscore them. We’re hoping the same three or four players have a decent shift to see us through while the remainder have a decent ten or fifteen minutes here and there if we’re lucky, or fade out of the game altogether. There have been moments when we’ve threatened to come to life, ten minutes here or there. We had one last night, with Northampton down to ten men where I genuinely thought we would tear them apart, but for all the pressure we put on them we barely created one clear-cut opportunity…

Then, much as they did on Saturday we allowed the opposition shooting opportunities… We can’t plead bad luck when we invite these kind of efforts. Danny Hylton’s effort hit someone’s knee and could have gone anywhere,but why did he get the chance to get a shot away? Seb Brown would stop those two Jacobs efforts 98 times out of 100, last night he made a couple of shocking errors, but once more, there was no pressure on the guy getting his shot away. These type of goals are unfortunate to concede, but there’s no element of luck involved… all of them being entirely preventable.

This on its own means every game is an uphill battle from the first whistle and would be bad enough, should we suffer a genuine slice of misfortune as we did last night the task becomes virtually impossible. I’m going to talk about the penalty, although I believe as supporters simply blaming the official is too easy an excuse for failings – these things normally even themselves out over the course of the season, Seb Brown himself mentioned after the game on his twitter feed it made up for Eastlands (I have no idea what he’s talking about – that was NEVER a penalty either!!!). Fortunately you rarely get such blatant miscarriages of justice, which makes last nights decision even more of a talking point… just what was going through his head that made him think that was a penalty?

Yet the fact is that decision didn’t cost us the game. We had more than enough of the ball to get back into it in the second half, and as TB himself said in his post match interview ‘He got one thing wrong, we got plenty of things wrong…’. Although I do remember Seb Brown getting bodychecked while off the ground that the official should have called – two things wrong – but Terry we get the point…

When the penalty was rolled in I bet there were more than one Dons player thinking ‘here we go again…’. It’s fair to say the Dons were more than a bit shaky for the remainder of the half. Scorer Adebayo Akinfenwa is a personal  League Two favourite of mine… I’ve enjoyed seeing the old park football adage that ‘if the opposition have a fat bloke in their side he’ll more often than not turn out to be their best player’ proved correct at every level we’ve played at, right up to the Football League. But the Dons back four just couldn’t deal with him at times, one on occasion McNaughton just bouncing off him, another where nippy Kieran Djilali was trying to nick the ball off him but was prevented by the sheer distance he had to run just to get around him, being two of my personal highlights.

We’ll never know just how much the early penalty affected the side psychologically, it didn’t overly affect them… they switched off on a couple of occasions, Northampton hit the bar, saw a free header flash wide and a brilliant Seb Brown save prevent them extending their lead, but were passing the ball around confidently enough, and the game seemed to swing in their favour following the red card.

Under the circumstances we’re probably fortunate it was right under the referees nose, he couldn’t fail to spot it. As Sammy Moore nicked the ball away on the stretch, McKoy went in over the top and caught him just above the ankle. Pretty straightforward decision, but still Gary Johnson decided to argue it all the way to the tunnel. Maybe there was a bit of desperation behind it, knowing his side would have to do an awful lot of work in the second half to hold their lead.

It took the arrival of Christian Jolley ten minutes into the half before the Dons really found there stride, a twenty-minute spell where an equalizer seemed destined to come sooner rather than not at all… Northampton, short-handed, didn’t have an answer to the width and pace of Jolley and Djilali – but didn’t get sucked in either. Perhaps a little risky to allow a player like Jolley to get into his stride, on three occasions he threatened to repeat his Port Vale effort, cutting in and leaving his man for dead, only once getting a shot away that troubled the athletes training on the track behind the Tempest more than the Cobblers goal, and frustrating by not getting a decent ball in early on the occasions he didn’t shoot.

But Jolley deserves a bit of credit for being one of the few players willing to try to make something happen – Djilali was the other (you get the impression once his team mates learn his game, he’s going to be a fantastic signing), and special mention to Sammy Hatton, who drifted inside before hitting a left foot shot into the keepers midriff, and Sammy Moore, who shanked over when well placed – but at least these guys were trying to make something happen.

Jack Midson was being well marshalled, but worked hard to find space and create it for others, Luke Moore was linking well, the movement and passing in general around the edge of the box was impressive… but there was no final ball, no one willing to have a pop around the edge of the box. As TB admitted, ‘too much fannying around’. Northampton on the other hand weren’t short of players willing to shoot from distance, one in particular – Michael Jacobs – profited twice through being willing to take a gamble and get an effort on target.

He probably won’t look back on either of them as being the most memorable goals he’s ever scored… sweet strikes the pair of them, but both going straight through Seb Brown. We’ve relied on Seb quite a lot over the last couple of years, I’ve long since lost count of the number of points he’s saved us, its easy to forget he is still so young. He’s earned the right to make a couple of errors – if anything we should be thanking him for making them within five minutes of each other, as the second goal had already effectively killed the game.

I’ve talked quite a lot about the Dons deficiencies, what positives can we take from the game? Firstly, it was a bad result, but lets not allow ourselves to be distracted by the scoreline… worse would have been had we come away from that game with a win – and that was a realistic possibility at one point – which would have masked all sorts of problems. We knew this division was going to be tough, we knew we’d come unstuck more than once, but lets not pretend last night revealed anything we didn’t already know about ourselves.

Personally I’m prepared to draw a line under this one for a few reasons. First, I’d rather support a team who is prepared to throw the sink at the opposition, to take a few risks and accept the opposition might end up running away with it, rather than taking a cautious approach. Secondly, even when three down and the game lost the guys didn’t give up, they never stopped trying to grab a goal back, trying to take a little bit of pride out of a bad situation.

Finally, the Dons support. There have been plenty of stories of people who lost it, who called for Browns head, who left after the third goal went in, but I stayed until the final whistle… as did the vast majority of you. I can think of a few clubs where the stadium would have been half empty come ninety minutes under the same circumstances… Fair enough, we moaned like fuck about the performance on the train home, at work next day, on message boards and blogs, but by staying on and supporting our team until the bitter end, sacrificing missing the early train or beating the traffic, we earned that right.

Either that or Kingsmeadow is a really difficult ground to leave early when almost full?!

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Aldershot Town 1 AFC Wimbledon 1 10/9/11 – A Match Report

This time last week an exasperated Micky Adams was travelling back up to the Potteries, having advised the press post game that AFC Wimbledon had used a bit of luck up and hopefully that will even itself at some point in the future… And lo and behold, seven days after a bit of Jolley magic turned a point into three in stoppage time, the cruel hand of fate (or Gareth Gwillim’s knee…) was there to snatch those two points back from us…

Actually there was a great deal of similarity between last week and this, in that on both occasions we were quite fortunate to come away with the result we did. Are we going to be that side? One that spends most of the game on the back foot, somehow surviving thanks to solid last-ditch defending, just waiting for that spell in the game where we look half decent – which could be five minutes, forty-five, half an hour… or not at all. Is League Two really the sort of division where such a side can finish comfortably in mid-table?

The lowdown, for those of you who weren’t at the Recreation Ground… After a quiet start only memorable for an Aldershot effort that clipped the bar, the Dons took the lead with their first (and only) chance of note… a deep Sam Hatton cross finding Max Porter lurking at the far post, his brilliantly executed header beat the keepers despairing dive and nestled in the far corner. This was on seventeen minutes, and the Dons gradually sat further and further back as the game progressed.

Faced with being allowed to dominate possession, Aldershot proceeded in one of two ways. The first involved hitting a deep cross six yards beyond the far post, allowing Jamie Stuart to flick the ball out for a corner… subsequently hit deep six yards beyond the far post for Jamie Stuart to flick away. On the rare occasions the Dons prevented a cross from coming in, the shots would play the ball into the centre where one of their midfielders would kick the ball onto the East Terrace roof.

There was balance to the contest in a way only League Two games can be, one sides deficiencies were cancelling out the others, and with the Dons having their noses in front the travelling fans became more and more confident… as the clock ticked into injury time it seemed time might run out for the home side. But the problem with allowing sides to take pot shots from twenty-five yards is they can go anywhere… while that normally means the roof or the corner flag, it also includes the top corner…

Dons fans brave the open terrace

You might have seen the goal credited to Danny Hylton, which probably had more to do with the Press Association guy who originally credited him with it suffering a momentary lapse of concentration – either that or Aldershot might want to check the carbon monoxide detector in their press box… But allowing him to get the effort in gave it a chance of slamming into Gareth Gwillim’s legs, wrong footing Seb Brown who was already committed to shepherding it around the post…

After nearly signing him last season, you would have thought Hylton might have been fired up for this one… and he was, but not in the way you would expect. In fact his performance convinced the Dons fans we’d actually had a MASSIVE escape. His arrival would have been on a contract, which meant we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to bomb him out when we realised what we had (like we could with Broughton…). Subsequently, Mo wouldn’t have come to the club, the playoffs would have ended in failure, and we’ll still be playing Conference football…

Yet its likely the Dons fans would never have noticed Hylton had it not been for one outstanding piece of attempted cheating. After tangling himself up with a Dons defender, Hylton strode on a few steps, then upon realising he wasn’t going to reach the ball hurled himself to the ground. The incident also highlighted another villain of the piece – the referee. Now normally I get frustrated with referees, as there doesn’t seem to be any middle ground in this type of incident. It’s a penalty or yellow card for diving, they don’t seem to factor in players just losing balance and falling over. Yet in this instance it was so clear-cut the referee was neglecting his responsibilities not showing him a card, only flashing yellow when Hylton got up to hurl a stream of abuse at him.

The official had already got the Dons fans backs up after a first half incident where Sammy Moore was laid out in an aerial challenge – we’ll never know how the game would have played out had Moore stayed on the field, and it says a lot about his character that he carried on until half time. But the game would have followed a different course had the referee taken a harder line on challenges like this. plus it’s not often you see such a sarcastic response from a set of football fans to that of the Dons fans when he finally blew for a foul our way a few minutes later…

Throwback view from the East Terrace...

Ultimately though, the Dons have only themselves to blame. As previously mentioned, we sat deeper and deeper as they game went on. Plus our substitutions were strange to say the least, Jolley for Djilali was pretty much like for like but the newcomer didn’t see much of the ball… earlier Luke Moore was withdrawn for Ryan Jackson, and I think the idea was we’d hit Aldershot on the break. This might have worked if Sammy Moore had been replaced with Lee Minshull, which would have added a little steel in the heart of the field, but instead he brought on Yussuff.

Now Toks did what Toks does, floated around picking up loose balls and looking to build attacks, but never looking like he wanted to put a challenge in. To be fair Ricky Wellard stepped up to the plate, but Ricky isn’t exactly a midfield enforcer, and his eagerness to put a tackle in only lead to his unfortunate dismissal, but his willingness at least earned him a standing ovation from Dons fans… rare for Ricky, and under the circumstances slightly surreal…

Overall, you can’t find yourself leading going into injury time and not consider this two points lost, regardless of what went on for the ninety minutes before. Going forward, those midfield problems don’t look like resolving themselves any time soon, but at least defensively we looked a bit more solid. The new loanee McNaughton performed well considering he’d only joined the squad the day before, but Jamie Stuart was my Dons man of the match. Ending the game bandaged up, he was willing to put his head in where others fear to put a boot.

Two home games in seven days give the Dons a chance to properly entrench themselves in upper midtable, with a tough looking October coming up you get the impression we’ll do well to get points on the board while we can…

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Aldershot Preview

Six games in, we’re finally set for our first League Two game meaningful for reasons other than simply being a League Two game. So meaningful I was planning on updating the League Two File (an occasional series focussing on our divisional rivals) I wrote on Aldershot. But then, earlier this week, a couple of hundred Aldershot fans found the original (or rather one found it, the others followed their link…), so I didn’t bother. But you can still read it here, I’m going to be referring to it now and then in this here preview…

Firstly, is this game a derby? In the …File I suggested neither side consider it a derby, which I’ve since decided was quite frankly bollocks, not only is it Aldershot’s closest fixture, it’s probably ours too – and I’ve seen supporters of both sides describe it as such. Plus derby games are about a lot more than simple geography… the historical experiences and personnel shared between the two clubs give this game meaning above and beyond merely a fixture between two reasonably local sides.

Of course, if this is going to be a real ongoing derby, it’s going to have to have a name… all ‘proper’ derby games have a nickname (how could the media be expected to take it seriously otherwise???) – The North London Derby, the Steel City Derby… so what do we call this one? The North Hampshire/Surrey Derby isn’t that snappy (and may not even be geographically accurate), The A3 doesn’t quite stretch as far as Aldershot before veering off in the direction of Portsmouth, and the A3 Derby sounds like a cab firm anyway…

How about naming the game after the real reason this fixture is getting such a degree of attention from home and visiting fans alike… Mr Terry Brown. I’m not entirely sure the Brown Derby will catch on but in the unlikely event it does, you heard it here first (which would make a change…). Perhaps his good name lends itself better to a trophy, much like the one Derby and Forest play for. In fact… I’m calling it. Tomorrows game marks the inaugural Terry Brown Trophy tie, the winner will become the first holder, and every subsequent fixture, be it league, cup or friendly will decide future winners.

This is the Anonymous Don, not the WUP, so I don’t exactly have the resources to fund an actual, physical trophy that the winning captain can lift after a hard-fought victory. So, for now, this will be a metaphysical trophy, a trophy of the heart…

Whatever your feeling towards the fixture – and its fair to say not all of us are overly excited judging by the way the club has spent the last couple of days hawking round the final eighty tickets of what initially seemed a pretty measly 1300 allocation. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been slightly disappointed with our travelling support this season… Fair enough, we took over a thousand to Crawley for the League Cup on a Friday night, but we should have sold out that stand at Dagenham, £19 a ticket or not. And this game should have sold out from season ticket holders alone, it’s not exactly a long trip, right?

The fact we are struggling to rustle up travelling support is strange when you consider we are selling out Kingsmeadow on a frequent basis… even the Tuesday night game with Northampton looking as though its going to be hard to obtain tickets on the night. Could this be down to the more competitive nature of the division we are in? Even last season you would have expected us to win as many as we lost away from home, and watching your team lose at home is one thing, making the effort to travel is another.

This game was always going to be a tough one, taking into account our pre-existing defensive problems. Now on the eve of matchday we find not only might our top scorer be ruled out with injury, one of our only fit centre halves might have to sit out as well. Bret Johnson struggling with a hamstring injury could see a last-minute loanee pair up with Jamie Stuart, although a few cynics out there might see this as a good thing – not having trained with us he might not know that on winning the ball the done thing is to play a hospital ball to a tightly marked midfielder, and instead slam the ball sixty yards down field.

So how will the Dons line up? With Charlie Ademeno definitely ruled out, if Jack Midson still has two legs its highly likely he’ll at least start… we need someone up top who can hold the ball up, if not its a game of giving the ball to Jolley and seeing what he can do with it (which worked last week…).

Having strung this out long enough to get some team news from the O/S, along with the revelation that our new loan centre half is Callum McNaughton from West Ham, it looks like the new boy will start will Jamie Stuart. With Fraser Franks playing for the reserves for the first time tomorrow and Mat Mitchel-King nowhere near, McNaughton’s arrival for a month will cover us over nicely until we have our full complement of defenders back. How we’ll go in midfield is anyones guess, which is one of the reasons I’ve wimped out on selecting my predicted XI…

One final thought, harking back to whether this game is a derby or not… if there are any doubters out there pondering the importance of the fixture – the scoreline come 5PM tomorrow evening might go a long way towards how you view it in future. After all, I can’t remember too many people getting excited about trips to places like Hampton or Staines until one day we played them and they beat us…

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Stevenage in the JPT

As previously mentioned, I’m prepared to admit slightly more interest in the JPT than most League Two fans this season, if only because our entry into the competiton marks or ascent to the Football League. After a first round bye, the draw for the second round took place this morning, and the Dons have picked up a home draw against Stevenage.

If this tie turns out anything like last seasons FA Cup encounter between the two sides, we’ll be grateful that bye has extended our stay in the tournament slightly longer than our Carling Cup effort. Stevenage moved through League One in a single season and the two sides meet with a division seperating us once more. I suppose we can count ourselves slightly unfortunate to have drawn a side we’re playing at Kingsmeadow for the third season running when there were teams like Charlton and Brentford floating about, the club will announce pricing in due course but it goes without saying they might have to get creative to encourage anywhere near a decent crowd in for familiar visitors.

At this stage of the competition the northern and southern halves of the draw are more or less seperate tournaments, but elsewhere in the south east Charlton and Brentford face off, Barnet travel to Gillingham, and Leyton Orient or Dagenham host Southend.

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