Category Archives: Match Previews

Creepy Crawley And The Nature Of Rivalry

One of the side effects of writing a blog that’s read by slightly more people than my wife and mum (my dad reads too…) is that every so often someone gets in touch and asks for a contribution to their own site. Often the questions asked come from a different angle and make me consider the club in a manner I wouldn’t normally, and one of those came last month in a piece I did for a website called Best of the Bets.

The question referred to our return to the Football League, and whether we’d be looking forward to renewing any old rivalries. Of course, no one really leapt out as a rival on promotion to League Two, I wrote a few lines about looking forward to finally facing Aldershot, some short-term excitement at reprising a couple of Premier League fixtures at Bradford and Swindon, two new London derbies (albeit ones that don’t exactly get the heart pumping).

Yet no one that really makes you sit up and relish facing off against hated local scum. Maybe one day that void will be filled by Aldershot once we’ve got a few years of mutual back slapping out of the way they’ll tire of being reminded certain clubs only took nine years to navigate their way through the non-league pyramid. Perhaps a club currently higher in the pecking order will drop down (or we’ll move up?) and fill that void… a Brentford, maybe even a Millwall (and I’m convinced when Fulham’s bubble eventually bursts they’ll end up making Bradford look a financial success story…).

The problem being that our rise, fall, and second coming has seen us never end up in the same division long enough to develop significant rivalries with clubs of equivalent size… Which has led to a series of almost manufactured rivalries developed almost to fill a void. The first was the almost comical Merton derbies with Raynes Park Vale, laughable in that as far as I can make Dons fans seem to make up the majority of Vale’s home crowds anyway.

Moving up the divisions, we missed out on a few local clubs such as Kingstonian and Sutton, long memories saw us briefly face off against historical rivals, the likes of Dulwich and Tooting, but mostly the keenest of contests came against those sides who somehow found an extra few hundred thousand pounds down the back of the sofa (or by not paying their tax bill for a few years), or welcomed in a rich benefactor for a few years until they eventually got bored and wandered off. Yet while the likes of Withdean and Bromley have now been left long behind, we do still have one thorn left sticking in our sides after scrabbling out of the non-league game, the team that came up with us last year…

Its unlikely Dons fans would be giving Crawley a second thought right now if it hadn’t been for a combination of two factors… their convicted criminal manager, and one of the few people in a game that tends to close its eyes and pull the blanket over its head when faced with potential scandal who has actually managed to have been conclusively proved to be a cheat. Then of course are the huge piles of cash that allowed themselves to buy their way into the League to begin with.

That Crawley are disliked by Dons fans is no great surprise… they didn’t exactly romp to victory in the popularity stakes last year in the Conference, and their presence in League Two has already ensured they aren’t exactly being welcomed with open arms up and down the country – hell, they even managed to turn Manchester United into popular favourites for a game last year…

The Dons selling out our allocation for Saturdays game probably isn’t too much of a surprise, what with the size of Kingsmeadow meaning pretty much every game has been a full house so far, what did surprise me was Crawley selling out their section, meaning they’ll actually have more in the ground than they did at their own stadium for an evening game against Wrexham a couple of years ago.

It seems this game has been elevated to rivalry status by the sheer number of times the two sides have faced off over the past couple of years, this being the eighth meeting in that time, and its no surprise the two sets of supporters are getting sick of each other… I’m not exactly salivating at the prospect of Saturdays game, it’s one to get out of the way more than anything, yet victory will be celebrated by all of us in the same manner last seasons comeback win was (Kedwell free this time).

And as for defeat… well it’s not exactly going to be like last week where the result was pretty much forgotten about five minutes after final whistle – it has the potential to be an evening-wrecker, much as losing to Hampton or Bromley was. You see, knowing we’ll probably have left Crawley spluttering in our dusty trail in two or three years time counts for nothing right now, especially if a large group of noisy visitors are left celebrating in the corner as we file away into the evening.

Lets face it, Crawley have done nothing wrong in spunking vast amounts of dubiously acquired cash at quick-fire promotions, they haven’t broken any wage caps, they are paying their bills up front, and as long as the Fat Eyelinered one hasn’t been up to his old manila envelope tricks they deserve to be where they are on merit (unlike certain other new towns we could mention). And yet the nation still seems to be captivated with the side that went up with them via the playoffs… Crawley were almost the forgotten champions.

Football fans love a good news story, and the Dons progress with Brown assembling a young talented side within budget, playing good football, will ensure Crawley remain in our shadow for a while yet. And that must really stick in their throats, you’ll hear it in the songs they sing, the desperation… they know what’s coming in the years to follow and are looking for cheap victories while they can, like Withdean, like Bromley, like Hampton… hate us now, so you’ll remember us when we’re gone…

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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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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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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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Post Four Hundred – The Plymouth Preview

Nothing clever about the title, this is the four hundredth article on Anonymous Don, and will probably be the one that knocks me over the 100,000 view milestone, any amateur mathematician out there should be able to work out the average there (although about a quarter of those views have come within the past three months or so…).

I’ll be celebrating by not going to Plymouth tomorrow night, and therefore this is a slightly truncated preview. Hugely unfortunate that a short-term financial squeeze is preventing me from attending certain away games at the moment… and this was the one away game I wanted. I lived down in Plymouth during my student years… well I say years, an informal learning environment coupled with access to large amounts of cheap beer were two reasons further education and myself proved incompatible, so I left after eighteen months determined to get an entry-level job and work my way up. Thirteen years and, erm, one promotion and several sideways moves later, I can honestly say I don’t regret that decision one bit…

Further education and me might not have mixed, but Plymouth and me certainly did… When I first rolled up in that city I was an immature kid, but when I left I was a man. An immature man, yes, but a man all the same. I probably would have stayed down there but all the jobs were in London at the time, and after a meeting with my Bank Manager where he quite literally tore me to pieces I reluctantly moved back home.

Apparently the city has changed a lot since I was last down there, ten years ago now, and I would have loved to have gone for a pre-match wander to have a look round. It’s not just the city itself though, Home Park has been almost completely rebuilt since my last visit. And yet, I’ll be tuning in to listen on WDON tomorrow night instead…

On the face of it no better time to head down to Argyle, their young squad put to the sword by Rotherham, yet as we know ourselves all too well, young players can be inconsistent… We might find ourselves on the end of a backlash tomorrow night if we aren’t careful. Yet the Dons will have plenty of confidence behind them following our first three points back in League football… My overwhelming expectation is we will get a point, but without wanting to write anything that I might regret in twenty-four hours time, I have a good feeling about this one (although that’s based on nothing more than post-Saturday euphoria…).

On to expected lineups, and TB has done me a huge favour by suggesting in the press he’s going to stick with an unchanged lineup. I wasn’t expecting him to start Charlie Ademeno, but after a strong 75 minutes he doesn’t have too much choice but keep him in for this one. Max Porter is the only real question mark, but with Ricky Wellard not firing I think Brown will persist with him.

He’s had a couple of rough games, but he’s new to the club, looked decent in preseason, it would be wrong to discard him this early. Give him a chance to find some form, although Browns decision to bring on Sammy Moore to play that holding role on Saturday was interesting, I wonder whether he would consider him there permanently. It’ll be a bit of a waste for someone who has scored important goals, but at least we’ll know if he finds himself in a shooting position his effort won’t threaten a passing 131 on the Kingston Road.

My expected Dons lineup is as follows;

Brown

Hatton

Gwillim

Johnson

Stuart

Porter

Minshull

Yussuff

L Moore

Midson

Ademeno

Currently I’m 21/22 this season and hoping for another perfect XI to double my record from last season (to be fair to me I didn’t play this game every week…). I’m going to play it safe and go with the XI that started on Saturday. When you think of the quality we have on the bench, a recovering Sammy Moore, Chris Bush, Wellard, Mulley, Mitchel-King to come back and a possible new striker (?), this could get a lot more difficult as injuries and tiredness hit later in the year, but right now this Dons side is almost picking itself.

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Prologue To History – The Bristol Rovers Preview

We’re nearly there. After the shortest summer in history, league football returns tomorrow, and I do mean LEAGUE football. Breathe it in, fellow Dons fans, for we have earned this. Plus you know the spotlight won’t last for long, once the Sky cameras leave the car park, the journalists have penned their welcome back articles, and other clubs in the division tire of that ‘everyone’s second club’ crap (which took about five minutes in the Conference…).

Then we’ll be just a normal League Two club. A normal League Two club with a bit of a special back story, but a normal League Two club all the same. Isn’t that just brilliant?!

While I don’t think anything will stop us spending all day tomorrow walking on air, we just happen to be facing off against one of the favourites for promotion from this division. Regrettably, this means victory will not be a foregone conclusion, but our biggest success has already been earned… we showed Winkleman and his followers how to rightfully earn a place in League football, we embarrassed the football authorities who messed us around passing various enquiries back and forth, we proved the three-man commission (in particular Raj Parker and Steve Stride) wrong in that a reformed Wimbledon are very much in the wider interests of football… and we did it all in nine years.

Sorry if this preview is starting to become overly emotional, I presume there’s going to be enough of that at Kingsmeadow come 12.45 tomorrow (I’m sure one of the last time Dons fans were featured on Sky in the WFC era it ended with images of fans in tears, this time around we could be starting amidst similar scenes…). But to quote Eminem (not something I’m normally inclined to do), Fuck it, I’m on one, lets enjoy… The ‘one’ in particular he was referring to was a controlled substance, no such stimulants are required for Dons fans this time around, this is pure natural euphoria…

But back to Bristol Rovers, who presumably will be slightly confused turning up and finding themselves in the middle of this circus, for them it’s just another game… Nice to hear some positive comments coming from Rovers fans before the game, obviously they might be a little different after the game if we win/once they realise the away enclosure is actually outside the stadium (or might as well be…). I’m guessing all those Rovers fans with ‘forged’ tickets will wonder why they bothered.

I can’t help but cast my mind back to the Luton game two years ago and think this could be a very similar contest. A newly promoted Dons side coming up against relegated opponents in front of a sold out Kingsmeadow, obviously the occasion will be a million times more special, but I would expect to see a close game… not that I’d be willing to stick my money on it. Betting on the opening couple of rounds of games in a football season is a fool’s paradise, with no kind of form to go on it’s pretty much guesswork. Rovers haven’t played a competitive match yet, and the Dons only have the Friday night Crawley tie to judge us on.

Actually, while I touched upon Luton earlier, those twitter users who follow the Dons official feed might just have seen a retweet from some guy desperate for us to lose on Saturday and end the season relegated. Well, I was a bit annoyed at first, so I clicked on the guys profile to see which scumbag club he supported, those club stealers from Buckinghamshire? Bromley? Gatwick??? And it turned out he supported Luton. My initial annoyance just vanished and all I could think was ‘bless…’.

On to tomorrows encounter, and TB might as well have named his side given his comment ‘nine players from the play off final will be in the starting eleven’. Presumably the two additions will be Midson and Porter, this also means Gwillim will start ahead of Bush at left back. So even though I only managed one correct 1-11 last season, including many occasions where I picked known injury/suspension victims, I’m pretty confident of starting the season with a perfect record.

The Anonymous Don’s expected lineup is as follows;

Brown

Hatton

Gwillim

Stuart

Johnson

Porter

Wellard

Yussuff

Moore

Midson

Jolley

Although TB might be throwing us a curveball with that last one, Jolley was on the bench at Eastlands but never made it onto the pitch, but unless Brown is planning on playing Mulley or Minshull instead I think we can safely presume he meant the squad…

Now all we need to do is hope all of our lads remember it’s an early kick off, I’ve been reminding myself all week (although there is bound to be last-minute drama at my end, probably involving my season ticket…). You won’t hear from me now until after the game tomorrow, whether you are watching the game at Kingsmeadow, your local, at home or on some dodgy internet connection in Bangkok, make sure you enjoy it. Days like this should come along once in a generation, and it seems as though we’ve had dozens over the past decade… who knows when the next will come along…

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Crawley Town v AFC Wimbledon – A Match Preview

Football is back. In July. On a Friday night. Has the world gone mad? It feels like we should be preparing ourselves for a home friendly against a Premier League clubs youth team or something, instead we head off to Crawley for proper action…

Firstly, lets not kid ourselves this is the first game of our season. It isn’t. Our first game is next week, at home to Bristol Rovers. This is a cup game that we just happen to be playing in the summer. Important it may be, and its nice to watch a meaningful game of football, but I think both sides are aware the real action kicks off next week. Maybe the occasion would have felt bigger had we not found ourselves playing each other… seven meetings within the space of twenty-two months, and our fourth trip to Broadfield, the novelty factor wore off pretty quickly…

I remember our first trip for the FA Cup tie, a short journey, plenty of Dons fans, a decent pub across from the ground… I remember thinking regular trips to Broadfield wouldn’t be so bad… Fast forward a couple of years, and we find ourselves repulsed at having to visit the Crawley we know and don’t love, all concrete and dog shit and overgrown grass verges.

The fact we never win there probably doesn’t help… Terry Brown probably summed our expectations for the game up best during his interview after the Watford friendly, telling Dons fans his side would be looking to cause a shock on Friday night. Despite finishing one place below Crawley last year, victory at Broadfield would be a more than impressive start…

Crawley have done nothing but strengthen over the summer, and lets face it, a weaker Wimbledon side than finished the season will be travelling down to Sussex. Thats probably an unfair way of putting it, perhaps rebuilding would be a better term… but it’s true. We might have stood a chance of staying with Crawley for six months of last season, what with all our games in hand, but this time around they are favourites for League Two for a reason, that being piles and piles of cash.

Money the Dons can’t possibly compete with over forty-six games, but Friday night is a cup tie, ninety minutes (plus potential extra time and penalties…), we might not be exactly where TB wants us at the moment but our squad are no mugs. You don’t expect either side to be at 100% at this time of year, and magnificent victory or crushing defeat could depend on variations in either sides preseason.

Which might worry a few of you. I think everyone accepts this preseason hasn’t entirely gone to plan, and certainly hasn’t been long enough, and I wonder whether TB considers they have fitted enough in to the time they did have together. He certainly wouldn’t say as much in the press, so this is pure conjecture, but if Crawley are well ahead of us in terms of fitness we could have real problems tomorrow night. They already have a huge advantage in terms of depth and experience… if they are even a few days ahead of us in terms of fitness, this tie could turn out to be a bit of a drubbing.

So far in this preview I’ve talked myself out of believing we have any chance of facing Palace next month, where are the positives? Taking fifteen players from last season points to our main strength… continuity. This is still the same young squad that dragged us out of the Conference last season, who will go out and play their football without fear. Our back four and midfield are just as strong as they were last season, and while we might not have that twenty goal a season striker just yet, we have forwards who possess the ability to unlock most defences.

With no form to go on beyond largely meaningless preseason results, our first competitive game will always be tough to call – whatever happens in twenty-four hours time will dictate our mood going into the Bristol Rovers game, but defeat won’t necessarily be the end of the world… a decent performance in a battling defeat will suit me. And if I find myself heading back up the M23 dreaming of Selhurst Park, well that would be a nice little bonus…

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Bedfont Town 1 AFC Wimbledon 1 22/7/11 Match Report (And Watford Mini Preview…)

I’m going to get all talk of planes out of my system early in this match report. Although I worked at the airport some ten years ago, and am fully aware just how big and how loud they can be, a trip to Bedfont is always a bit of an eye opener. As I mentioned in my news article, the planes themselves are nothing new to me, but standing in a football ground, trying to concentrate on whats going on in front of me while they are taking off in the very near vicinity is a weird experience.

As I had my back to the airport in the first half, it was just noise, yet I still found myself craning my neck to look when a big one took off… and those big ones need to use all the runway to get off the ground, so were barely off the ground by the time they passed us. The second half on the pitch was nothing worth writing home about, and as I now found myself facing the runway it turned into a full on forty-five minute planespotting session.

As for the game, the Dons took the lead in the seventeenth minute, Chris Bush firing a shot from fifteen yards that the Bedfont keeper got a palm to but couldn’t stop it nestling in the bottom left corner. Bedfont were level ten minutes later when the Dons suffered a disjointed moment, gifting possession in a dangerous area of the field and allowing Bedfont to work a two on one, before the ball found its way into the net under Jack Turner.

I have to write briefly about Jack Turner, as it doesn’t look as though he will be going out on loan after all, which is a real disappointment. You never know, a Conference side could lose their keeper early on and Jack might find himself sent on loan to cover, but playing out the whole season elsewhere would have been invaluable, letting him make his mistakes and learn his lessons.

He only made one last night, missing a corner which lead to Bedfont turning the ball into the net, but fortunately via one of the opposition players showing off his handling skills. That was the last meaningful action in the half, in fact of the game (although I vaguely recall a Bedfont player shooting into the side netting deep into the second period).

The young Dons performed well technically, lots of nice passing moves and possession football, but much like the first team at times there was no real sign that anyone wanted to take responsibility for finishing in dangerous situations. It was almost as though in the absence of any desire to shoot, their prefered method of scoring was to pass the ball into the net.

This is all well and good in preseason as a training exercise, but as they seemed proficient at keeping the ball already, it would have been nice to see someone take responsibility in the box rather than knock the ball around until someone decided to let fly under pressure, losing the ball over the low terrace in doing so. This is probably clutching at straws, the young players will hopefully learn in the development squad next term and those getting the chance to step up will be better players for it.

With the game finishing level, there needed to be some way of deciding who lifted the John Morris Memorial Trophy, and in time-honoured pre-season fashion that was via a half-hearted penalty shootout. It was almost surreal watching a Dons side step up post-Eastlands for penalties in such relaxed circumstances – no clenching required here, I doubt many Dons fans cared either way.

The shootout was initially interesting in a Womens World Cup Final kind of way, in that it didn’t look like either side were capable of scoring, the Dons leading 1-0 after two penalties each thanks to two good Jack Turner saves – the second coming from Bedfont manager and Dons record scorer Kevin Cooper. Turner showed the way himself with a calm third penalty to put Wimbledon in the driving seat, before Chris Bush finally finished what he started with the winning final kick to give the Dons a 3-2 victory.

Not much learned as far as the first team is concerned, for what its worth we remain unbeaten in this shortest and simplest of pre-season campaigns, with Crawley just seven days away as I type. I think we are all hoping the stiff test of a full strength Watford side will tell us more about our team, and TB has announced a starting lineup that is probably 80% strength.

Brown seems to be in discussions with a couple of strikers with League experience, yet it doesn’t sound as though a deal will be struck until later next week. Presumably whoever he brings in won’t be a season changer, more adding to our strength in-depth and providing a different option to Midson and Ademeno, who will presumably join Luke Moore in a front three. If it is a major signing, for selfish reasons I kind of hope the news comes through very late next week, as I just finished a season preview for a national Football League blog and don’t want to have to rewrite it…

As for our visitors Watford, well I’m sure their supporters are quite happy to see us back in the League as well, especially the manner we clinched promotion at Eastlands. I’m planning on heading to the bar early, not only to pick up my season ticket, but to see if any Watford fans are interested in showing their gratitude in the form of beer…

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Back To Where It All Began

If someone had suggested to me back on that glorious night, 10th July 2002 at Gander Green Lane, as our new Dons played out a 0-4 defeat to Sutton United that we would go on and gain promotion to the Football League within nine years… well if asked two days before or a couple of weeks later I might have suggested this sort of timescale as overambitious, but on that glorious night anything seemed possible for AFC Wimbledon. In fact I might have been a bit disappointed we couldn’t do it in seven. Or even five…

Maybe your memories have faded nine years on, but AFC Wimbledon kicking a ball in anger for the first time was perhaps the most euphoric occasion I’ve ever experienced as a football supporter. Eastlands might just have trumped it, but for entirely different reasons… simply watching our new side take the field seemed pretty miraculous at the time, like having taken this one leap of faith everything else would fall into place without too much effort.

We quickly found out how hard it would be, the sheer effort required to propel us up the pyramid, but that night will live long in the memory of all of us there that night (and hundreds more around the world who weren’t…), and it seems apt we revisit Sutton in preparation for our first season back in the League. I can’t imagine what they must have been expecting on the night, by all accounts they needed a little convincing until agreeing to host the fixture, and thankful they did… the occasion wouldn’t have been quite the same had it been hosted by Leatherhead or Windsor, no disrespect intended.

I think back then the presumption was we would face Sutton some point down the line in a competitive League fixture, but like Kingstonian and Woking we somehow avoided each other as our promotions coincided with relegation for the U’s. Of course, we did defeat them in a memorable Surrey Senior Cup semi-final, a competition that for one season only was elevated well beyond its natural level of interest by success hungry Dons fans. Sutton have become something of a Home For Unwanted Dons of late, with the likes of Goodliffe, Davis, Adjei and Jay Conroy finding themselves in a Sutton shirt.

From a Dons perspective, each game this pre-season has felt a lot more valuable as there aren’t as many of them as usual… I know I can’t attend the two midweek games this week, but those two fixtures alone account for almost a third of our schedule. In case you had forgotten, the season kicks off just two weeks today – last night saw the annual Meet The Manager night, which I missed, but fortunately you can read an extensive write-up elsewhere

One of the reasons this preview was published tonight and not last night (as was my aim) is because I was waiting for some news to come out of the camp, as yet none is forthcoming with the exception of what was reported earlier in the local Guardian, that Mikhael Jaimez-Ruiz looks like he might have done enough to earn a deal, providing Jack Turner can find a club (the Herald hinted yesterday that Hayes were showing interest, and if he could pull that off a season in the BSN would do him the world of good, particularly as the likelihood is he’ll be worked a little harder than he has been on his two Dons Conference appearances…

At the other end of the field, any lingering hopes Dons fans might have had that Alan Connell could be tempted to the club were extinguished when Swindon signed him for a reported six figure fee. When you consider that this means, making a few presumptions on a couple of the fees, the best part of a quarter of a million pounds has been splashed on three non-league strikers by teams in our division (Kedwell, Birchall, Connell), it really shows what we are up against financially.

Moving full circle, another side entering the Combined Counties League with ambitions to move up the pyramid take on Marcus Gayle’s development squad tomorrow at their Footes Lane stadium, and there seems to be some real excitement building over the islands debut in the pyramid. Good luck to them, and as Channel Online TV seem to be all over the story, there is a fair chance we might see some goal action of this game come Sunday morning…

LATE UPDATE

The O/S update came in half an hour after mine, obviously been watching Tour de France coverage, like any good sprinter locking on to a wheel before springing out last-minute and grabbing the glory…

Anyway, Szymon Sidorowicz and Baz Savage have moved on after failing to earn contracts, the most interesting news being TB has earmarked a couple of strikers ‘for the future’. So it looks as though we will start the season with what we have, and in terms of bringing in a Kedwell replacement its a case of playing the waiting game…

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AFC Wimbledon v Fulham XI – Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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