Category Archives: Reports

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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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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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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AFC Wimbledon 1 Hereford 1 20/8/11 – A Match Report

Yes! We did it! We actually did it! Pop those champagne corks and soak it up, Dons fans, for yesterdays game is going to be one you’ll want to tell the grandkids about… AFC Wimbledon won a point at home in the Football League for the first time…

I’d much rather my glass was half full right now, as despite the sacrifices I made to the Football Gods in my pre-match preview the game actually went pretty much as I expected. Hereford indeed turned out to be the League Two equivalent of Forest Green Rovers (although this might now be considered an outdated comparison as the real Forest Green Rovers managed to win 6-1 away from home on Saturday…), as the Dons huffed and puffed their way through an error strewn performance that they seemed equally likely to lose as to grab a winner.

I have to admit an element of irritation before the game even kicked off. Despite breaking my attendance at a barbecue a mere ten minutes walk from Kingsmeadow, torrential rain conspired to ensure I was soaked through on arrival. An almost full Kingsmeadow felt packed to capacity as those with terrace tickets that would normally have been satisfied standing in the open corner packed under the roof – this was a good couple of hundred people, and having wandered to my position on the Tempest without having my ticket checked for the second home game in succession I’m pretty certain more than a few ended up somewhere they weren’t supposed to be…

Not that I blame them in the slightest, under the circumstances I would have done the same – the situation not helped by the fact a quarter of the JSS occupants (i.e. the visiting supporters) had been allocated half the capacity. This raises all sorts of issues over stadium management that I’m probably not best qualified to comment on, what I will say is there is a frustrating trend developing where the comfort of terraced spectators within the stadium normally compares with the level of performance on the pitch… so finding myself packed in and unable to move could only mean one thing…

It took Hereford eight minutes to find the net, that was almost ten minutes faster than Bristol Rovers on opening day. Once again, it was completely defendable… A hopeful cross into the box looked absolutely zero threat whilst in the air, yet Brett Johnson hesitated allowing Delroy Facey in, with Seb Brown in a different postcode somewhere over by his far post, the ball slid off the portly hitman’s forehead before rippling the net.

By all accounts Seb admitted blame after calling for Johnson to leave it, not that you’ll find anyone castigating him for it… his recent form has been exceptional and despite this he was rightly named the sponsors Man of the Match after a series of fine saves. Maybe the question we should be asking is why Johnson, as an experienced player, didn’t recognise the danger and step in, despite his goalkeepers call. Harsh criticism perhaps, but this is the Football League we’re playing in. That’s seven goals conceded this season, fair enough they came across five games, but they were seven preventable goals, and we can already count the points we’ve lost because of errors.

Wimbledon looked more likely to go further behind that level the scores immediately after the goal. Ricky Wellard summed up the Dons performance, one minute giving Hereford the ball, the next putting in an important challenge to prevent a visitors opportunity – this inconsistency dogged the home side all afternoon. Yet almost out of nothing, Wimbledon did find the net on twenty-five minutes, Sam Hatton swinging the ball over and Jack Midson getting his head onto it to send it into the roof of the net.

The Dons then had a spell that raised hopes they would go on and win the game. Straight after, Luke Moore had the ball in the net after a Midson shot deflected kindly for him, but was ruled offside. From the opposite end of the pitch it must have been close, the giveaway that Moore had strayed was probably the player himself, a competitive forward he reacted by holding his head rather than questioning the linesman.

Half time brought with it optimism that the Dons would come out fired up by TB and go on and win the game, as had happened at Plymouth in the week, this optimism proved as misplaced then as before the game. While chances were created, they were also presented to the visitors on a frequent basis. Seb Brown earned his MOTM with a few great saves, including one great one-on-one, but the home fans will have left the ground rueing some particularly good chances.

Off the top of my head I’m thinking of three (being tightly packed in isn’t great for note taking…). First, a deep cross found Ademeno at the far post, but his powerful header from an angle was well saved by Hereford keeper Cornell (signed on loan from Swansea mere minutes after my preview was published…). Then, Sammy Moore had a presentable chance to volley the Dons ahead, but his scuffed effort made it easy for Cornell.

The closest the Dons came to snatching all three points was an Ademeno header pushed away by the young Hereford keeper that in all probability had already crossed the line, but with neither referee nor linesman in a position to confirm you can’t really blame them for not giving it – if they had it would have been guesswork. Jamie Stuart seems particularly angry in the press, but the truth is if you want to make absolutely certain of scoring, you have to hit the back of the net… expecting the officials to make judgement calls based on a matter on inches is too much to ask.

Plus making an issue over one incident masks the fact that the Dons didn’t really deserve the three points, beyond actively trying to win the game. Thats not to say Hereford didn’t come looking for three points, their chances largely came about via Dons over committing or simply giving the ball away, but I can’t blame a side that hasn’t managed to chalk up a point settling for what they had rather than risk losing everything. What I will say is if Jamie Pitman ever found himself on Deal Or No Deal it wouldn’t be the most exciting episode you’ve ever watched, but he’ll walk away with a few grand all the same…

But for all the credit you can give Brown for it, you still don’t deserve to win the points simply through being prepared to roll the dice and take maximum or nothing… in fact it’s kind of expected of the home team. What I will say is despite our next opponents destroying Hereford at Edgar Street on Tuesday, I thought to myself on the way to the ground (partially as a way of distracting myself from the soaking I was getting) that next weeks trip to Macclesfield might turn out to be an easier game for precisely that reason, and despite the underwhelming performance I’m going to stick my neck out and stand by it.

In fact we might find ourselves picking up as many points on the road as we do at home this season. Away from Kingsmeadow the Dons are free to counter attack at will against opponents normally looking to be on the front foot in front of their own supporters, whereas at home we don’t always have the nous to unlock opposition defences.

Overall, yes it was frustrating, but there’s no point making excuses for the performance… we’ve already shown enough to convince all but the most pessimistic supporters we’ll finish comfortably midtable this term, and that should be enough. Six points on the road might have had us temporarily wondering ‘what if?’… And we may well find ourselves troubling the playoff picture come May. But everything we have seen so far suggests for that to happen we’ll need to improve – and quickly. The inconsistency we saw yesterday will likely dog us all season, some individuals improve, some won’t, and we’ll do some cosmetic work next summer to improve on wherever we end up this time around.

A downgrading of expectations will follow this result, and it’s needed… if anything the only wish-fulfillment we really need this season is a trip to Old Trafford or the Emirates in the FA Cup, and a subsequent cash windfall that might allow us to rebuild not just the KRE but the JSS as well, allowing us all to watch the Dons in the Football League in a little more comfort next term…

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Dagenham And Redbridge 0 AFC Wimbledon 2 13/8/11 – A Match Report

The Dons kept up their record of scoring two goals per game, this time shedding the annoying habit of shipping three, and thus recording our first League points, and League victory, for god knows how long. Nine years apparently. How long will it take us to tire of that song? Another nine years is my guess…

Now I have to admit, I didn’t take the thirty-six stop epic District Line journey I commented on in my preview, partly because I’m not stupid. Perhaps this fixture should be renamed, rather than District Line Derby, surely Change At Waterloo Then Take Jubilee To West Ham Before Boarding An Eastbound Train On The District Line Derby would be more accurate? Once on the District, it’s not exactly a short hop… the train called at Plaistow, East Ham, Barking, Southend, Lowestoft, Rotterdam, Gdansk and Narnia Heathway before finally pulling in to Dagenham East. Ok, not the longest journey we’ve ever made, but I’ve blocked the arse numbing coach journeys to Gateshead and Darlington from my memory, and tube trains weren’t designed for extended occupation…

The ground was pretty close to the tube station, and the Daggers are rare amongst football clubs in that they pretty much roll out the red carpet for visiting supporters… Even the view half way up the spanking new Marcus James end towers over the two adjacent stand roofs, and to cap it off, there’s a bar underneath it, with a couple of TV screens in. And a burger bar out back, that you might miss had there not been a sign at the first burger bar you come across just inside the gates advising not to queue for no reason and giving directions. Now that is class.

What isn’t class is a group of people who want to sit together each buying tickets separately, thus ending up with seats in completely different parts of the stand. We got lucky in that although the Dons contingent was large, it wasn’t quite large enough to fill the 1200 seat stand, meaning spares were available, and I was able to sit with people I know rather than my allocated seat. We got away with it this time, but tactics employed in the Premier League days may need to be redeployed (or not, as I seemed to find myself stuck on my own a fair deal back then…)

Once the game got underway, the travelling support initially had reason to worry, as Dagenham looked the better side early on, and might have threatened had they had a little more composure in front of goal. Unlike last week the Dons, while not looking entirely comfortable, went beyond the twenty-minute mark with sheets still clean, and started looking pretty threatening themselves. Charlie Ademeno was preferred over Christian Jolley for the start, and caused Dagenham all sorts of problems, setting up Jack Midson for the Dons first real chance, but the Not So Secret Footballer prodded over on the stretch.

The Dons eventually went ahead via the penalty spot, but it’s no exaggeration to say they should have had two more… a handball that went unspotted along with a rugby tackle on Midson, and along with this it appeared as though the Daggers should have gone down to ten men after their last man hauled down Midson just outside the area (him again, not having much luck with the referee as we’ll see in the second half…). As all these incidents took place down the opposite end it was difficult to tell what the referees thinking was behind turning down any of them.

When the referee finally caved in and pointed to the spot, the incident looked a little innocuous. A big Sam Hatton throw from the right flicked on and hitting the guy somewhere on the upper arm, the weight of previous appeals finally got to the man in black. The award caught the Dons fans a little off guard, one of those weird delayed celebrations followed as people finally caught on with what had happened. Luke Moore made no mistake with the kick, sending the keeper the wrong way for his second of the season.

With the tunnel situated just in front of the travelling support, the Dons fans were able to give the referee a little advice on his first half performance on the way in, followed by Charlie Ademeno, who was given a more rousing reception. Charlie’s performance was really encouraging, building on decent showings from the bench against Crawley and Bristol Rovers, and if he can stay fit he could prove a surprise hit… On signing I think most Dons fans expected Charlie to support an eventual Kedwell replacement, yet on recent form he’s providing us with everything Kedwell gave us and more, hardworking, almost impossible to shake off the ball and with an eye for goal.

Ademeno’s departure meant Jack Midson sneaked off almost unnoticed, blood appearing to be spurting from a head wound – well, perhaps ‘spurting’ is over dramatic, there was definitely red stuff on show. Not having seen the incident he could well have collided with a spectator with a heavily loaded hot dog, absence of mustard suggests that wasn’t the case, but either way Midson returned after the break, no bandaging apparent.

To be honest the Dons threatened to run away with it in the second half, Dagenham went from looking ex-League One to Conference fodder within the space of forty-five minutes. The second goal effectively finished the game, and was a fantastic effort from Toks, striding forward as the defence backed off, allowing him to fire a left foot effort into the top corner of the net, and worth the journey and ticket price on its own.

Dagenham had a spell lasting about five minutes directly after the goal where they forced a series of corners, but to be honest the Dons looked more likely to extend their lead from that point on. Even the removal of Ademeno provided little respite, Jolley coming on to terrorise the tiring home defence. Yet Wimbledon’s best chance of extending the lead was thwarted once again by the referee, this time right in front of the Dons follower allowing no excuses… Midson brought down as he bore down on goal, quite why the referee turned that one down I’ll never know.

The Dons were good value for the two goal cushion at least, but this early in the season it’s nice to see Wimbledon supporters remaining pretty grounded. This early in the season its hard to judge just how good a win this was, although three points away are always handy no matter which league you happen to be playing in, we’ll probably have more of an idea how we’ll get on by mid-September.

Until then, what of Dagenham? They certainly didn’t look like a side that almost survived in League One last year, although by all accounts they had a fair few injuries. Unlike Crawley and Bristol Rovers they probably won’t be challenging this year, and showed as much by failing to take advantage of a Dons defence still getting to grips with the division. They are probably closer to what you would expect of a mid table side this term, and if so we aren’t going to have too many problems achieving a respectable position this term.

For Wimbledon, well I remember commenting a little while back Nostradamus-like that losing a twenty goal a season striker won’t be a problem so long as goals are spread amongst the team, and here we are now, six goals scored, five goalscorers. Now if we do find that twenty goal hitman before the end of August (or one of Charlie/Jack/Luke get the knack of hitting the net), and the rest keep chipping in, who knows where that could take us?

We now move on to Plymouth and Hereford over the next week, two sides who shipped seven goals between them on Saturday. Yet once again, let’s keep our feet on  the ground for a moment (he says, after suggesting otherwise in the previous paragraph…). Plymouth are a young side operating under extreme pressure and budgetary constraints, their heavy home defeat could be as much of a blip as their decent point at Shrewsbury on the opening day. And Hereford, well a win in midweek over Macclesfield is a possibility, and could give them the confidence they have been looking for. The problem with being in a League where every dog has his day, what if we are the dog and have just had ours?

Two tough games, to add to the two we’ve already played and forty-two that will follow…

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AFC Wimbledon 2 Bristol Rovers 3 6/8/11 – A Match Report

Another week in the big leagues, another 3-2 defeat, more suicidal defending… yet clearly nothing to worry about just yet for us Dons fans. If we weren’t scoring goals, that might be a problem, but the upside of conceding preventable goals is by their nature they are, erm, preventable in future… if we hadn’t repeatedly given our opponents the ball in close proximity to our goal, we wouldn’t have lost that one.

I know talk before the game was this was all about the occasion, and the result was irrelevant (to a point), but despite doing everything we possibly could in the first twenty minutes to gift our opponents victory, we would have taken a point after an encouraging comeback had it not been for one moment of madness…

The penalty decision, on first glance – which was from the Tempest end a good hundred yards from the incident – looked pretty nailed on… An arm went up from someone in a Dons shirt, the ball struck it, the ref blew and pointed to the spot. At the time I couldn’t really understand what complaint the Dons players surrounding the referee could possibly have had.

Watching it back from a more favourable angle (and how much of a godsend is the Football League show? No more waiting 48 hours for AFCWTV…), at the moment of impact between the ball and Brett Johnson’s arm, he was in the process of being wiped out by Byron Anthony, including a forearm to the face, and couldn’t possibly have judged the flight of the ball to intentionally make contact. It’s an unbelievably harsh penalty decision, and the Dons can count themselves pretty unlucky.

I suppose under the circumstances we should be grateful that it was Brett Johnson who conceded the penalty, had it been one of our younger players the knowledge they had cost us the game, on such a big occasion for the club, might have taken some time to recover from. I don’t think we’ll have any problems with Brett Johnson, an experienced player like him will bounce back, he’s been our most consistent defender over the past couple of years, hands down (ouch…).

One of the reasons I got the penalty issue out-of-the-way early is, yes, you could probably consider us quite unlucky to go down to such a late penalty, but on the balance of play Bristol Rovers deserved their victory. The squad are going to have a few nightmares over the first two goals when they sit down to watch them this week, but before that Christian Jolley could have given the Dons the lead, racing clear down the left channel, unfortunately knocking the ball too far and giving Rovers keeper Bevan a chance to close him down, the deflection seeing the ball balloon over the bar.

As for the two Rovers opening goals, well the first was a consequence of the Dons dedication to playing the ball out from the back. We got ourselves into trouble a couple of times last season, against the better prepared sides in the division, thanks to the managers insistence on Seb Brown throwing the ball wherever possible, but to be fair its our best chance of developing a move… when Seb is forced to kick long the ball invariably is returned with interest more times than not, Jack Midson can’t win every ball launched forward. This might change if the club employs the services of the target man they are rumoured to have their eye on, but even then, play to your strengths, the back four and midfield are just going to have to get used to finding space quickly when Seb receives the ball – a punt up field to a big lad should be last resort.

Perhaps Seb was a little unfortunate, as he would have got away with his careless throw had it not caught Ricky Wellard a little by surprise, the ball getting caught under his feet and subsequently robbed from his possession. The last person you’d really want the ball to fall to was Scott McGleish, he might be 38 but you never lose the knack of putting the ball in the net, and he was never likely to miss.

If that goal could be put down to nerves and misfortune, the second was unforgivable. Just minutes after giving the ball away you wouldn’t have expected two of our better players in Yussuff and Johnson to contrive to give the ball away on the half way line, allowing the little legs of McGleish to carry him deep into the Dons box. His first effort was well blocked by Browns feet, only for the ball to drop back at the veteran forwards feet for him to clip in for, of all people, Matt Harrold to nod home.

Of all the players we have come up against that haven’t had franchise links, Harrold is one of the least popular after his bullying act on the Dons BSS standard back four in the Wycombe cup tie three years ago. The Dons are now of a standard equal to, or possibly in advance of his ‘quality’, so how galling that it was him who bundled home a goal that at the time seemed to have ended the game as a contest, especially as it gave him the chance to hold four fingers up to the Tempest end… kind of flattering in a way that the Dons are seen as such a threat in this division, but still – it was three years ago. He doesn’t even play for Wycombe any more. What a dick.

The Dons eventually created another chance worthy of note as half time approached, but Midson’s ball through to Luke Moore in a two on one situation got caught under his feet, and once again Bevan was on hand to smother the chance. It seemed our best chance of getting back into the game before the break had gone, but moments later a Christian Jolley charge down the left was crudely halted. Sam Hatton swung the resulting free kick over, Jamie Stuart only needed to guide it beyond Bevan and into the top right corner – Kingsmeadow had some hope again.

During half time I would normally have read my copy of WUP, but I can only presume it sold out (not that I really made too much of an effort to find someone, running late as I was), so was forced to read the programme instead. The bloke in front of me did have a copy, examining every article in fine detail as I read over his shoulder. That was until he got to the Anonymous Don ramble, where he quickly turned the page, an incident which almost provoked a rare outburst of Don on Don violence…, until I realised ‘Of course, he would have read that before the game, probably moments after purchasing his copy…’. Yeah, that’s probably what happened. Probably.

Wimbledon looked so much better in the second half you would have thought Brown had sent a team of lookalikes out in the first, just to confuse the opposition. Despite not really creating any clear-cut opportunities, it was much better football, the Dons looked dangerous going forward and I was pretty confident the equalizer was on its way. Brown took the opportunity to make a couple of changes, the disappointing Porter replaced by Minshull, who immediately provided an extra physical dimension to the Dons game. Moments later Christian Jolley, who had a storming hour or so on the pitch and hadn’t shown signs of fading, was also withdrawn. I can only imagine Brown was just looking for a way of getting Charlie Ademeno onto the pitch, and Jolley was unfortunate enough to get the hook, but any debate over the decision was ended less than three minutes later.

A Dons move seemed to have broken down, but was hopefully hooked back into the Rovers area by Wellard. Minshull got up well to nod the ball down, and Charlie Ademeno was on hand to fire under Bevan and put the Dons back on terms. With twenty minutes left, the hope among Dons fans was we would go on and win it, but it wasn’t all Wimbledon, Seb Brown had to make a couple of fine saves to keep Rovers out. And once again, despite all their possession, the Dons weren’t creating clear chances, and as the game entered its final stages it seemed they might had to settle for a point.

Then came the penalty, and I’m not going to go over it again, but if you are fortunate enough to earn a penalty in a tied game five minutes from time, you’d want it to be struck as well as Virgo hit this. Even if Seb Brown had gone the right way he wouldn’t have got near it, although it was quite interesting in a week where this report was doing the rounds to note which way Seb dived.

The Dons best chance of getting back into the game probably fell to the wrong person, a deep cross found third substitute Chris Bush at the far post, who neither tapped back across goal nor buried it in the net, instead blazing over. The home fans gave the Dons a decent send off on the final whistle, aware this was a pretty decent performance – individual errors aside. Two encouraging defeats so far this season, but Wimbledon really need to start turning these sort of performances into results pretty soon… hopefully starting next week at Dagenham.

It might have only taken us nine years to earn our place back in the Football League, but hopefully it will only take another seven days for our first Football League win…

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Crawley Town 3 AFC Wimbledon 2 29/7/11 – A Match Report

So the Dons find themselves in the rare position of being eliminated from a Cup competition before the season has even begun, before its even August… I suppose we were more than half expecting the result, in my preview I mentioned I would be happy with a battling performance in defeat, and I was more than impressed with the Dons last night.

Yet I was expecting us to be a bit stronger defensively, and still finding our feet going forward… if anything the reverse looked true. While brave and determined at the back individually, we seemed to lack organisation… less a defensive line than a defensive squiggle. This was probably the consequence of a lack of preparation caused by our truncated preseason, I’m prepared to accept we will improve defensively.

What was a bonus was how dangerous we looked going forward, especially on the break. We came up against a team who will be challenging for promotion, the bookmakers preseason favourites for the title, and at times we caused them all sorts of problems. Yes, this was one performance, and we will have to put in the same high work rate we did last night in each and every one of the forty-six league fixtures ahead of us. But if we do, and we put right some of the defensive problems we saw last night, we might find the Dons will exceed the expectations of all but the wildest of optimists among us.

But, for those of you who weren’t there, what of the game? Well it had everything you would ask of a cup tie… goals, a sending off, a comedy villain… It was nice to see a huge contingent of Dons fans, presumably starved of competitive football despite the short summer break, making up around a third of the total attendance and making a lot of noise. It’s fair to say the Dons were particularly shaky to begin with, although both sides looked seriously rusty… passes were going astray left, right and centre; shots found the car park…

Dons fans, half an hour before kick off

The Dons took the lead out of nothing, and I literally mean out of nothing. When Luke Moore received the ball just inside the Crawley half, the hope was this could kickstart a Wimbledon move, but there didn’t seem to be any immediate danger. However, after beating a couple of men and heading diagonally across the Crawley half, a shooting opportunity opened and Moore made no mistake with a fierce drive across Kuipers into the bottom left corner.

As far as season opening goals go, they don’t come much better than this, and I can’t remember a better one. Someone is going to have to do something outrageous to top that this season… I’ve mentioned it before and I’ll go into more detail more when I get to my squad preview of the strikers, but if really feel Luke Moore could take a step up this season, he really could turn out to be an important player for us next term if he keeps clear of injury and gets the sort of run in the side he had at the end of our last campaign.

Toks went close to giving us a 2-0 lead shortly after, although being situated at the opposite end of the ground I won’t know how good a chance it was until (if?) I see the video. Crawley were doing a good job of stopping the Dons playing football from the back, Sam Hatton in particular suffering, a red shirt closing him down almost as soon as he received the ball, although to be fair he could have been a bit quicker releasing on a couple of occasions. The problem for Sam, and the back four in general, is there is no secret that we like to play out from the back, so every manager in the division will assign someone to chase the Dons down, our first few games could be a tricky transition phase for a few of our younger players.

You knew the hosts would come again, and come again strong, and it took some serious defending to keep them out, to the point I started to feel if Wimbledon could hold the lead going into half time we might stand a chance. The problem was, due to a combination of commitment to playing football and sheer desperate defending, Wimbledon kept handing the ball back to Crawley still deep within our own half. Eventually an error would come, and when it did it proved very costly. A cross form the left evaded a clutch of players and fell to Hope Akdan, all alone at the far post, who dug the ball out from under his feet and gave Seb Brown no chance.

In fact Crawley should have had the lead before the break, only a bit of miraculous defending (and to be honest, some not exactly positive forward play from Crawley)keeping the ball out of the Dons goal. Half time came with the scores level, Dons fans a little frustrated the game had swung against us during the last ten minutes of the half.

The Dons line up for another season

It took less than thirty seconds for the Dons to regain the lead, much to the surprise of those returning from epic queues for toilets and snacks. While we are on the subject of the snack bar – and this is an unusual criticism not normally levelled at football clubs – but Crawley sell bottles of drink in 600ml bottles, then confiscate the cap, meaning you have no option but to down over a pint of cold fizzy drink, in confined quarters… But back to the goal. It was all down to Christian Jolley, closing down Crawley defender McFadzean, forcing him into a slip, then nipping in to pick up the pieces and lay the ball perfectly for Midson to tap home from close range.

My first thought was how long we could hold the lead this time, and the answer was… not very long. Crawleys equalise five minutes later came in slightly similar circumstances to their first, this time Torres left all alone beyond the far post, slotting across Seb Brown into the right corner. The hosts really stepped up the pressure from that point on, and it was no surprise they finally sneaked ahead just after the hour mark.

Although he scores so many goals, Matt Tubbs is a danger to anyone thanks to the nine other guys in red shirts supplying him the ball in the box. When several other guys in blue shirts give him the space to do as he wish, there’s only going to be one outcome. I thought we stood a chance of at least forcing extra time as long as we didn’t go behind, but if anything the Dons had their best spell of the game during the final quarter-hour.

Neither Dons fullback had really crossed the half way line, but that all changed when Gareth Gwillim made way for Chris Bush, who immediately played a big attacking role. Christian Jolley was also sacrificed for Charlie Ademeno, who had been promised a poor reception from his old club… there were a few boos but it was all pretty muted, you got the impression the vast majority of home fans didn’t have a clue who he was.

One person obviously not happy with Ademeno’s arrival was the referee, who immediately resolved to blow his whistle whenever the ball went anywhere near him. We had some shocking referees in the Conference and below, some ridiculously weighted decisions in favour of either ourselves (if we were lucky) or our opponents… it seems Football League referees consider they have had a good game not if they get the majority of decisions correct, but if both sides are equally unhappy with their performance. Ademeno’s crime was, not being the biggest guy on the planet, he needs to get his body between the ball and man, and was therefore consistently penalised for ‘backing in’, an offense only called when a smaller guy outmuscles a bigger guy…

To be fair, Crawley were equally miffed, it seemed, although after a couple of early dramatic falls in the penalty area the referee had obviously decided to avoid all incidents in the penalty area. These were accompanied by more and more exaggerated shocked actions from Steve Evans on the side of the pitch… at one stage I really thought he was going to throw himself to the ground and start kicking his legs about like a toddler. All of this just drew the attention of Dons fans, who by the end of the game had a repertoire of half a dozen or so chants and songs to aim at him… including one previously only reserved for Charles Koppell.

You get the impression League Two fans are going to have fun coming to Crawley, even though the majority of them are going to lose there you always find yourself leaving with that sense of superiority. Evans (and from speaking to a couple of Crawley fans, who seemed normal enough, it seems the majority of them actually believe most of what he says, which reduces the sympathy you may feel for them subjected to his management), the guy with the bell (!), images in the programme of kids at the training ground wearing Chelsea shirts, with no sign of any Crawley merchandise… it all gives the impression you’re at the sort of place that might melt if left out in the hot sun. There truly is no substance here, maybe there never will be… when times go bad just how many of them will still bother turning up? Its less than two years since they had a crowd of less than 700 for Wrexham. I see whats happened to Rushden this summer and can’t help but see parallels…

It might sound snobbish, but we really aren’t like them… we might have a few regulars who actually support other clubs, maybe because the circumstances surrounding our ownership, maybe because we are cheap and convenient and play some decent football, and very welcome they are too – but either way if football ever gets its house in order and these people can go back and support their own clubs on a regular basis, we’re going to lose what? 100, 150 off our average? A small minority, as opposed to the vast overnight fanbase that will abandon Crawley, which is why I don’t think any of us of us are that bothered about Crawley’s sudden wealth driven rise.

I mentioned comedy villains earlier, and it was Kuipers, a goalkeeper who could well prove to be Crawley’s Achilles heel, who provoked the ire of Dons fans. Although not the referee confusingly, as Ademeno chased down a long ball, the Crawley goalkeeper seemed to delay his clearance in order to catch the Dons frontman. Ademeno wasn’t hurt, he got up pretty much straight away, and if Kuipers intention was to draw the freekick it worked, and somehow managed to earn Ademeno a yellow card as well. The Dons fans were close enough to the referee to notice the look of impatience that ran over his face, as he realised he might just have made a mistake. To be fair, he did make a point of adding on every minute the Crawley keeper spent on the floor,as eventually the goalkeeper made a miraculous recovery.

As for the sending off, well it came shortly after, as holding on became the name of the game for the home team. It was one of those brain-dead moments you see sometimes from so-called professionals, Akpan already being on a yellow when he decided to blast the ball into orbit after the Dons were awarded a freekick. It could have been costly had the Dons forced extra time, but to be honest they had already spurned their two best opportunities, Ademeno getting the ball caught under his feet six yards out scrambled clear by the hosts, and a Chris Bush volleyed cross that hit Toks in front of goal and could have gone anywhere… but went wide.

That extra long period of stoppages was supplemented by an additional two minutes when Evans decided to make his three substitutions separately after ninety minutes were up, but the Dons were getting desperate by then, and I think every Dons fan knew when Seb Brown rushed to take a free kick by his own corner flag it was going to end up in the stand.

So no Carling Cup run for the Dons this season, but no huge loss. Judging by that performance you wonder just what the Dons would be capable of if Brown can get one of the experienced strikers he is chasing… although all three starters and Ademeno impressed me, you can’t beat a bit of experience, as well as depth. We should find out who that will be early next week, as we start to build up to Bristol Rovers, and on last nights performance there is no reason why we shouldn’t at very least add another year to our long opening day unbeaten record.

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AFC Wimbledon 2 Watford 1 23/7/11 Match Report

Firstly, this match report will be published two hours later than I previously expected, this is partly… no, wait, this is entirely because I picked up my season ticket today, and the normal procedure is for me to then sit there flicking the pages like a flip book and smelling that new season ticket smell. I’ve held a season ticket for twenty years now, yet the excitement of receiving my book, if anything, gets bigger every year.

Jamie Stuart organises the back four

But moving onto the game… I really think we needed this win, Watford brought a big, strong side and for the first ten minutes or so I really feared they would give us a bit of a demoralising spanking. Yet the Dons managed to battle their way into the game and played some really good football in the quarter-hour before half time and for half an hour in the second, and deserved the win. Preseason games are largely meaningless, but this was an important performance, that will give squad and supporters hope going into next weeks Carling Cup opener with Crawley.

As I mentioned, Watford looked good in the opening exchanges, and with plenty of talk over the Dons striking options of late we could only look on in envy as Chris Iwelumo dominated up top for the visitors. The game only balanced out as a contest when Iwelumo was withdrawn, but before that poor Jamie Stuart had all sorts of problems trying to deal with him. It didn’t matter whether he tried to go over, around, or through the big Watford frontman, Iwelumo wasn’t budging.

By the time Iwelumo hobbled off clutching his hamstring, Watford had the lead. Seb Brown was forced to turn a bouncing effort over his crossbar at the near post, and from the resultant half-cleared corner John Eustace volleyed from the edge of the area into a crowd of players, a deflection giving Seb Brown no chance with the ball nestling in the bottom right corner of his goal.

Jack Midson

All over the pitch Dons players were having to feel their way into the game. We mentioned Watford’s front man, but Jack Midson was anonymous early on, finding himself dropping deeper and deeper to get involved – much as Kedwell had to last season when isolated, although we forget our former skipper was as much of a passenger as Midson was early in this encounter on many occasions. Eventually Midson’s hard work started to pay off, and he almost got himself on the scoresheet with a fierce drive palmed wide by Watford keeper Gilmartin.

The Watford keeper wasn’t so fortunate a few minutes later, Luke Moore cut in from the left and fired into the right corner, Gilmartin getting a hand to it but the fierceness of the strike proving too much. The Dons were back level and taking the upper hand, playing some decent football… the commitment to passing the ball taken to the extreme of their own penalty area, even six yard box on one occasion that would have been nerve shredding had this been a competitive occasion.

The Dons now had a handle on Watford defensively, although this was mainly thanks to some committed defending from new skipper Stuart, putting his head in against opposition boots on more than one occasion. In midfield Max Porter was performing the Steven Gregory role with a little more fan-pleasing steel in the challenge, and just in front of him Yussuff and Wellard were both on top of their game.

The start of the second half continued as the first finished, Wimbledon looking impressive, and scoring a second goal from a move of the highest quality. Sam Hatton picked out Christian Jolley down the right, who flicked the ball inside and played a ball towards Midson. The Dons new forward intelligently left the ball to Lee Minshull, bombing forward from midfield, who in turn had Luke Moore haring up on the left of him. Minshull found Moore, whose effort had too much pace for Gilmartin and found the bottom right corner.

Watford did come back into the game after the Dons had made a few substitutions, the most interesting of which saw Charlie Ademeno come on. It would have been nice to have seen Charlie start and see what sort of impact he would have made, but by all accounts he’s got a bit of a problem with his ankle that needs to settle down. He impressed me with his cameo, immediately taking the role down the centre, with Midson moving to the left to accommodate him. Unlike Midson, he held his position and provided an outlet, not being the tallest he isn’t a traditional target man, but is strong and aggressive, and once he got himself between the ball and a Watford defender he gave them real problems.

This victory won’t provide any tangible value come next May, but the victory, and more importantly the performance, have given us a springboard to attack the opening few weeks of the season. Its going to be tough, a cup tie at the favourites for the title, followed by three games against sides playing their football in League One last season… and only one of them at home…. If we find ourselves with four points in the bag going into the Hereford game I’ll be more than happy.

This week on the blog I’ll be building up to the first game of the season. Now some of you will consider the Bristol Rovers game the ‘true’ first game so I’ll be giving that an equal, if not bigger build up the week after – in other words I’ll be keeping myself busy over the next couple of weeks!

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