Admission time. The bulk of this post was intended as a preview to the game, unfortunately I ran out of time, but couldn’t bear trashing several hundred words. Try if you dare to spot the seamless joins where new text meets old, and vice versa…
The visit of Barnet on Saturday allowed us the opportunity to welcome back perhaps the most unlikely of Wimbledon heroes in the shape of Lawrie Sanchez. From the goals that brought us First Division football and an FA Cup victory, through to his current role as unofficial ambassador and media cheerleader, via those uncertain last few years in the first team (the Selhurst years, when every overhit Dons pass or wild lash at goal was greeted with the exasperated cry of ‘Sanchez!’… even when the man himself was nowhere near the stadium, let alone starting lineup…).
I say unlikely hero… you’re average football fan, when quizzed to name a member of the Crazy Gang of the 80’s and 90’s, would probably plump for one of the more well-known figures – a Fashanu, Jones or Wise – characters that epitomised the attitude and aggression associated with the club at the time. Yet the Dons formula for success at the time was more complex than that, genuinely more like the Bash Street Kids, the unwanted, coming together as a unit to gatecrash the big time.
In that respect, the thoughtful and intelligent Sanchez probably summed up the side of that era just as well as his outspoken colleagues, even if his crowning moment and outspoken manner lead to conflict with at least one of the team mates previously mentioned. And it was this single-mindedness and strength of character that saw Sanchez carve out a career in the top flight and international honours with Northern Ireland, before moving into management. A spell in Ireland was a precursor to him taking on the Dons reserves, later making his name with cup exploits at Wycombe, achieving the near impossible with Northern Ireland and only blotting his copybook slightly by saving Fulham from relegation.
Which is where things started to unravel… With Fulham teetering around the relegation zone, Sanchez was fired. A four-year spell out of the game ended towards the back end of last season as he was drafted in once more to save a club from relegation, overseeing the finale of a crazy season for Barnet. But lack of resources have meant the perennial strugglers are struggling perennially once more, Sanchez seemingly lacking the nous to make use of what is available to him, and Saturdays encounter sees a Barnet side shipping goals left right and centre visiting a Dons team who touch wood seem to have found some defensive stability.
Despite his previous success, you have to doubt Sanchez managerial ability in the club game. Brilliant at coming into jobs late in a campaign and guiding teams to safety, yes, fantastic in the national arena, but the jury is definitely out on his capabilities running a Football League club on a day-to-day basis… Football changes, sometimes very quickly, and you wonder whether Sanchez is being left behind.
Which brings me neatly (cough) onto todays game (or whenever you happen to be reading this…). Sanchez side certainly showed they aren’t lacking in the physical side, and showed a good level of commitment, which is probably the bare minimum you can ask of a team at this level. Interesting how he elected to ignore the very warm reception he received from the Dons fans before the game, presumably slightly paranoid at lapping up the adulation in front of the visiting supporters, but surely he isn’t under so much pressure he wouldn’t dare risk criticism for a quick wave?
Barnet were assisted by a very disjointed looking Dons side, who never really looked like building up a head of steam in the first period, and ultimately got what they deserved by trailing going into the break even if the goal came about in unfortunate circumstances. More than a hint of offside in the buildup, and in trying to recover the situation a stretched Dons defence completely lost their shape, leading to an event I personally feared all week. It’s not the fact he scored a preventable goal in front of the Tempest, it’s not that he predictably milked his big moment by antagonizing the Dons fans… whats frustrating me is that there are probably two dozen franchise customers who’ll go to bed tonight creaming themselves at the thought of one of their rejects scoring against us. Grrrr. Another reason why we can NEVER play them… it’ll probably be enough to turned old mild-mannered Anonymous Don homicidal.
Commentary of the game can’t go without mentioning the performance of the referee. I don’t normally mention them because, well, whats the point? They tend to be poor week in week out, and most weeks we end up watching two sides trying to engineer some kind of spectacle around some chump in black whistling almost at random. The guy we had today took incompetence to a whole new level however… there were instances where Dons players were hauled down, and we all expected a whistle that never came, but that was probably a blessing compared to the times he did blow, then give it entirely the wrong way. I’m wondering now why it surprised me, arriving at the ground to find one of his assistants was one Ronald Ganfield… the guy was incompetent at Ryman level, that he is running the line in the Football League is symptomatic of the ongoing problems facing the game official-wise.
We can only hope the return of TB inspires a bit of a reaction among the squad, although the half time introduction of James Mulley made the difference and inspired a much better second half showing playing… at left back? Whatever the reasons for his introduction, be it injury to Johnson or a piece of tactical inspiration from Cash, but it worked! I feel the side misses James Mulley, such a positive player, and even though he looked slightly awkward at times over on the ‘wrong’ flank, he really turned things round going forward.
Sometimes it just takes the introduction of one player in a positive frame of mind to turn a game, fortunately the Dons had two… Kieran Djilali came on around the hour mark, and for ten minutes or so the Barnet players just didn’t know how to deal with him. It was almost as if he dropped in from anther planet as far as they were concerned… which is partly true, I know Crystal Palace supporters were disappointed he couldn’t stay with them, and you wonder when he finally settles just how long he’s going to be with us – he looks a cut above this division.
A smartly taken Sammy Moore goal (followed by a not so smartly taken celebration) seemed to have turned the game, but the Dons weren’t able to convert the change in momentum into a winner, and in the end some shaky defending meant I was quite happy to see the game peter out for a draw.
A point is a point, que sera (hang on, that’s not until next week…), I’m personaly quite glad we have a couple of games in the cups, a change is as good as a rest (no it’s not, but a rest isn’t an option at the moment, unless we pray for some early snow…). A few squad players putting some pressure on the first teamers at Swindon might stir a one or two people into getting back to their early season form (Rashid Yussuff, we’re looking at you).