Another League One club down at Kingsmeadow last night, and if the games are this good I think we will easily get used to this Wimbledon side. Unfortunate if anything to lose last night, despite playing a side that were superior to them, the Dons looked dangerous every time they ventured forward, and only some harsh luck (or poor finishing, depending on whether your glass is half full or half empty) prevented Wimbledon troubling the scorers… nah, that doesn’t really work in a football context does it. It’s still early in pre-season, give me time!
Unfortunate then that both Brighton goals came from Dons mistakes… although you could say Wimbledon rode there luck as far as the frame of the goal went; including one mighty punt from Albions second half keeper Michael Kuipers that caught out Paul Lorraine and triallist David Wilkinson in goal before bouncing off the top of the cross bar. Of course I didn’t see the ball leave his foot, being preoccupied with tweeting my opinions to the world (perhaps I’ve bitten off more than I can chew? Perhaps… but once again, its still my pre-season).
To bring it back to the beginning for fear of making more excuses for my own poor pre-season reporting, the day didn’t start off well for me – in fact I missed the kickoff. This was due to an early running K1 driver, and a long wait for a 131 in Kingston town centre. I only missed it by a few minutes, this was enough to be late for the team lineups, so for the second home game running I spent most of the game with no idea who was playing for the opposition, at least until one of them scored. So apologies to any Albion fans passing, yet in my defence this is a Wimbledon blog, and (cough) it is very early in the season…
Wimbledon started off brightly, with the first half chance falling to them around five minutes into the game. A ball knocked into the box was half cleared to Luke Garrard on the edge of the area who fired just over. How great it was to see Luke in a Dons shirt again, although he did seem half a step off the pace, very unlike him and probably down to being a week or so behind the rest of the squad as far as game time went, and seeing a though his primary competition for his place Jay Conroy has twice as many minutes under his belt you would have to consider him in prime position for the number two shirt by the time Luton come to town.
Brighton surged back a few minutes later when their 11 found himself in space down the right channel and smashed the ball against the centre of Wimbledon’s crossbar, the ball bouncing down and away while Wilkinson was still grasping air. Brighton didn’t quite take hold of the game though despite having the best of the possession, and it was the Dons who came closest. Derek Duncan lined up a freekick right of centre, curled it round the wall only to see the Albion keeper scramble it wide low to his left with a little help from the upright.
Later in the half a Dons foray forward seemed to be about to come to an abrupt end as the ball ran away from Elliott Godfrey, but this wasn’t picked up by any of the Brighton players nearby, and Godfrey was able to catch up with the ball and smash it right footed just wide of the right post. Despite this Albion always seemed more likely to break the deadlock, and it finally came in frustrating style on 38 minutes as Wimbledon contrived to give the ball away in their own half, the ball was fed out to the left side of the field for Kevin McLeod to drive into the box and drill beyond Wilkinson and into the bottom right corner of the net.
The second half began with eight substitutions for the visitors, and perhaps they weren’t as switched on mentally as they could have been as Wimbledon took it to the visitor shortly after the break. An excellently timed challenge from Duncan saw him carry the ball at speed down the left flank, releasing Luke Moore. In fact the speed of the attack had left Wimbledon’s strikers flagging behind, so Moore cut inside, and seeing no-one had made it forward beat his man and sent a low strike bobbling across goal and wide of Brighton’s left post.
Derek Duncan was making the left back position his own. Strong in the challenge (although not always perfectly timed… he sent a couple of Albion players flying with desperate challenges), with the engine to get himself up and down the field with pace. I’ll talk about the differences between Hussey and Duncan a little later, but it may only be Duncan’s versatility that would allow Hussey game time at all next season.
Wimbledon turned the crew as time ticked away for the starting XI to make their mark. Hatton found space wide right, and teased a dangerous ball into the box, hacked clear by a Brighton man under great pressure from Kedwell just over his own crossbar. Kedwell didn’t make a huge impact on the game but worked hard all the same, his runs sometimes going unnoticed, sometimes creating space for colleagues behind him.
His strike partner tonight, the previously mentioned Moore, found the ball at his feet much more often and clearly knows what to do with it. Very offensively minded, Moore impressed in the hole against Wycombe and showed he is equally effective playing alongside a strike partner. Perhaps the most impressive of all is his willingness to defend high up the pitch a la Kedwell, despite his lack of inches compared to towering centre halves he never gives a ball up as lost, his ability to launch himself into the air and challenge the bigger men lead to a number of balls finding touch for a Wimbledon throw when perhaps a Jon Main challenge might have seen the ball flying back towards the Wimbledon half.
As the hour mark approached it was time for the aforementioned Main to make his mark on the game and show qualities of his own. It might sound stupid compared to his goalscoring exploits of last season, but a front three of Kedwell and Moore, with Godfrey just behind, will be enough to scare the life out of the best defences we come across next term. If we then bring on Jon Main with half an hour to go, against tiring defences, it could be enough to destroy the best of them. Injuries will play a part, as will the unknown fourth striker. Bossman didn’t appear last night but I’m sure I read somewhere that he was unavailable and was due to appear against FCUM on Saturday, however any thoughts that he might come good for us eventually have been slapped back into reality by recent news reports reminding us there are dozens of strikers out there who could do the business for us straight away. How long until we see random postings on Old Centrals asking ‘…ave we singed monagew yet…?’.
So Wimbledon’s mass cull of players certainly gave the linesman some counting practice, with only Duncan, Ricky Wellard (who was quiet last night) and Bret Johnson (who reminds me of Andy Thorn for some reason) surviving. A few minutes beforehand a much more significant substitution took place, with Mark Wright taking the field. I took a deep breath as a football mercenary with Them only last season was announced… to no audible reception whatsoever.
Once we ended up with a full complement of players back on the pitch, the game resumed. And miraculously it eventually regained the same flow it had in the first, making it hugely watchable for the last twenty-five minutes or so. In fact, on 68 minutes the Tempest End broke into its first prolonged chant of the season, which spurred the game back into action. Derek Duncan was first to try his luck, now playing further up the field, when he saw his long range effort handled in the box. Referee Jamail Singh, perhaps thinking back to a first half decision when he failed to give Brighton what would have been a soft penalty following a clumsy push in the box, waved play on.
But Wimbledon were just getting started. A few minutes later a strong Hussey run down the left touchline saw him flash a shot from a tight angle just over. I remember him doing this a few times when he could have pulled the ball back for a team mate, although in those cases he did enough to force a corner. If he concentrates on getting those on target he might score that way soon. Considering my previous opinion of Duncan, I have to say if there was only one place available I would give it to Duncan. However if possible, and when the circumstances call for it, we could do a lot worse than play both of them, as they seem to complement each other pretty well.
Another strong Hussey run saw him play a decent percentage ball low and curling back towards the onrushing forwards, missed by Main and Peter Rapson (who I will imagine will go on loan to a Ryman/CS side as soon as a fourth striker is brought in, but is an exciting forward in his own right and may deserve a chance himself in the first team before the season is out). Terry Brown then bawled out Lewis Taylor for not getting himself in the box, and this advice almost paid dividends minutes later.
Before that Taylor sent Main away down the right channel, but the striker hesitated momentarily, but for long enough to allow a Brighton man time to get back and block his effort. It wasn’t long before his pace took him free of the Brighton defence in the same position once more, this time sent away by a good ball from Wellard. This time he elected to drive the ball across goal, the ball again being deflected and dribbling wide of the far post. Taylor had taken his managers advice however and just failed to reach the ball in time, stabbing wide with the goal at his mercy.
Wimbledon fashioned an equally good chance moments later when Hussey again found room on the left. Spotting Duncan pointing for where he wanted the ball, he tried to sly it in only to see it half blocked and fall behind Duncan, sitting up beautifully for Jon Main to head home, and send the Tempest End into raptures. Unusual that, for a pre-season game, and entirely unnecessary as the dust settled and a second look revealed the ball wasn’t nestling in the corner,and had in fact flown wide.
While an equaliser now seemed a certainty, time had caught up with us, and a blocked Taylor effort moments later was the last Dons chance. Frustratingly Brighton took the ball down the other end, almost killing the game but for a brave save at feet by Sebb Brown. It was only a short respite or Wimbledon, a corner in injury time that seemed certain to be cleared was in fact chested across goal by a (fortunately for him) unidentified Don, Adam Virgo making no mistake and drilling under Brown to give Brighton the win.
Still, the majority of the 1167 crowd wenthome happy after seeing a very decent Wimbledon performance against a Brighton team who I’m sure will cause a lot of problems of most teams in League Two next year. The Dons need to get down to business and score a few goals, hold on to the ball in midfield but perhaps most importantly keep the tempo high in the remaining two games, against Fulham’s non-European squad XI, and first up FCUM or the SD Cup, appropriately sponsored by Co-Op this time around. If that game is even half as good as this one, we are in for a treat. And my dislike of pre-season friendlies has been cured.