Continuing my look at the current Dons squad, Terry Brown has built his Dons sides from the solid base of an experienced central defensive partnership, with youthful promise waiting in the wings…
Coming in on loan last season to cover the failed experiment that was Andre Blackman, Bush reminded us what a promising full back should be all about. Obviously raw, bursting with potential, showing no signs of being overawed by playing first team football… the only problem being he wasn’t actually ours. Fortunately we were able to work out a deal with Brentford to secure his services, over joining their development squad, this sort of deal just outlines the way forward for our club over the short and medium term.
Signings such as Bush point the way forward for the club in the short and medium term, unable to fill our squad with a balance of experience, we have to rely on guys just starting their careers. There are obvious negatives in relying on youth, but the benefit is we can at least attract the very best of those who feel they won’t find regular football at bigger clubs.
From Bush’s point of view, immediate first team opportunities are available either battling it out with Gareth Gwillim for the left back slot or providing cover in his prefered position in the centre. Bush will presumably have ambitions to play at a higher level at some point in his career, but for now the competition for places will do him no harm…
Given the opportunity, TB admitted he would happily have kept both Fraser and Ed Harris, but finances dictated it was always going to be one or the other. The shootout between the pair actually began in pre-season, where it looked as though it was a case only one would be offered a deal, though fortunately both were kept on at the time. The problem we had having two young defensive prospects was I found myself judging them against each other, rather on their own merits to the team.
Ultimately when Ed Harris found himself shipped out on loan the writing was on the wall, regardless of Fraser’s unfortunate injury towards the end of the season which will curtail his involvement in the early stages of this season, particularly when promotion was achieved. In Fraser we have not just another decent prospect but a player that shows intelligence on the field that belies his age.
No better example was shown when the Dons found themselves without a left back for the rearranged home game with Luton. I doubt Fraser had much experience of playing in this position (although he can and has filled in on the right), yet faced with one of the strongest and most experienced attacking forces in the division he held up extremely well.
Going into the new season, and once he gets his fitness back, Fraser will find himself behind the three more experienced centre halves in the squad, yet with a 46 game season approaching, injuries and suspensions will play a part in gaining plenty of experience. Come the end of the Dons first season back in the League, providing he progresses, he might even find himself challenging for a starting place on merit.
Joining in January last year to provide cover for the left back role following the departure of Chris Bush. That we now have both of them at the club is a massive bonus in what was something of a problem position last term. As you would expect from a fullback who has spent the majority of his career in non-league football, Gwillim is a tough tackling, solid defender, something the Dons needed as they pushed towards the finish line.
On arrival some supporters, used to left backs such as Bush and Hussey before him, questioned whether he supported us enough going forward, but what we lost going forward Gwillim more than made up for defensively. Perhaps the best example of the battling qualities that will serve us well in League Two next year were shown by battling through the pain barrier against Fleetwood and in the final at Eastlands, after picking up a nasty knock in the first leg at Highbury.
Given a second chance at League football, you would expect Gwillim will find himself given more opportunities than with Dagenham in League One last term. Even more unusually, he held the distinction of being one of the few full-time footballers to hold down a job outside football, working as a contractor for London Underground overnight. This is a different solution to the problem that TB has mentioned that senior players have difficulty supporting a family on the money we pay, but probably not an example I would expect to see too many players follow…
Now the Dons longest-serving player, its easy to forget Sam is still so young. Originally arriving at the club as a midfielder, his switch to fullback was a bonus, and from Sam’s perspective has allowed him to go on and rack up more appearances in a Dons shirt than anyone else in the AFC era. Sam probably would have gone on to have a decent career in midfield outside the Football League, perhaps suffering the same problem Ricky Wellard had in stamping his influence on the team.
Yet a full back he now is, and a very good one at that. Drawing comparisons with Chris Hussey is how all AFCW fullbacks will be rated for the foreseeable future, and Sam is a slightly different sort of player. Still as keen to get forward but without the lightning pace, yet probably a better defender, either way he could go on to set the standard himself… now Kedwell and Gregory have departed, given a decent first season at this level we might find clubs in the higher division knocking our door down for Sam’s signature.
Having said Sam Hatton might be a top transfer target for clubs next summer, I have to admit I have no idea what Brett Johnson was doing playing in the Conference for two seasons for us. By reaching the Football League he is back in what should be his natural environment, and he probably would have led the exodus of player such as Hatton and Brown along with the two that did leave us should we not have managed to win promotion this year.
Brett was probably the best defender outside the Football League last year, his calm, experienced performances at the back alongside Yakubu were the foundations on which our promotion campaign were built. Yet Brett is so accomplished you can often forget he’s there – as I did when compiling my captaincy poll. With Brett subsequently named vice captain for the season, there is a fair chance we could see him lead the side in Jamie Stuart’s absence. Captain or not, Brett is a key player and our performance next season could well depend on his form.
I’ll keep it short as far as Mat is concerned as he is a player we know little of. The fact he contracted glandular fever so shortly after joining the club, coupled with his unfortunate injury record, suggest he’s not the luckiest guy in the world, but TB must rate him quite highly… I initially questioned the decision to sign him over Yakubu for next season, but with Brown confirming Yak couldn’t keep up with the training schedule a replacement was required. Here’s hoping mat is back training asap so we can see what he’s made of.
The signing of Jamie during the January window was inspired. When battling for promotion, you can’t get enough leaders on the field, and Jamie Stuart is the sort of character who would at least attempt to run through a wall if asked. Not really too many surprises over the decision to name him as captain. His arrival gave us real strength in-depth defensively; yet this means Jamie will have a fight on his hands for the shirt.
Mat Mitchel-Kings unfortunate illness means he should start the season, but our defensive partnership will be aware any lapse in form could see them sitting on the sidelines. Yet Brown’s decision to name him as captain will probably put any short-term doubts over his first team place to rest for now.