Tag Archives: League Cup

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.

Tagged , , , , ,

Crawley Town v AFC Wimbledon – A Match Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tagged ,

The Dons In The League Cup – A Short History

My attendance at Friday nights game will mean I will have seen the Dons play in every round of the League Cup with the exception of the Final and, bizarrely, the First Round (although that’s going to come sooner or later…). Ok, maybe it isn’t as fantastic a claim as that held by myself and many other Wimbledon fans to have seen our side play in every round of the FA Cup from Preliminary to Final, but it is another consequence of our, erm, strange history.

The League Cup might not inspire the same sort of passion as its FA equivalent… it’s rare to find even one Premier League manager coming out telling the press this is a competition they want to win. Championship clubs don’t seem to care unless they somehow find their way through to the quarter finals, and the competition is normally over well before the end of September as far as clubs in the bottom two divisions are concerned. Attendances, even in the later rounds, are pitiful.

And yet… every football fan who follows their club regularly has a League Cup story or two, a dramatic giant killing or unexpected classic, perhaps helped by the fact the majority of games are played of an evening under floodlights – I’ve always considered night games to have that little extra atmosphere, as if someone plonked a roof over the ground, and can more than make up for any lack of bodies in the stands.

This season, due to the unusual circumstances surrounding Birmingham qualifying for Europe and getting themselves relegated in the same year, the Dons and Crawley face off in the preliminary round before our League campaign has even started. Yet as those with longer memories than my own will attest (although I do have the excuse of not being born for another three months), in a curious case of history repeating our first games as a Football League club were in this very competition.

The Dons played a two-legged first round tie with Gillingham, winning 4-2 with both games taking place before the Dons kicked off as a Division Four club for the first time against Halifax, our reward for progression being a 0-4 defeat at Tottenham (it will take three wins for us to stand any chance of a return to White Hart Lane in this years competition…). A victory twelve months later against Southend only ensured another heavy Second Round defeat, this time 0-8 at Everton.

The Dons first real run in the competition came as Aldershot, Orient and Plymouth were dispatched prior to a 1-2 defeat to Swindon in the Fourth Round (this was also the first of three seasons in a row where Wimbledon and Aldershot were paired in the First Round). The 83/84 season was the first the Dons really caused an upset, defeating Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest 2-0 at Plough Lane, holding on for a 1-1 draw at the City Ground.

As the Dons rose themselves to ‘giant’ status, the likes of Cambridge, Plymouth and Peterborough were on hand to dump us out of the competition over two legs, the Dons struggling to make in impact on the later rounds despite memorable wins against Newcastle and Manchester United at Plough Lane.

By the time the nineties began, and Plough Lane was sold out from under us in exchange for the joys of Selhurst Park, a League Cup encounter in our second season drew a sub- 2,000 crowd on a Tuesday night to witness a 0-1 defeat to then Third Division Bolton… Fortunately Wimbledon progressed thanks to a 3-1 first leg lead against opponents who would go on to usurp Aldershot as the Dons most frequent League Cup opponents.

I actually have pretty good memories of that night, as it was the first time I was allowed to travel across to Selhurst Park on my own… I say ‘allowed’, my mum decided I wouldn’t be able to go to evening games unless I travelled with friends, With none of my mates willing to go out on a cold October night, I simply made up a name and told my mum I was going with them (looking back I can see where a lot of those jokes about our poor attendances came from, when as a Dons fan I literally resorted to travelling to games with imaginary friends…). Anyway, I couldn’t believe I’d seemingly got away with it, only to find a literally deserted Thornton Heath was not the sort of place a not so street smart 14-year-old kid really wanted to hang out after dark… every staggering drunk became a potential murderer, every shop doorway hid a mugger…

It took twelve months before I was brave enough to repeat the trick, just in time for the first of a number of seasons in the nineties where I became convinced the Dons would go on to win the trophy. Victories over Hereford and Newcastle set up maybe the most memorable League Cup ties the club were involved in, at home to Liverpool (although those who witnessed the 6-4 win at Southend may disagree, and the 4-5 defeat to Charlton was memorable for all the wrong reasons).

The Dons seemed to have the game won leading 2-1 with the clock ticking well beyond ninety minutes, before a freak own goal from Hans Segers took the game to extra time. Segers redeemed himself by saving a penalty in the first period, before the Dons finally got the win after a shootout, the airplane celebration that followed being one of the few truly iconic images of the Dons stay at Selhurst Park.

That year’s quarter final was a huge let down, a 2-1 defeat at home to Sheffield Wednesday in a game the Dons didn’t get going in until it was too late. Even more frustratingly we then beat the same side in the League just days later… Not as frustrating as the 0-1 ‘home’ exit to Crystal Palace a year later, my vote for the worst League Cup tie I ever saw. The crazy 8-7 aggregate defeat to Charlton followed twelve months later, and the Dons looked as though they would continue their ongoing poor form in the competition.

Yet a year down the line, Wimbledon made it to the semi-final of the competition after defeating Portsmouth, Luton, Aston Villa and Bolton. I remember watching the first leg of the Leicester tie in a pub in Kingston that no longer exists called the White Horse, the first and last time I entered the place before it was demolished. It seemed to be the only pub in town showing the game, and me and a friend watched  in nervous silence as the Dons ground out a 0-0 draw.

What happened before the second leg at Selhurst Park will always be controversial in my mind… the club decided to hand out leaflets telling fans how they could go about buying tickets for the final if we won. Planning for every eventuality maybe, but in my eyes this was a sign of chickens being counted, a terrible omen. Yet the Dons took the lead in the first half, Marcus Gayle scoring a similar effort to the one that defeated Villa earlier in the competition, spotting the keeper out of position and drilling past him at the near post from a tight angle.

However Wimbledon couldn’t build on it and put the game to bed, and when Leicester scrambled an equalizer via a looping header, they repeated the Dons defensive trick until ninety minutes, then extra time, were all but up. We had turned up late on the night, and consequently found ourselves stuck at the back of the upper tier of the Holmesdale Stand, and I found myself having to explain the Away Goals rule to a gentleman sitting behind me confused as to why Neil Sullivan was coming up for corners so close to what he presumed would be penalties…

Bolton finally got one over on us by knocking us out a season later, now a Premier League club themselves, but we took revenge a year later, as the Dons stormed to the semi finals once more. This was a weird year for me, I spent the majority of it working at the airport on a social life murdering Tuesday-Saturday 1-10pm shift pattern, which also meant I didn’t see much of the Dons… that season would have passed me by completely if it hadn’t been for this run.

We found ourselves up against Tottenham, sick to the back teeth of each other with the two-legged semi forming part of five games against them in the space of a few weeks. With no chance of getting the night off work, I decided to tape the game and watch it when I got in, but a chance encounter with an empty staff room complete with TV saw me watch much of the second half. With the Dons trailing 0-1, I decided to turn the TV off and go back to work, for no other reason than I wanted to hold onto the dream for as long as possible… the depression when I got home and finally caught the end of the game was as bad as it had been two years earlier…

The 1999/2000 season would end badly (very badly…) but in retrospect was probably the closest we ever got to winning the League Cup. Cardiff, Sunderland and Huddersfield were dispatched before our obligatory trip to Bolton saw us take an early lead thanks to a Carl Cort goal. Yet Bolton came back to win it 2-1, galling as Tranmere shocked Middlesbrough… while there is no guarantee the Dons would have gone on to beat Tranmere (after all, Bolton were beaten by them pretty convincingly, even less they could have taken some revenge on Leicester, this was the ultimate ‘what if?’ season, and you wonder how a trip to Wembley might have positively affected league form during the run in…

Wimbledon weren’t completely done with the League Cup… a season later we shocked Middlesbrough at Selhurst Park before defeat in the fourth round at Manchester City, but the following years 2-1 loss at the Withdean to Brighton proved to be our last as a fanbase… at least until Friday night…

Of course non-league footballs plethora of knockout competitions provided us with a new meaning to the phrase ‘Mickey Mouse Cup’… Cherry Red Books Trophy anyone? The Bryco Cup??? Which means our trip to Crawley, for me at least, is a meaningful experience. A trip to Crystal Palace might even jog a few happy memories of League Cup encounters past…

Tagged