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?!