Tag Archives: Terry Brown

Cup Week

It’s the Anonymous Don’s birthday weekend, and for the first time in three years the Dons won’t be travelling to Barrow… Not that I travelled, a day of celebration over sixteen hours on the coach for two fixtures that ultimately resulted in a solitary Wimbledon point. Slightly disappointing scheduling, as I normally would have been all over the sort of fixture that is essentially a loyalty test. Gateshead away with nothing to play for? Tick. Goalless draw at Darlington? Tick. Barrow sadly left blank unless fortunes really turn for them, or we get a fortunate (or unfortunate considering our record up there) cup draw at some point in the future.

But before Scunthorpe, we played the first of the clubs four cup games in little over a week at Swindon on Tuesday night, crashing out of the Paint Trophy on penalties. What have we learnt from our first experience of the Paint Trophy? Obviously it’s not the most prestigious of tournaments, I’ll move on to the issue of attracting people to watch a little later as this seems to be affecting all cup competitions at the moment, a problem not exclusively the most minor of first team knockout efforts.

The biggest issue we’ve had, especially as a club that for a multitude of reasons can’t enter a bona fide reserve competition at the moment, is the six player rule. A good idea in principle, you wonder whether the rules as they currently stand are too inflexible for a club such as AFC Wimbledon, especially as the competition in certain areas means we could go exceed the limit and still field a stronger squad than we would by sticking to the rules. Midfield for example, we could play Sammy Moore, Yussuff and Porter on the Saturday, then Minshull, Mulley and Wellard on the Tuesday night, and you wouldn’t say there’s a huge difference in the quality between the two selections.

Then you have to consider all the others who need game time – Fraser Franks needs a game, Bush wants to prove himself, Ademeno is looking for a start, then there’s Djilali… All of a sudden you have a game of selection musical chairs going on, and this time around when the music stopped there was one very big loser in Jack Turner. Personally I think the management team made a mistake not just playing him and working around the six player problem in other areas of the pitch, the kid is having huge problems getting game time with no one willing or able to take him on loan and no other obvious opportunities presenting themselves.

And this really is a big issue, not just for Jack personally, but for AFC Wimbledon. I mentioned in my Stevenage report I thought he made an error in judgement for the first goal – he didn’t directly cause it, the experienced centre half who should have kicked the ball out of the ground takes the majority of the blame – but the point is his eagerness to get involved was probably all down to the fact he spends most of his time on the bench itching to be out there proving himself. And that’s all well and good in a Paint Trophy game that didn’t really matter and we won anyway, that’s the point of blooding him in that type of fixture – he can make mistakes and learn from them without the pressure of a full house.

But what if Seb is unavailable for any reason, and Jack comes in for a League game? Will he be suitably prepared? If he makes a mistake, which as an inexperienced keeper he almost certainly will at some point, all of a sudden you’ll have knee jerk reactions on the terraces and message boards with people saying ‘he ain’t good enough’ and ‘we need to bring in someone on loan with a little more experience’.

More importantly, I was under the impression the Paint Trophy was supposed to be Jack’s competition, and right up to Monday lunchtime Cash was giving interviews to the press saying Jack will definitely start. Then all of a sudden the rugs been pulled from under his feet… I’m sure this is a problem other clubs have with their bench keeper, promising to give them game time in cups, for that reason wouldn’t it be simpler to change the rules to outfield players only, be it 6+4 or 5+5, and let clubs change their keeper with impunity if they so wish?

Whats the solution to the Jack Turner problem? Do we try to give him game time in the League if we’re a couple of goals up with twenty minutes to go? Wait until we’re safe and give him full games? Play him up front??? The player has shown a lot of loyalty to the club during his time here, I don’t begrudge him moaning the situation he finds himself in, and maybe its time for the club to show him a little loyalty in return?

Moving on, we face Scunthorpe tomorrow, a club many Dons fans will have fond memories of thanks to their playoff victory over the footballing subsidiary of a Buckinghamshire property development a couple of years ago. And effectively they are something of a realistic example of what we can achieve as a smaller club… Presuming the construction of our new stadium, whenever that happens, doesn’t uncover a bunker containing thirty thousand Dons fans sealed in an underground bunker by Hammam or Koppell or whoever, League One with a couple of years in the Championship here and there is probably most Wimbledon supporters pipe dream right now.

Yet even the visit of a club recently competing at Championship level probably won’t be enough to tempt more than three thousand or so to the ground tomorrow, never mind actually fill the place. This is the polar opposite to football as I remember it as a kid, where the hardcore turned up for the bread and butter of League action, but the ground filled for the FA Cup. And it’s not exactly hard to see how the most magical of cup competitions lost its shine… The introduction of the Premier League meant that far from looking forward to FA Cup ties, filling ground and coffers alike, clubs at the highest level found they were making more money from League fixtures… The influx of foreign players and coaches, while raising standards, also brought a culture not raised on knock out competition. This combined with a certain sports channel losing the rights to show games and simultaneously forgetting the competition ever existed had the knock on effect of supporters of top-level clubs seeing the FA Cup as a secondary competition.

Somehow that fed its way down to the lower levels of the game, as sure as supporters steal chants they hear at top-level games they’ll ape their Premier League counterparts. You don’t need to be a behavioural specialist to work out why – most people subconsciously copy their more successful counterparts, if only to fit in at the pub or workplace. The attitude that ‘its only the FA Cup’ has worked its way into English football and its hard to see exactly how it can be reversed.

I’ll admit it, even when we’re losing I can’t get enough of watching the Dons… due to the physical nature of the game we only get to play once, maybe twice a week if lucky, and to be honest this just isn’t enough. The majority of my spare time outside of the ongoing quest to hold on to my rapidly diminishing social life is spent either watching someone elses team on TV, or even worse, having conversations with my wife… The more games the Dons play, the more competitions they are involved in, the better.

Where did this strange modern version of ‘loyalty’ come from? Those who love their team, but will only venture out to actually watch them if certain conditions are met in terms of the competitive nature of the fixture? The weird thing is cup ties normally provide just as much entertainment as league games, if not more… Yes we’ve all seen two sides clam up with nerves on the big occasion or set out with an over cautious nature such as the Ebbsfleet game last season, but you don’t normally see League fixtures as pulsating as the replay of said game either…

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not slagging off those who genuinely can’t make it, times are hard financially – I know that more than anyone and the amount of away games I’ve made this season reflects that – and I’m not having a go at those who travel sometimes hundreds of miles to watch the Dons for whom this might be one game too many. Those people make up a moderate minority of our fanbase, but for everyone else, whats your excuse?

Depending on how full your glass is the Dons are either going through a six game winless streak or are unbeaten in three at the moment, and face a Scunthorpe side going through their own spell of indifferent form. The visitors are definitely there for the taking as long as we can get back into the same frame of mind we were in about a month ago, where we looked unbeatable. The last thing we really want is those Scunthorpe fans going back knowing they were in a game, but grateful the Dons switched off for twenty minutes allowing them to nick a couple of goals and take the tie.

The Dons squad have the opportunity to answer a few questions that have been posed of them of late, it’s a big day for most of them facing off against opposition from a higher division, seemingly none more so that Kieran Djilali. A trial spell at Scunthorpe in the summer came to nothing, and he’s been pretty open about the fact this one is personal for him. Now finally back to full fitness, Djilali’s arrival from the bench on Saturday changed the game adding much-needed impetus to the Dons play… I mentioned in the report it looked as though he dropped in from another planet, and questioned whether we would be seeing him longer than a season. Yet its one thing looking far too good for the division in one game, it’s another to turn it on week in, week out, and I’m hoping Kieran can get a run of games and goals under his belt, turning the Dons form around and easing the fears of those of us currently looking over our shoulders…

I can’t finish this preview without presumably sharing what every Dons fan is thinking right now, absolute delight that Terry Brown is back at work and will presumably be in the dugout tomorrow. Terry always seems such a positive character, but thrown into that situation once more he undoubtedly would have had some very dark moments over the last couple of weeks, so I’m delighted to hear Suzy is on the road to recovery.

Finally, those two other cup ties next week. The U18’s face Bristol Rovers in the FA Youth Cup on Tuesday, and development squad travel to Tooting on Wednesday in the SSC, good luck to both…

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Terry Brown

I was going to write a piece on our failings over the last three games or so –  in fact I got half way through – but today’s news has really taken my desire out of it. Plus I wouldn’t have thought many of you really wanted to read my ponderings on our squad when the man who built it all is otherwise engaged caring for his wife and family. I’m not going to insult anyone with clichés – I’m sure nobody needs to be reminded just where football falls in life’s great priority list.

What I will say is football obviously means a lot to Terry Brown, and I sincerely hope when Suzy recovers from her operation he gets the opportunity to return to doing what he loves. Until then, everything is on hold as far as I’m concerned… Cash and Bassey will put eleven blokes on the pitch, we’ll win some and we’ll lose some, we’re not going down and we’re not going up.

We’re all with you, Terry.

 

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The League Two Files – Aldershot Town

I’m looking forward to our games against Aldershot next season. Close enough away for a decent regional rivalry to flourish with decent numbers of travelling support ensuring a great atmosphere at both the Rec and Kingsmeadow, but far enough away that neither club really considers it a derby – therefore a defeat either way shouldn’t dampen the mutual respect that has built up over the last few years. As Dons fans we have been walking in Aldershots footsteps over the last few years, and only caught up as quickly as we did thanks to the Shots allowing our future manager to learn important lessons about the Conference and turning a club full-time.

While the Shots fans reaction to TB will be warm and welcoming, the current Aldershot manager doesn’t quite get the same treatment from the Dons fans… But even employing Deano hasn’t generated any bad will from the Dons faithful towards the Shots, we’ll have to manufacture some kind of beef with them for fear the two encounters will evolve into full on love-fests. Six all important league points should be enough, as we take on Aldershot as equals for the first time in our current incarnations…

The fact that, like Accrington, I’ve had to dig the word ‘incarnation’ out of the thesaurus suggests what bonds us as supporters is a shared traumatic experience…

HISTORY

On 20th March 1992 Aldershot FC played their final game, a 0-2 defeat at Cardiff. Five days later the club went out of business, the first time a member of the Football League had resigned mid-season since Accrington Stanley. Unlike the Dons two-day revolution, the people of Aldershot must have endured the longest summer imaginable waiting for reformed Aldershot Town to take the field in what then would have been known as the Diadora Football League Division Three.

Unlike the Dons Aldershot won their division at first attempt, securing promotion from Division Two a year later, before hitting the buffers… While Dons fans might look back and wonder how we kept our sanity during the four years we spent in the Isthmian, spare a thought for Shots fans who spent in total eleven years trying to escape.

The man who achieved promotion was our very own Terry Brown. TB took over on March 20th 2002, and set about building a squad to escape the division, which they did at Browns first attempt. Its worth remembering that Aldershot’s five years in the Ryman Premier were in an era when only the champions were promoted, no playoff second chances. The flip side was promotion meant elevation to the Conference, a year ahead of regionalisation.

The experience Brown picked up in his Conference years undoubtedly served him well while steering the Dons to the Football League, but its worth remembering how different history might have been had he guided Aldershot to promotion, his near misses including coming within a penalty shootout of a place in the League in their first season, losing 0-3 to Shrewsbury. After the club stepped up to fully professional status, Brown’s Shots came within second of a place in another playoff final in 2005, eventually conceding and losing their shootout once more, this time at the hands of Carlisle (I’m now starting to understand why TB felt he was owed a penalty win!…).

Yet Brown couldn’t finish the job, and a couple of seasons in mid-table saw him depart, and Gary Waddock eventually replaced him. Waddock achieved the title at first attempt, and during the summer of 2008 the town of Aldershot had a League team once more. Waddock guided the Shots to a comfortable mid-table finish in their first season in League Two, following his departure to Wycombe in October ’09 his replacement Kevin Dillon almost went one step further steering the club to the League Two playoffs,l defeated 0-3 by Rotherham over two legs.

LAST SEASON

Building on the previous seasons excellent finish eventually proved too much for the Shots, who eventually finished 14th. The Shots midtable form took a nosedive from October onwards sending them plunging down the table, which also saw them crash out of the FA Cup at the hands of Dover. Pressure on Dillon and his management team grew to the point a home defeat to Oxford on 8th January proved to be the final straw.

Holdsworth was appointed two days later, following an encouraging start to the season at Newport, and immediately stopped the losing rot. Aldershot became hard to beat under their new manager losing only four more league games, including two in April by which point a midtable position had been achieved, and Holdsworth will go into his first full season in charge looking for similar form to challenge for a playoff place.

Aldershot now find themselves more or less where they were just before financial problems hit in the early nineties, a fourth level club with occasional forays into the Third tier. Most Shots fans would be hoping that’s where Holdsworth is going to take them, and it’ll be interesting to see what effect a succesful campaign and promotion would have on crowds that averaged around the 2,500 mark last season.

THE GROUND

A classic old ground with a twist. Aldershot’s East Bank dominates the ground, a real throwback to the days when every ground had a big popular terrace. The barrel roof on this terrace, coupled with the close proximity of supporters, allows a fantastic atmosphere to be created. The East Bank is segregated, with visiting supporters taking the southern corner giving a visiting capacity of 1,100, including 200 seats in the adjacent South Stand.

At the opposite end of the ground there is no accommodation for supporters, just a path. I remember a visit to the ground in their non-League days when fans used to stand in this area, presumably now the ground hosts Football League games and is a designated stadium this is no longer possible. The netting behind the goal now hosts advertising banners but beyond that the view is of trees in the park behind, which makes the ground look more endearing.

The South stand, flanked by areas of terrace in the corner, is propped up against the railway line. Its only when you walk under you realise how little space there is on this side of the ground. Opposite stands the Main Stand, much larger but the flanks aren’t seated, instead there are small areas of terracing.

ADMISSION

Aldershot do not appear to offer concessionary pricing to the unemployed, but understandably do offer to Military personnel.

(Dons price in brackets for comparison)

Terrace – Adult £17 (£15), Concession £13 (£9), U16 £6 (£2)

Seats – Adult £19 (£19/17), Concession £15 (£11.£10), U16 £8 (£7/£6)

Aldershot also offer a variety of family tickets, available in advance, that cut the cost for buying and adult and up to two child seats. Although Wimbledon do not regularly offer such an incentive it’s worth remembering the Dons U16 prices are already set to encourage younger fans.

These prices appear to have been frozen from last season, although their website isn’t entirely clear… as the idea is this post will be republished and updated closer to the date of our fixtures with Aldershot, this will be

PREVIOUS

AFCW/Aldershot Town

The only meeting between the two clubs in our current respective guises was the FA Trophy 1st Round tie on 16th December 2006, which the Dons won 2-1.

All Time Wimbledon/Aldershot Meetings –

 

The Dons and Aldershot met during the early years of WFC league membership, as well as three successive League Cup meetings in 79, 80 and 81, the Dons winning the first two with Aldershot taking the final two-legged tie.

LINKS

Official website

Shotsweb and Message Board

Football Ground Guide

 

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New Round-Up 29/5/11 – No News

Looking back, relaunching my semi-regular look at all the latest Dons news just after the season finished wasn’t the best of plans… fair enough, seven days ago we had the worlds media – from heavyweight journalists to bedroom bloggers – falling over themselves to publish articles about the Dons. Now, well there are a few post-Eastlands stories still dripping out – Kedwell can’t do a piss, anyone? –  but beyond that local reporters up and down the country are having problems filling column inches.

The same reporter spoke to Terry Brown shortly after, trying to find a new angle on the Dons Eastlands triumph by questioning the Dons manager on competing in the same division as Paulo Di Canio next term. I’m kind of imagining this interview took place over the phone, with Brown perhaps mowing the lawn at the same time…

Either way, there’s not too much of a discussion to be had here – Swindon will either challenge Crawley for the title or finish 17th depending on how their rookie manager settles in (and, indeed, who is scouting his players for him…); the Dons will finish upper or lower mid-table depending on how a largely unchanged squad copes with the transition to L2 (and remember upper mid-table in this division equals the verge of the playoffs).

That hasn’t stopped the non-story being leapt on by not only myself, but a Swindon website desperate to fill post-season gaps in service provision (the Swindon guy kind of misses the point a bit as well… although Brown hasn’t managed at L2 level that’s more down to a fluke of history than any lack of talent on his part, he’s managed at most of the grounds in the division, knows most of the players and nearly all his fellow managers…).

This lack of information is a problem across the country. Take our captains name being mentioned in this interview with Andy Hessenthaler… now Kedwell to Gillingham will always be one of those rumours that just won’t go away, and I can see him going there at some point – next summer if he has a storming season and Gillingham get promoted (and we don’t…). Until then, Keds has another year option on his contract, which he has by all accounts committed to. Even if Brown succumbed to an act of compassion and allowed him to talk to his hometown club, he’d be looking for a fee at least in the region that Crawley offered last summer, a sum approaching six figures, and I just don’t think Gillingham are going to want to pay that.

Finally, the club announced on Thursday that next seasons pricing will be announced ‘very soon’, in the mean time season tickets will be available at last years prices until 17th June. From some of the chatter I’ve heard from even non-regular supporters looking to take up a season ticket for next year, I’ll be surprised if we don’t break records again his summer…

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Southport 0 AFC Wimbledon 1

It was at about 8.25 in the morning that I first came to regret not investigating train tickets before they became prohibitively expensive, being as I was on the coach, with the seat in front digging into my shins and knees slowly turning to concrete… find me someone over five foot ten tall who actually enjoys taking the coach and I’ll show you someone who in all probability has a pretty severe bondage fetish… but to be honest, I would have endured a seat of spikes to see the Dons opening fixture (although the game itself would turn out to be pretty excruciating). You see, we just don’t lose on opening day… and we normally win!

It’s the sort of record we can start getting cocky about… the last time we lost on opening day, if my memory serves me right, was against Manchester United back in the days when I was still having difficulty getting served at the bar… And its the subject of alcohol that really piqued my jealousy – everyone, and I mean everyone I spoke to who had travelled up by train seemed considerably (and by considerably I mean a LOT) drunker than I was. As I have mentioned in previous posts, this is likely the last opening day fixture I’ll be attending for some time (no, not just until next year…), I should have celebrated Jolleys winner by stripping to the waist and invading the pitch – that would have been a story for the grandkids to be proud of!

But I suppose someone needs to maintain… someone needs to tell it like it is – and that person is destined to be me! Instead I had a quiet couple of pints in the Southport bar, chatting to some very friendly locals – with the exception of one jobsworth steward whose life’s work seemed to be ensuring that people stood quietly enjoying a drink moved away from the bar entrance, despite being NOWHERE NEAR THE ENTRANCE! You get those at every club though, and it doesn’t disguise that they are a nice club, Southport; one that had their own experience of a moneyed local rival suffering a case of Crawleyitis, and in their case they beat them to the title last season – an example to us Dons as Crawley (well, just Steve Evans actually…) kick off over not being able to sign a player under contract that seemed to have no real interest in going there to start with…

Around six hundred Dons fans packed onto the away terrace, a roofless affair meaning the Dons fans racket, pretty impressive up close, dissipated into the openness merely a few yards walk away. This was a larger turnout that Fulham managed at Bolton, by the way… although I’m sure Bolton charge a bit more than Southport’s £12.50, an impressive boast all the same.

As for the game, it wasn’t a good start to the season for the Dons. The passing was no-where near as crisp as it has been in pre-season, possibly held up by what looked like a pitch that hadn’t been mown for a good couple of weeks. If the first half had been a boxing match, you would have given it to Southport on points (albeit accompanied by fans throwing chairs into the ring and demanding their money back…). On a couple of occasions some ponderous defending led to Southport chances, with only last-ditch challenges keeping the ball out of the Dons goal. Having said that, Wimbledon ended up having the best chance of the half, in bizarre fashion.

As Sam Hatton cut in from the right, he was clipped by his man and went down. Free kick to the Dons, or so we thought… the ref had other ideas and awarded the Dons a penalty. I can only presume the ref had no idea where the incident took place, for which I don’t blame him really, the lines had barely been marked and us Dons fans had great difficulty working out when the ball entered the penalty area closest to us, never mind one at the opposite end of the pitch!

The problem with getting cheap decisions like this, is we never seem to take them. It seems to be the Wimbledon way… rather than giving the ball to Keds to smash past the keeper, thus going in at half time with an ill deserved lead, Jon Main stepped up, almost apologetically side footing to the keepers left and making no effort to disguise what he was about to do. The Southport keeper made it look easy, it really was an absolute let off for the home side, one that could have changed the game considering what was to follow in the second half…

The Dons started the second half with a little more purpose, Sammy Moore in particular could have done better with a chance presented to him. Southport seemed content to simply throw the ball forward and hope for an error, something that presumably served them well in the BSN last season when they were the biggest and strongest, but looking a bit one-dimensional against the Dons more refined football. Having said that, the Dons looked a little creaky at the back, the Johnson/Yakubu partnership still needs working on, as though both players had decent enough games, the performance as a unit didn’t quite add up to the sum of its parts. This wasn’t really helped by Andre Blackman’s continued positional drifting, I know Andre is the sort of player, like Chris Hussey was, who looks to contribute more in an attacking sense than a defensive one but it does leave us rather lacking at the back when he finds himself on the halfway line with his man streaking past him.

Fair lay to Andre though, he put in a fair few thunderous challenges himself, on a day my worry was he would get bullied out. He wasn’t the only one I had my fears for, but the young Dons stood up pretty well to the physical challenge. I’m sure most of us thought it would be like Land of the Giants, with our poor lads bundled off the ball at every available opportunity. It didn’t quite work out that way, if anything the Dons players looked the more aggressive… but before we get carried away, I have to say Southport did look very weak indeed. Even for a part-time side, and this could be something that causes them a fair few problems during the course of the campaign. In fact, it even got to the stage where these supposedly big tough players resorted to throwing themselves to the deck and pleading to the referee… a bit embarrassing for the locals I would presume, watching a team of kids rough up their boys… but something that almost worked for them in no small part due to inconsistent refereeing (which would ruin poor Lee Minshull’s debut, as I will explain later…).

As for inconsistent refereeing, the Dons were denied a stonewall penalty at the start of the half, as a big Southport defender (a quick reminder – I’m not taking notes at away games this season, so identifying opponents isn’t going to be easy!) fell on the ball, making contact with his right arm a couple of times before swatting it away with his left arm. Maybe the referee and linesman thought they would make up for their earlier error by not giving this one, but as the Dons failed to take advantage of their previous good fortune… in fact what am I talking about? Previous decisions should have no bearing on a referees next one, it’s not down to him to ‘level things up’…. more misfortune for the Dons…

Something had to change either way, and it was fortunate that it was Terry Brown who had the game changing card up his sleeve. This time last season we may have taken off a tiring Lewis Taylor and asked Ricky Wellard to play the free roll. Or switch the strikers around. A change for changes sake if you will. This time around, Terry Brown was able to remove Main and Moore – neither of whom had been poor, but then neither had changed the game either – and bring on Ryan Jackson and Christian Jolley. This had an immediate positive effect, changing the philosophy from trying to feed the strikers through the channels, adding a lot more width and allowing these pacy players the freedom to try to get in behind Southport.

The Dons now looked far more dangerous, especially as Hatton and Blackman were looking more effective going forward, having someone to work with on their respective flanks rather than just mucking in. Danny Kedwell started to come into the game more, receiving the ball at feet allowing him to terrorise the hosts back line. And eventually the goal came, good awareness from Christian Jolley to round the keeper and slot into an empty net after a fantastic ball from,,, well actually I’m not even sure who played the ball over, it could have been Hatton, it could have been Jackson (two players who obviously look very similar…) but whoever it was, the goal had finally come, and at that stage it seemed the Dons could go on and win comfortably…

That was until the referee intervened again. Lee Minshull was given his debut, and won the ball perfectly in the middle of the park, only for the referee to call play back with another of those ‘what’s he doing there?’ calls. Perhaps looking to make up for the phantom penalty (Again: Why???), the referee decided this was actually serious foul play by Minshull, and sent him off. ‘play on’ would have been the correct course of action in this situation, but this clown genuinely believed it was a dangerous challenge. If that was the case we should have been at seven a-side at that point, as he would have had to send off those responsible for more serious offenses earlier in the day. A quick review of the tape should ensure Minshull won’t have to serve a ban, but that didn’t help the Dons see out the last ten minutes or so a man short.

Southport gave us a few nervy moments in the final stages, a mishit shot across the face of Sebb Browns goal that he locals got pretty excited about, a smart save down to his right by Brown following and a hopeful appeal for a penalty that might have carried a bit more weight had both players not been holding each other… Southport might consider themselves a bit unfortunate, and they may be able to channel this into a sense of injustice that carries them through the next couple of games – but this is a big strong division, with tougher sides than Wimbledon… Big, cynical teams that will play for the decision, and I’m not sure Southport can live with that. Having said that, there is enough driftwood making up the numbers at the bottom of the table for Southport to be confident of staying up – as well as the usual financial basket cases that make the last two relegation places redundant most seasons.

As for the Dons, well there’s no point saying we need to play better against the bigger sides in the division, I presume that’s what Terry Brown was doing at full-time with the lads on the pitch. We can at this stage only look for the positives. We learned some lessons, and we did so while also taking three points with us back down the motorway. Histon and Tamworth shouldn’t scare us, despite their respective positions of second and first in this very early season table, and we can look forward to seeing the Dons play their football on the bowling green that is Kingsmeadow. Beyond that, we can be confident, but in terms of a promotion push? It’s still very much ‘wait and see’…

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Wimbledon 2 Mansfield Town 0 – Match Report 16/1/10

Before the action, Wimbledon said goodbye to one of the men that made us. Allen Batsford, the man who initially took Wimbledon into the Football League in 1977, sadly passed away after collapsing at Wimbledon Broadway tube station following the Chelsea-Fulham game just after Christmas. It was time for those who knew Allen to say goodbye, and those who didn’t but still recognise the great debt this club owed him for his fantastic work almost three decades ago. The programme carried his photo on the front cover, his former players spoke before the teams emerged and a perfectly observed minutes silence preceded kick off.

But life goes on, as does football, and the clubs playing staff had to stay focused on the task in hand. Terry Brown, the man tasked with replicating Batsford’s achievements in the seventies, has played his transfer hand this window and brought in three newcomers to the squad; Chris Hussey replacement Danny Blanchett, plus the ex-Brentford pair Glenn Poole and Nathan Elder. Perhaps with one eye on Tuesday nights crucial FA Trophy tie with Altrincham, and aware that neither Poole nor Elder can play a part in that game, Brown took the risk of naming all three in his starting line-up. In fact including Sebb Brown and Brett Johnson the Dons started with four ex-Brentford players, with Ross Montague also waiting on the bench.

It should be regarded as a good sign that we featured so many players that were part of a promotion winning side last season in the division above, but many Dons fans wondered whether this was too much of a risk against a side one place and one point ahead of them before kickoff – especially considering Wimbledon have failed to beat a side that started the match above them in the table all season.

Any butterflies were eliminated moments after the first whistle. Before the game had even had a chance to settle, Will Hendry picked up the ball in the visitors half. With Nathan Elder the obvious target, Hendry’s job was made a whole lot easier by the big forward intelligently dropping off his man. Hendry floated an inch perfect ball to Elder, who floated his header back across Mansfield goalkeeper Marriott and into the net.

All thoughts that top scorer Danny Kedwell (who has interestingly been linked with a six figure move to St Mirren very recently) was on the bench taking a rest, Elder became an instant hero and a contender for earliest goal on début in Dons history, having netted after only 117 seconds. And Wimbledon weren’t ready to take their foot off the gas just yet…

Five minutes in, and Jon Main found himself free on the right linking with Elder to send his new strike partner free. Mains ball bobbled around and never quite sat right for Elder, who sensibly decided to square for Lewis Taylor. Taylor was well placed, but seemed to rush his finish, seeing the ball deflected away and eventually scrambled clear. Wimbledon had started the way we have come to expect of them, passing the ball around nicely, always looking forward, positive and expansive in their play.

Not that Mansfield were going to sit back and take this. The visitors looked like a team lacking confidence despite their position, seemed unable to string together more than a couple of passes and were over-reliant on their albeit admirable battling qualities. Wimbledon were as solid when faced with this type of aerial onslaught as they have been all season, yet a reshuffled Dons midfield were sloppy at times, gifting the ball to their opponents on far too many occasions. A team firing on all cylinders could have punished them, yet Mansfield seemed rusty, the weather enforced mid-season break seemingly having done them no favours today.

They created chances though, the first on twelve minutes when Gary Silk wriggled free on the right side of the Dons box only to be closed down by Sebb Brown, the Dons keeper deflecting the ball wide for a corner on the right. A deep corner travelled all the way to big forward Rob Duffy at the far post, who could only direct his header tamely wide of goal. The unfortunate Duffy showed no confidence moments later when he found himself in the clear with only Brown to beat, but could only side-foot tamely into the Dons keepers arms.

Now all too aware they couldn’t simply stroll through this game, Wimbledon stepped up a gear. They thought they had doubled the lead on twenty minutes, Lewis Taylor was brought down as the ball ran on to Elder, whose expert finish was ruled out by the referees whistle. Not for a Dons free kick as most presumed, the referee refusing to bring back play even though the Dons had gained no advantage, and presumably wouldn’t have anyway had Elder been offside. Terry Brown aimed his programme notes at fellow managers who had criticised referees of late, but even he must have had to bite his tounge after some inconsistent decision-making from the man in black.

The Dons weren’t to be denied though, and they added a second goal in fantastic fashion in their next attack. Blanchett fed the ball from the left flank to Hatton on the right via Kennedy Adjei, and Hatton delivered a great ball to Elder. Wimbledon’s new hitman this time cushioned a header into the path of Lewis Taylor who swept his shot into the bottom left hand corner of the Mansfield goal giving Marriott no chance.

While Mansfield’s workmanlike forays forward were ultimately proving fruitless, the Dons went on to go close on a couple of occasions during the remainder of the half. Perhaps the best saw Jon Main flick a ball in Glenn Poole’s direction leaving him in possession on the left side of the area with his back to goal. Expertly spinning his man he whipped a shot across the face of goal, just dropping wide of the right hand post.

The second half took a little bit longer to get going than the first, mainly down to a nasty clash of heads that saw Elder receive his second off pitch treatment of the game. The frontman was rightly named the Dons man of the match by the sponsors, combining the battling qualities you would expect from a man of his physique with some intelligent forward play and, as you would expect from a Terry Brown signing, some nifty footwork too that consistently drew fouls from the bamboozled Mansfield back line (even if the referee didn’t always elect to blow his whistle for them…). Then, with the Dons first real chance of the half just after the hour, he could have grabbed his second after being played in by Will Hendry only for a fantastic challenge from Michael Brough to deny him.

The Dons had to stay alert defensively, a fantastic stretching challenge by Sam Hatton saw off a three on three Mansfield break. The visitors just weren’t troubling the Dons goal, their game plan was direct but their play was directionless. Their best player – by some way – was substitute Jake Speight, the only Mansfield player who seemed to show any inclination or ability to take the ball and run at Wimbledon. The difference between the two teams was the home side had players like this all over the pitch, and while the Dons could just about handle Speight, with the likes of Taylor, Hendry and Main among others bombing forward, Mansfield couldn’t really cope.

Hendry was withdrawn for Ricky Wellard with fifteen minutes to go, after proving what a fantastic signing he has been. Hendry seems to have almost single-handedly made the Dons midfield a more offensive unit, he slipped straight into the squad as if he had always been there at just the right time. I still think the Dons squad is poorer without Luke Moore, but Hendry is a more than worthy replacement for him.

Elder made way for Montague with seven minutes remaining, to huge applause from the home fans. Yet it was a fifteen minute cameo from Ricky Wellard that almost stole the show and gave Wimbledon breathing space. First, Montague chased down a through ball that Marriott was clear favourite for, but the Mansfield goalkeeper seemed to be distracted by one of his own defenders and mishit the ball to Wellard just inside the visitors half. As Marriott retreated, Wellard rounded an opponent, and urged on by the crowd struck a perfect dipping effort that the goalkeeper somehow managed to tip over the bar.

Then two minutes later he picked up the ball wide right, cut inside leaving two Mansfield men for dead, and smashed a left footed effort towards the top left corner. Marriott was once again equal to it, just, flying across goal and getting enough on the ball to divert it over for a corner. Marriott won this personal battle, but Wellard showed just how much more confident he has become of late. Not long ago it seemed in the balance whether he would make it at Wimbledon at all, but ever since he turned down the chance to move on loan he seems to have really come on. Yes, he will still suffer from the inconsistency of youth from time to time, but he has shown he has the ability to blossom into a Football League midfielder if he applies himself further.

In between Wellard’s attempts to steal the show, Mansfield managed to get the ball past Sebb Brown only for the effort to be ruled out for offside. Some suggested after the game that an extra goal for each side would have been a more accurate reflection of the game, this would have been at the expense of yet another clean sheet for Sebb Brown and the back four. The Dons have now only conceded once in the last eight league games, and Decembers Conference Player of the Month winner Brown has kept eight clean sheets in his eleven full games for the club.

Adjei and Conroy had twenty-five yard efforts that just cleared the bar in stoppage time, but the points were Wimbledon’s by this stage. The victory moved the Dons up to fourth, which perhaps disguises that there is still plenty of work to do – the Dons find could drop as low as seventh if sides below them (including Mansfield) win their games in hand, and until a few of those games have been played, and points are dropped by promotion rivals, Wimbledon really need to be aware that they haven’t really broken into the playoff places just yet. Stretching the gap between the clubs below them should be their first priority.

If anything the Dons playoff ambitions could be decided between now and the end of February, with winnable home games combined with some very tricky road trips, and if Terry Brown can ensure his newly reinforced squad can remain in the top five by the time March rolls around, we will know whether this is a serious promotion push or not. While Batsford loomed large on the front of the programme, the rear cover featured an advert for our sponsors new game, urging you to ‘Make History’, like Allen did, and Terry is trying to. If Brown can guide us from the Ryman League to the Football League in three consecutive seasons, well, that would be an achievement that would even eclipse the achievements of the great man himself in the seventies. And should it happen, I’m sure there would have been no prouder man than Allen Batsford himself.

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The Millwall Match Preview – FA Cup First Round Special

fcum 005With about 24 hours to go until kick-off, I’ve finally got my act together to write a Match Preview. I’ve spent my time since the Crawley replay reading about the game, letting the cup fever get to me. Having said that, despite our presence in the Second Round draw this afternoon, I’m having difficulty looking beyond this tie. Thoughts have tended to sway more towards the nightmare of a heavy defeat than the miracle of victory.

Have the players been thinking too much about this one? The performance at Chester was unfortunate to say the least, and we can consider ourselves lucky that was our only League fixture. It’s a good job we had a great start as are supposedly concentrating on the cups this season…

It seems that over 3000 of us have bought tickets, and belatedly I have to say congratulations to the club for throwing on free coaches. Most Dons fans have a realistic view on the likely reception we will get from the regulars at The Den, but for the elderly or those with kids I sensed a few were thinking of ducking it just in case… Knowing they have travel from the ‘Meadow to the away end gives them a lot of reassurance, which pretty much means anyone who wants to come can come… and even those far-flung overseas types can get a chance to watch, either via their telly or the internet…

And about the 3200 we have already sold… I have heard that a number of people got a bit jumpy when their tickets didn’t arrive in the post as expected and got themselves down to Kingsmeadow to buy themselves a replacement… with only 200 for sale on the gate, perhaps anyone who does receive theirs through the post on Monday could meet at a pre-arranged point at London Bridge to sell them on to non-ticket holders, just to make sure everyone that does turn up on the night will get in?

This week I have personally been reminded just how much Millwall are disliked. I have had Arsenal, Foolham, QPR fans telling me just how much they want us to win tomorrow night. Plus we seem to have been adopted by knobhead local Chelski fans who were probably quite surprised to find the FA Cup doesn’t start at the Third Round stage and there is football below the Prem…

millwallStrangely I feel a tiny bit of sympathy for our hosts, they obviously suffer this every week… although that sounds like the typical hug-a-hoodie style reaction you would expect from the Guardian-reading liberal elite that support Wimbledon. I’m sure I’ll be reminded of various misdemeanours their supporters have got up to in the past in the comments section… It’s just I remember going on a mates stag do in Manchester which just happened to be the night before Millwall’s Cup Semi at Old Trafford, stepping out of a bar at 1am to find locals chasing anyone with a London accent left, right and centre. These weren’t thugs, they were just normal blokes like me, who happened to be earmarked for a kicking thanks to their association with a club with a large hooligan element. Obviously I stood in the corner smoking a cigarette, bricking it while my mates decided to stay for one more…

Yet it doesn’t help when you see photos of Millwall fans in Galatasaray shirts when Leeds came to visit (that reminds me of the ugly cunt on the turnstile at Fisher with the MK scarf on… of course Fisher do have links of sorts with Millwall). Still you would expect Millwall to have a little more class than start resorting to the MK chants you would expect from inbreds such as Kettering and Chester… or maybe not? Either way, the thought that an unlikely victory for us will be held up and hijacked by the more retarded half of South West London (the ones that prefer their blue with white rather than yellow…) is a little unsettling to say the least.

But onto the game itself… Don’t ask me what sort of team Terry will play tomorrow. In fact I don’t think it really matters. The difference in class between our best possible XI and our worst is minimal compared to the gulf in class between the two squads. Terry will be better off picking a side that he is sure won’t bottle it, as shocks are caused in FA Cup ties such as these more because of mental strength than the ability to pass the football around nicely.

For example, last year Brown selected Haswell over Hussey at left back. Ultimately it didn’t work as our midfield collectively suffered an arsehole malfunction when it came to the big occasion, but don’t expect this to have put him off making these sort of decisions in future… The likes of Alan Inns could find himself playing a big part in Brown’s plans, if only because Inns has a bigger heart than most blue whales.

At times like these I always like to think of the 88 Cup Final. Lets face it, ignoring the fact that Wimbledon finished sixth that year, with the experience the Liverpool side had of big occasions, they would have won that game nine times out of ten, and the other one after a replay. The victory came about thanks to a moment of genius by Bobby Gould (not that he really had much of a say in the matter…). Letting the players go down the pub took their minds off the match when otherwise they would have been stuck in a hotel, playing cards and thinking too much about what was to come. As it was they turned up on the day without a care in their heads, they were by far the more relaxed side and went on to a famous victory.

Last year, I always thought the players did a little too much publicity before the game, and were tense on the night because of it. This year it seems the players dealt with the media at training on Thursday; I understand the players are coming in for a light training session on Monday morning but the best thing Brown could do after that is take them to Thorpe Park with their families for the rest of the day…

new denLets face it, there will be no surprises coming Millwall’s way. Kenny Jackett will have watched Wimbledon, seen the DVD’s, noticed how we play, the strengths we have and will probably second guess how Terry Brown is planning on using them. The only way there will be a shock is if our boys play above themselves and a few of the Millwall players let their manager down on the night. As professionals you wouldn’t expect that to happen.

Yet I have just seen a Northwich side (a division below us) upset a Charlton team that are above Millwall in League One. Certain Charlton players looked slightly freaked out by their surroundings, and the Northwich fans seemed to notice and play on that. While Millwall will be on their own soil, they certainly won’t be used to the North Stand being full of away supporters. Lets use this to our advantage. Lets create a wall of noise, get on the back of any player in a blue shirt who looks like he might be having a tough time – right from the start. Lets really turn it into a home game.

If you haven’t got a ticket, get yourself to the ground on the day. Even if you get turned away, get yourself in the Millwall sections (obviously don’t wear your colours – this isn’t Trumpton or Staines…). And to all of you that are going, regardless of where you sit, enjoy the game… these don’t come along very often in the division we are in, they haven’t occurred at all as we rose through the Leagues, but are hopefully a sign of things to come when we eventually make it into League 2. As a club that doesn’t have a great record on beating higher ranked clubs in cup competitions (unless we eventually get kicked out for fielding illegible players…), surely we are due one now???

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AFC Wimbledon 1 Kettering Town 2 – A Match Report

If you were frustrated about the Kidderminster game, you would have been pulling your hair out over this one. However thinking back (not that far) to the reverse fixture, despite the euphoria over a memorable performance we were quite lucky to get away with the points in the end… and this game was a mirror of it. Perhaps in my mind, being as it is drenched in blue and yellow blood, we made a better fist of our attempted comeback than they did in the corresponding fixture? Either way, a win and a loss is better than two draws in terms of points gained…

That doesn’t mean I’ve come to terms with this defeat. Hell, I haven’t got round Eastbourne beating us in our second game. Thankfully defeats have been as rare this season as they were last, yet despite the end-to-end excitement and proper sense that any game we play could go either way I still find myself begrudging our victors. Especially as their goalkeeper was a former franchise cuntbag. I don’t think I even mentioned it the first time around, yet yesterday it seemed to rub salt into the wound.

Those that bleat on about how we should have ‘got over it’ by now clearly have no idea what its like to be a Wimbledon supporter. No matter how good things are going at Kingsmeadow (or fingers crossed any future Dons stadium…) we are always going to be reminded of that betrayal. Presumably those big brave Kettering supporters who were chanting ‘MK Dons’ at us after the final whistle where aware of this, as they went strangely quiet when forced to mix with 3500 Dons fans in Jack Goodchild Way.

The match sponsors were Kick It Out, a worthy organisation, and you wonder whether they actually paid for the privilege or we gave it up for free. I would hope the latter, as it is their One Game, One Community initiative I gather they are sponsoring a number of games over two weekends. After the ‘misunderstanding’ against Lincoln in the cup last season I would have thought the message would have been better aimed at the visitors, but that would be to ignore the fact the Dons named a side whiter than a BNP wives coffee morning thanks to the absence of Derek Duncan (missing-presumed-injured) and Kennedy Adjei (unused substitute despite his flag flying in the Tempest).

Chris Hussey took the field before the game to a warm applause to thank us all following his move to Coventry. Think we might have laid it on a little thick with all the future England international talk, but the good news is the fee appears to justify his potential. Numbers in the high five figures have been bandied about by those who would know better than exaggerate, with the potential fee possibly worth six figures to the club. This is good news when it has been reported that Sven Goran Eriksson is lining up a move for Danny Kedwell… I have to say I haven’t seen Sven at the Meadow this season (not our Meadow anyway) although needless to say we would require six figures up front from that particular club for that particular player…

But back to Hussey. He must have noticed, as presumably we all did, how much he is going to be missed on the field. As Duncan was absent, Johnson took over at left back with Inns filling in at centre half. Brett Johnson is more of an out and out defender however, and a lack of support on the left side was obvious from the start. Luke more frequently found himself short of options when attacking that flank, almost as if he was still expecting Hussey to come bombing past him to send over that killer ball. I think it mattered enough that we would have won this game had we still had Hussey, so getting Duncan playing regularly and/or having a decent backup on the left side of midfield must be a priority.

Did Hussey’s absence have an impact on the result? At first you may think thats clutching at straws, but as a Don’s blogger I have to at least examine the claims… The start of the match certainly showed we weren’t creating as many chances as the visitors despite having the same amount of territory and possession, yet when the ball found its way to Luke Moore on the left he looked short of options, almost as if he was waiting for a blue shirted number 3 to bomb past him (if not to pass the ball to then at least to create some space for himself).

Big Exodus Geoghaghon was playing just in front of the Kettering back four allowing him the freedom to roam the midfield and pick up the aerial balls dropping in the midfield area, and he created the games first chance. His header was picked up by Francis Green who struck a woeful effort well wide from 25 yards. Moments later it was Moses Ashekodis turn, finding space while running at Inns to screw wide of the left post. Neither chance threatened the Don’s goal, but it was a sign of the dangers to come for Wimbledon.

Ashekodis came a lot closer moments later, his fierce effort palmed upwards by Pullen who then collected the loose ball. Hopes were briefly raised when Wimbledon put together a decent move at last, and it was no surprise that it came down the right (which looks as though it could be the new left since Hussey’s departure…). Kedwell and Taylor combined well on the flank, the ball being fed through to Hatton, who could have shot but obviously didn’t trust his left foot enough and instead rolled in Luke Moore. The angle was against Moore, who tried to pull the ball back only to see it bounce off a defender and land fortunately in the Kettering goalkeepers arms.

Sadly this didn’t start a new wave of Dons pressure, Kettering instead winning a throw on the left. Geoghaghon launched a huge throw towards the six yard box which led to a mass outbreak of sheer panic among the Wimbledon men, the ball eventually being tucked into the bottom left corner past a helpless Pullen and gift the visitors the lead. The home fans barely had time to take this in before Danny Thomas picked up the ball twenty five yards out. Boosted by the confidence of having just taken the lead he smashed a superb dipping effort over the helpless Pullen, the Don’s net bulging for the second time in ninety seconds and the Wimbledon fans facing up to the fact the game could already have slipped away as those occupying the away section erupted.

Just moments after that Wimbledon won a corner. Played short to Hatton, the Don’s midfielder hit a deep cross that confused Harper into believing the ball was about to safely drift out for a goal kick. He didn’t realise Kedwell had other ideas, floating a header back over the keeper who had wandered out of position, for Jon Main to have the easiest job of grabbing his third goal from open play in two games, and his sixth overall this season.

With three quarters of the game still to play, Wimbledon fans could have been forgiven for thinking their side would come back to claim a point, maybe all three. They could have been right in doing so as their side blew a fantastic chance to level the scores on the half hour. Kedwell picked up the ball on the left side of goal and attacked the penalty area with wonderful directness, dancing round a defender before squaring for Main at the near post. The man of the moment seemed certain to score with any kind of contact, yet his stabbed effort just floated into the air before caressing the crossbar on the opposite side of goal and being thumped clear by a grateful Kettering man.

The Dons looked fired up, but they had to ride out the rest of the half, Kettering forcing a number of throws and corners. Their best chance to extend the lead came just before half time, Askekodis combining with Thomas for the latter to drag a shot across the face of goal. Half time came, and a familiar face appeared next to me having experienced the Tempest End for the first time. While he enjoyed the experience, he moved partly down to the unnecessary swearing all around him – yet perhaps standing next to me was a mistake, as the Anonymous Don spent much of the half having a Tourettes-like fit due to shear frustration.

It all started well enough, a Hatton corner on the right drilled low towards Alan Inns, who managed to get under the ball and float it well over the bar. The visitors held out well for the next ten minutes or so, in fact creating a chance themselves for Thomas who got free in the right side of the area only for Pullen to make a solid upright save. The hour mark saw the now traditional Terry Brown substitution – you wonder whether Brown is actually being controlled by a bored fourteen year old in another dimension who always makes his first sub at this point… This time around the fourteen year old must have been drunk, as I’m not sure why anyone would choose to remove the solid Conroy for Ricky Wellard, seeing the youngster fit into midfield and the veteran (by comparison) Hatton drop back to Conroy’s position.

Actually, thats unfair. I knew what Brown was trying to do, he wanted a more attacking fullback to pick up the pace down the right, with someone hungry to liven the midfield up Wellard moved to the left yet even without the wonderful power of hindsight you maybe would have expected the more confident Kennedy Adjei would have been more at home in this position. Wellard needed a chance in the first team however, and very nearly found an equalizer with virtually his first touch. Hatton got forward down the right as expected and stood a wonderful ball just begging to be buried by Wellard, whose downward header gave Harper no chance but somehow sneaked past the right post (well, there was a little licence used there. I was right behind the header so sadly knew it was destined to drift wide as soon as it left his head… there was no ‘somehow’ about it!).

A minute or so later Hatton created another chance, this time sliding the ball behind the back four for Jon Main to use his pace and get clear. Last seasons top scorer hit a fierce shot that was too close to the keeper, who touched it over for a corner. Then it was Luke Moore’s chance to shine. Receiving the ball with time about twenty yards out, Moore could have picked either side to place his effort but managed to guide his effort towards the portly Kettering custodian. Harper, perhaps down to the level of abuse he was receiving from the Tempest, still managed not to gather it cleanly and for a split second it looked as though he was going to fall over and allow it to trickle over the line. Yet, and further proof if it was required that billions of Christians are wasting their lives and there is no God, he actually managed to gather it quite easily in the end.

While it looked like any shot on target that wasn’t a yard either side of Harper might find the net, the Dons chances were becoming more and more rare – hence my frustration, triggered by a number of free kicks given the visitor’s way with little contact being made by the likes of renowned football hard men such as Wellard and Moore. Don’t I remember this happened a couple of weeks ago? Is it only when we are chasing the game that referees turn against us? I know, I’ve been watching the game way too long to pretend I don’t know the answer to that…

With twenty minutes of the game to play, Kedwell picked up the ball in the box on the right, outmuscled his marker despite being pulled all over the place (and perhaps would have been better off letting himself be tugged to the ground) and smashed an effort across the face of goal and wide. I found my anger rising as the final whistle approached, and the time flew by. The home sides last chance came with two minutes remaining, and just about summed up the day. A Moore cross was just missed by Lewis Taylor, striking the unfortunate Wellard before bouncing wide of the right post, away for a goal kick.

The frustration was caused mostly by the knowledge that we could and should have taken at least a point from a side that are up there in the table, yet didn’t look as though they were any better than us. Two months into the season we are still losing games thanks to the experience of our opponents. Kettering had a years head start on us – it didn’t show in August, but it has now.

Heading into a big FA Cup game this coming Saturday, that is a lesson we could do well to learn, and fast. If we are to do well in the Cups this year (and bear in mind there are only two of them this season) we obviously cannot let Crawley take the sort of advantage they did at Kingsmeadow last month. Don’t get me wrong, Crawley are an inferior side to Kettering, and it may be easy to imagine that they have had their chance against us for the season. That old cliche of the Cup being a great leveller only applies if the superior side allows complacency to get in the way…

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AFC Wimbledon 4 Histon 0 – A Match Report

Only seventy-two in attendance from Histon today, and apparently a few Dons fans mocking them for this. Well, let me remind you that Histon are a village club, to have seventy-two of them make the trip is superb, as impressive as the couple of hundred who made the short trip from Crawley on Tuesday, comparable with the six-hundred odd that Cambridge United brought down. As there were so few I couldn’t make out many of their chants, although I did catch a quick burst of ‘You’ve got no history’…. Seriously, what does that even mean?!

On a sunny Saturday afternoon, it was a good day for watching football… although I say that every Saturday, it’ll probably be similar temperatures next week for Kidderminster. In my mind of course it’s October so it will be single figure temperatures and dark by 4.15… Despite the pleasant weather we only had just shy of 3,400 turn out, a quite poor attendance given recent attendances. Are there one or two of us who only show up for ex-League clubs?

At least the lack of congestion at 2.50pm meant nearly all were in the ground to see the Dons make a lightning start, seconds into the game Kedwell picked up the ball on the left edge of the area and tried to bend one around ex-Dons keeper Danny Naisbitt, his shot appearing to take the keeper by surprise and he watched with some relief as the ball flew wide of the right post. Naisbitt looked happy to be back at Kingsmeadow, even if he didn’t always see eye to eye with some Dons fans.

histonh 002Although the Dons were looking pretty good on the ball, nothing much really happened until twelve minutes in, where the game well and truly took off after a mental sixty seconds. Lewis Taylor picked up the ball in the Histon half and headed for goal. He seemed to have missed his opportunity to get a shot off,  but moved his feet well and struck from the edge of the box. His effort was deflected and seemed to have caught Naisbitt out, but the keeper stuck up a hand and got fingertips to it. This only slowed the balls progression towards goal, and the Tempest End were in full celebration mode until a Histon man appeared from nowhere to hack the ball off the line.

This lead to a Histon counter attack, led by Danny Wright on the left, He looked up and found Josh Simpson all alone in the centre having got clear of Brett Johnson. Simpson had to control the ball before snapping a shot off, and in this time Johnson managed to get back around him and pulled off a magnificent last ditch challenge. Wimbledon went forward again, Jon Main receiving the ball on the left tight to the touch-line.

Instead of crossing, Main took aim for the far corner, his strike well kept out by Naisbitt. Yet the Histon custodian had only managed to parry the ball into the air for Luke Moore to side-foot over him and into an empty net. One-Nil to the Dons, scored by Moore and the assist must go to Johnson for his fantastic block that prevented the scoreline being reversed.

Jon Main had been given a starting place, maybe his last chance to impress while Terry Brown is still ‘experimenting’. Fifteen minute in he received the ball down the right channel and powered into the box. He had a couple of chances to get a shot away before he found himself bearing down on Naisbitt. He seemed to be pushed as he tried to get his shot away, but the referee decided no penalty, and Naisbitt forced his shot round the post for a corner.

Histon were not prepared to roll over for Wimbledon just yet though. On twenty minutes a long ball saw Knight-Percival get behind Sam Hatton at the far post, he lifted his header over James Pullen but off target, allowing the ball to bounce in the six yard box for the Dons keeper to collect. It was end to end for a while as Danny Kedwell caught sight of goal on the edge of the Histon box and stabbed an effort that may have caused Naisbitt more problems had it not been straight at him. Micheal Frew then repeated Kedwell’s effort at the other end for Histon.

histonh 003Wimbledon were playing well, using the ball in midfield for a change, especially Kennedy Adjei on the left and Steven Gregory just in front of the back four. The problem was the final ball just wasn’t there. This hasn’t been a problem for Wimbledon who have started the season at home creating numerous chances for our midfielders to waste. Histon on the other hand were playing a direct game that suited their players, and at least this was creating half chances for them to miss.

On the half hour Histon had a short spurt of pressure, beginning with a corner from the left that saw Jamie Barker unmarked eight yards out, but he could only divert the pacy delivery over the bar. A minute later Sam Hatton gave away a needless free kick in dangerous territory, which although being eventually diverted over the bar saw Terry Brown (who had been warning his players about giving away fouls) to shout “They aren’t hurting us (with their backs to goal), these (free-kicks) ARE hurting us! Stay on your feet!”.

And moments later the Dons back four lost their shape for the first and only time during the game when Sam Hatton was pulled out of position allowing a two on one break down the left. Josh Simpson took the ball himself, slightly over-running the ball allowing Pullen to nick the ball away from him.

Ironically it was Wimbledon who had the numbers on their next break as Matthew Langston collapsed in an extravagant heap while going high with his feet with Kedwell. The referee was having none of it, allowing Taylor to carry the ball on with Kedwell and Main in support. Unfortunately Taylors final ball was shocking allowing one of the remaining two defenders to get a foot in. Taylor seemed to be having difficulties releasing the ball, having previously seen crosses from both flanks sail harmlessly over the crossbar, yet still had a very big part to play in this game.

Histon went on to create maybe their two best chances of the game. Knight-Percival gave Hatton a little nudge to get himself goalside, and with the referee waving play on found Micheal Frew all alone in the centre with the simple task of tapping past Pullen and levelling the scores. Fortunately for The Dons, but perhaps summing up Histons day, Frew somehow managed to strike the floor rather than the ball and ended up taking an embarrassing tumble over it. Dons fans may have taken a deep breath expecting the worse, but were able to expel it with a nervous laugh instead.

histonh 005Minutes later Hatton’s attempt to deflect a cross from the left ended up unluckily falling to Danny Wright, who made the mistake of steadying himself before firing off a shot. This gave the split second Brett Johnson required to get a block in for a corner. Johnson and Lorraine were so assured this game that you wonder how anyone ever manages to score against Wimbledon, both of them brilliant in the air, take the ball from forwards with ease and know where to put themselves when a shot threatens the Dons goal.

Just before half-time, the Dons had a chance to double their lead as Hatton and Main found space at the far post. Unfortunately as Hatton moved onto the ball from the right and went to pull the trigger, Jon Main following the path of the ball got a foot in first, lifting the ball over Naisbitt, yet sadly not only was the ball heading wide, but it wouldn’t have had the legs to reach goal anyway. Main had been bombing around the park, but except for the incident that could have led to a penalty, this incident really summed up his participation – almost more of a hinderance than a help.

The Histon players returned to the pitch, and Naisbitt seemed to hang around on the half-way line for a while until the Wimbledon players returned to the pitch. As warm applause rang out around the ground, Naisbitt approached the Tempest. Maybe he had told his team-mates he was popular here? Despite that he got a few cheeky chants requesting to know who in fact he was, for which he applauded the fans, who responded in kind. Well, time is a great healer…

The first ten minutes of the half was the only period that Wimbledon looked like they would concede. I’m not sure what Brown had said to them during the break, but it seemed to make them over confident to the point that effort was no longer required. Brown himself was screaming at them to find themselves again. Despite the weight of pressure and dominance of possession, Histon only managed one effort on goal, a Frew snapshot which Pullen did well to get down to parry. Unfortunately Wright then blundered in as the keeper gathered, despite having no chance of playing the ball he put a real stone age challenge that kept Pullen down. Despite this, the referee neglected to show a card. I can only presume he had forgotten them, as he managed to make it through the game without showing any, a rare occurence these days even when taking The Dons superb disciplinary record into account.

I said Histon put on pressure for the first ten minutes of the half, and there was almost a symbolic change in the games momentum that lead from a Histon corner in the fifty-fifth minute. The corner was defended well and cleared as far as Jon Main, who beat a Histon player to the ball in his own half. He flicked the ball to Luke Moore who headed across the half way line centrally before playing in Lewis Taylor down the left.

histonh 006Taylor allowed Chris Hussey to take over while moving to a position just outside the box. Hussey found the bye-line and sent over a wonderful deep cross that was nodded back into the box for Kedwell. A defender managed to nod this half away but straight into the path of Taylor who smashed it back from ten yards into the right side of the net, giving Naisbitt absolutely no chance. A brilliant counter attack by Wimbledon capped by a stunning finish… by a midfielder! Yes I know Luke Moore was technically taking up a midfield position loosely based on the left, but Moore is more of a striker, and you would expect him to have netted a couple so far. Therefore Lewis Taylor became the man who broke the Dons midfielders scoring duck.

Straight after the goal, Brett Johnson was replaced by Alan Inns. Johnson looked as though he had picked up a knock, so lets hope he will be ok for the Rushden game on Tuesday. The Dons really took over from this point, Histon looked a little lost, and Steven Gregory took example almost scoring the goal of the season in the process. Picking the ball up on half way, he beat his man to the ball and seeing no obvious passing opportunity, he beat the next man too. On the edge of the area he seemed to realise where he was, and knocked past a third man, unfortunately overhitting it and allowing the alert Naisbitt to nip in and steal it off him.

The removal of a glum looking Main for Ross Montague and a tiring Taylor being replaced by Derek Duncan sandwiched a Histon half chance, Pierre-Joseph Du Bois heading into the side netting. As for Main, he looked like a player who knows he may not find any first team action for some time. A spell in the reserves may allow him to find his scoring touch (unless he has a ‘no reserve’ clause in his contract), or perhaps more valuable take a spell on loan to a Blue Square South club.

Alan Inns was in no nonsense mode. Everything in the air he gobbled up, and everything on the ground he met with force, challenges designed to make sure the ball went dead and our goal was in no danger above any other priority.

Hussey was finding plenty of space down the left to show his worth to any potential suitors who may have been buried away in the stands, yet the next Dons player to get behind Histon on this flank was Kedwell, pulling back for Kennedy Adjei to blast at goal, well saved by Naisbitt to his left. But a third goal was soon coming.

histonh 008Hatton, who had a mixed performance at right back, still looked good going forward. And he had a chance to bury the demons of Tuesday nights miss when presented with an identical opportunity. This time he blasted at Naisbitt, when the ball bounced straight back to him he calmly nodded the ball to Steven Gregory who lofted it out of Naisbitts reach into the left inside netting. A wonderfully calm finish, his first goal for the club, and The Dons were now out of sight.

Moments later Hatton turned creator again, this time heading into the box on his own and finding himself hauled down as Gwillim crashed into him and sandwiched him against a team mate. This lead to Hatton’s momentum taking him well inside the area, giving referee and linesman the mistaken impression that this was where the offense had taken place. It was harsh on Gwillim as well, who had impressed me in the first half with his dangerous crossing with either foot.

Of course. I had previously told us not to expect another penalty all season, yet here we were with our seventh gifted to us in our very next game! Perhaps we will only be given spot-kicks from now on when they are in fact no such thing? Big Danny Kedwell saw a chance to add to his tally, and smashed it side footed high beyond Naisbitt’s dive into the right corner. Kedwell is no longer at the top of the scoring charts as Holdroyd netted twice for Cambridge, but ten in twelve games is a fantastic start.

The Wimbledon fans were desperate for a fifth goal yet the closest they came was from a Hussey corner on the right, whipped in with vicious spin to the near post where Inns crashed a header against the bar (which is probably still shaking as we speak). Certainly not all Dons players were on form for this game, yet key players are at the top of their game right now. Lorraine, Johnson, Gregory, Moore, Kedwell and of course the incredible Chris Hussey can win games on their own, and it is our fortune that we have these players operating in such a manner for us right now. Yet we cannot expect these players to keep it up over the course of the season, and we need one or two others to raise their own personal bar on a regular basis to be talked of in terms of playoff contenders.

Those seventy-two Histon supporters headed off into the evening, downhearted but thankful they hadn’t been beaten by more. Their organised team were beaten by a Dons outfit which may lack consistency, but has the potential to take down anyone in this division – even Oxford as we saw last month. But Histon shouldn’t have any problems this year. There are teams below them who have problems much bigger than theirs, and this combined with determined performances should see them remain in the division to visit Kingsmeadow again next term.

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Second Thoughts… Crawley Town

As I mentioned in the main match report, I had two special visitors with me for this game – my dad and my cousin. So what did they think of it all? Well these two veterans of well over a thousand games each really enjoyed themselves. The speed of the game certainly surprised them, although that may have been down to the bench-side position they chose to stand. Normally their trips to Football League games see them situated well away from the playing surface, so ground level must have made a change.

And their thoughts on Wimbledon specifically? Well, of course they had nothing to measure us against (except for Crawley…) yet they were very impressed by the style that Terry has the team playing. I think we have to be realistic that our players cant always get the ball down and play it – there is a time and a place for desperate clearances or measured balls over the top – but the fact that two Dons novices turned up and immediately noticed it says quite a lot about our style. I wonder whether it was more noticable because of previous Dons teams having earned a reputation for direct football, or just because Crawley took every opportunity to knock the ball up field as quick as possible.

So have we found a couple of new supporters? Well, probably not. My cousin will attend a few games but has to juggle being a new dad with following his team, Ipswich Town. My dad is based in Doncaster these days, and will accompany me to a few northern away games, and spoke of perhaps alternating trips to see Rovers play with adopting a Non-League side closer to home, either Brian Little’s Gainsborough or Retford. Neither of whom play the ball about like the Dons do, I would imagine…

More to the point, both will be telling people about their visit on Tuesday night. About how Wimbledon play fast, exciting football, and how good it is for the money. Which perhaps shows the importance of bringing other football fans to our games. It’s not just them, it’s the good reports they will spread after their visit. Let’s remember that this wasn’t exactly a vintage Dons performance either… perhaps the club should introduce a ‘Bring a Mate’ night for an evening game in the future… Grays possibly?

Ultimately, those floaters not impressed by just the football are motivated by results. Which was why we had an impressive attendance (hopefully a benchmark for evening games…), as we have only lost two so far this campaign. However I would imagine Terry would take the view that we should have taken more than four points from these four games.

My view is, although I’m satisfied with the results, I can’t help but think that on the whole we have come closer to losing these games than winning them. Is our league form, specifically the small number in the ‘loss’ column, disguising something? Especially as it would have been more valuable to us to have won two and lost two… Well, again this is my personal opinion, but I find the never-say-die attitude the team showed against Tamworth and Ebbsfleet as a fantastic positive to have. These were two points that had gone at half time and on 90 minutes of the respective games. Yes, they couldn’t use it to turn Tuesday nights game into a win, but it certainly wasn’t for a lack of trying.

So… the players. Well my first reaction to watching the highlights after writing my match report was – ‘Actually that challenge on Chris Hussey really darn looked like a stonewall penalty’. When I first started writing The Anonymous Don it was my intention to describe the games as accurately as possible to those who cannot make it. Now I can imagine some far flung Dons sitting there reading, then watching the highlights and thinking ‘Frickin’ Hull Anony Don, that was a nailed on spotter and make no mistake…’ All I can say is I say it like I see it. If you watch the incident again you can see the exaggeration in his fall, and even if you aren’t buying that I was describing what I saw from my angle, which was not a great deal of contact.

Now I’m a little pissed that I made a big deal of it, yet barely mentioned the two penalties we could have had. Big Fat Tug on Taylor in the box, and Great Big Shove on Gregory. I was half joking when I mentioned a conspiracy as the reason we weren’t awarded those two, which of course means I was half serious as well… I cannot believe we won’t get a penalty for the remainder of the season with the tricky forwards we have, but then again every referee should be aware of the amount of penalties we have received so far. And rightly or wrongly he will consider this when he makes his decision. Not consciously. For all but the strongest willed referee though it will play a part in their thought process.

I haven’t spoken about Sam Hatton’s performance yet. I did mention his switch to right back, and this got me thinking. My theory is this. Playing any other position apart from the centre of the park, you have points of reference. A touch-line to the side of you, a bye-line in front or behind. Strikers can look behind them aware they only need to know where the defender behind them and the goal is. Defenders look forward and see the game play out ahead of them. In theory full-back is one of the simplest positions on the park. You can see everything ahead of you and you always have a touch-line to the side of you to get your bearings.

So of course Sam Hatton is going to find it easy dropping to right back. He isn’t a natural, Conroy is far superior in terms of tackling and using his natural defensive mind to fill gaps in the middle, but Hatton can do a job. He can pass better than Garrard, and he looks much better going forwards (I love Luke Garrard, but I think his days at the club may be numbered… I dearly hope he can prove me wrong…). Compare this with the difficult job a midfielder has.

Even the most perceptive midfielder gets caught in possession occasionally. So a young midfielder will find himself getting robbed more often, right? But Adjei and Gregory don’t get dispossessed that often, and there is a reason for this too, they tend to sit off and pick up loose balls. Put them further upfield, as Stephen Gregory did on many occasion on Tuesday, and all of a sudden they don’t look so impressive.

Not satisfied with that answer? Ok, think about the performance of the Crawley central midfielders on Tuesday (or even better, watch the Histon midfielders tomorrow…). How many times did they receive the ball from a team mate behind them? Most of the time the ball bypassed them on the way forward, they only really got involved trying to win the ball back, or if the ball was won in the middle of the park.

Now think how many central midfielders have gone on to be crowd favourite at AFC Wimbledon. Bolger? A cake walk in a division he was way too good for. Gell? A combative midfielder who won the ball deep, passed easily, and got forward when it suited him. Now think about the likes of Rob Quinn… Jon-Barrie Bates…… Barry Moore……… Nick Roddis…………

All players who came to us with a huge reputation. All played under a manager who liked to see the ball knocked forward quickly (like just about every other sub Conference club), so should have been able to fit in well. Sam Hatton has earned his place in the Wimbledon midfield for over two years now. It would be a disgrace if as just a young player he found himself hounded out of the club by those too ignorant to remember their own playing days… if they actually bothered to step out for a club at all… So imagine how I would feel if that happened and I stood by and said nothing? The kid is only twenty-one years old. Midfielders should start playing their best football between 25-30 years old as an approximation. Hatton has improved year-on-year. There will be a few people eating their words in a couple of years time…

Yet Hatton had a poor game on Tuesday. I was disappointed with him. But thats going to happen, not just with him, but with all our young players. I get back from a game and read some Dons fans opinions, and quite frankly laugh at them. I hear people begging for a ‘big tall centre forward’ when its obvious we just aren’t going to play that way. We have our ball winning forward, and its Kedwell. Then you get so-called experts, people who actually get paid to translate what is going on on the pitch for the layman, claiming that we needed an experienced midfielder. Ignoring the lessons of the past, thats just damned ignorant. If we were looking to win the League this season, perhaps. But if you think this side has no chance of progressing into a title-winning side, after the start they have made…

Yes, one or two of the current side aren’t going to make it. Sam Hatton could be one of them. But he has shown enough promise to deserve to be given a chance. I’m glad we have a strong-willed manager who knows that success this season will be measured on a top half finish. Who will ignore the mindless minority. Terry Brown has a plan, and the vision to make it become a reality.

In reality, I’m less of a Hatton fan than a Terry Brown fan. I trust Brown is right about Sam because all of my instincts tell me he is. I sense that Browns success or failure rides on Hatton more than any other player. I have faith in our manager, perhaps for the first time in the AFC era. Eames sucked up to the right people but was never the right man for the job (and would have won us promotion first time out if he was…). Nicky Whatshisface was in the right place at the right time. I thought DA was great, but only as a figurehead, as a personality, he was right for AFC Wimbledon in all aspects except management of the club. But Brown? He’s a proper manager.

Pullen    6

Garrard    5

Hussey    8

Adjei    6

Lorraine    6

Johnson    7

Hatton    5

Taylor    5

Kedwell    8

Gregory    5

Moore    6

SUBS

Duncan    6

Montague    7

NB – For the two people who used these questions in a search engine to find their way to my blog;

Why Did Danny Kedwell Throw His Boots In The Crowd?

Kedwell has arranged a transfer to Oxford in January, but its a secret for now, don’t tell anyone! Or… maybe his boots had just split.

Why Won’t Terry Brown Pick Jon Main?

(Cough). No goals from open play despite being given plenty of chances…

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