Tag Archives: The FA Cup

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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The Dangers Of The FA Cup First Round Draw

Still chipper following an unexpected point ground out at Shrewsbury the day before, Dons fans settled down on Sunday lunchtime for the FA Cup First Round draw. Thanks to years of slogging our way through qualifying rounds the draw still has an element of novelty about it, despite this being the first time in many a year we actually find ourselves entering at this stage of the competition. League Two clubs seldom have runs as such… the most any of us could hope for is a couple of easy ties against plucky non-leaguers at home, before a money spinning trip to one of the big boys in the Third Round.

And yet the sheer nature of the draw means that despite the presence of your Redbridge’s and your AFC Totten’s, it was just as likely we’ll pull out a decent League One club away from home – with Terry Brown’s Dons team not exactly famed for being cup battlers, this could have seen us mentally eliminate ourselves two weeks before we’ve even played (kind of like how I’m feeling right now about the JPT…). Plus there’s always the danger of a repeat performance of last years Second Round draw…

What you sometimes forget is just how long it takes for two former players or occasional minor celebrities to pull eighty balls from a clear plastic container – and I’m not just talking about the preamble here. The physical act of putting ones hand in, swirling it around, before removing a ball before holding it up for the world to see takes long enough as it is, add in Jim Rosenthal’s occasional dramatic pause after losing track of his notes, on top of knowing balls three and twenty-six are still in the hat… the process is agonizing.

And all the while those potential deal breakers are waiting for you. After our bizarre League Cup encounter back in July I’m sure I wasn’t alone in breathing a sigh of relief when Crawley came out early. After that, every home team drawn resulted in me loudly expressing to my bemused wife whether or not I desired a trip there… Luton (No), Cambridge (Yes), Morecambe (No), Swindon (No), Redbridge (Yes! Yes! Yes!… Awww…..).

It took approximately five minutes of this until the Buckinghamshire Supermarket Enabling Development came out of the hat, a moment of sheer panic as Matt Hanlon groped around before bringing out a ball, holding it up to the camera… blinking through the sweat I couldn’t see the number at first, but there it was, the one we all hoped it would be – anyone but our ball…

Which meant we could relax for the remainder of the draw, ball three eventually being drawn at home (thanks Keith Houchin) to…. Scunthorpe United. It could be worse, it’s by no means glamorous (and to be fair there were probably only three teams in the draw that could have inspired such a description) but it certainly will be interesting, and isn’t completely unwinnable.

In fact it should be a decent game. Scunthorpe have had a little difficulty finding their feet back in League One in only winning three games to date, but have also secured a point against promotion favourites such as Charlton, Sheffield United and Huddersfield along the way. A decent challenge for the Dons, who after halting our three game, twelve goal losing streak will be looking to take a bit of form into the game.

The bigger problem the board might have is tempting a decent crowd along. The modern phenomenon of treating even FA Cup ties as second class fixtures means a slashing of ticket prices might be required to even come close to filling the ground. I know the Dons aren’t the only club to suffer from reduced attendance for cup ties, but with the fixture sandwiched by important league games here’s hoping the powers that be can come up with a way of ensuring the fixture is played out in front of a good crowd and decent atmosphere.

By the way, if we do somehow pull of a shock, it’ll be balls twenty-eight and thirty-three you’ll be praying are kept apart in two weeks time…

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Play Our Game, Not Theirs…

Terry Brown was a frustrated man at around 1.25PM on Saturday afternoon. Rather than the patient football he had seen all season, his Dons back line were simply launching the ball into the midst of a Stevenage midfield that seemed to have on average a clear six inches height advantage over the home side. Not surprisingly, the ball was coming back almost as fast as it was propelled forward, and only some solid defending was keeping the League Two side at bay. ‘Have some courage!’ and ‘Play our game not theirs!’ seemed to be Browns two favourite phrases, but even when Sebb Brown chose to play it short to a defender he invariably thought twice beforehand, giving that extra couple of seconds for a Stevenage man to close down and ensure the ball would be pumped forward, and inevitably lead to a Stevenage move rather than a Dons one.

The problem was, the Dons players had frozen under the spotlight. The knowledge they were being watched by a worldwide TV audience with a place in the Third Round of the FA Cup their prize, seemed to have collectively stiffened them. To a man they had lost faith in their own ability, and rather than commit to their game plan seemed desperate to be rid of the football as soon as it came into their possession. And by this stage they were already a goal down. A panicky Steven Gregory challenge on the edge of the area gifted Stevenage a free kick – the decision raising the ire of the Dons fans as Gregory seemed to get plenty of the ball, but watching the replay later even the most blinded Dons fan would have to admit you’ve seen them given. The visitors new loan signing from Watford, Josh Walker, struck the ball low past the wall, it bounced off the inside of the left post and into the opposite corner past a static Brown.

At around this time a bell should have been ringing in Dons fans heads… we’ve been here before. Thurrock, Exeter City, Wycombe, Millwall… whenever we edge past our previous best in this competition, we come across a team that are a step to far. Progress is slow and seems related to our League status, tough to take when you see ‘inferior’ sides such as FCUM and Dover having a real go at it. Without the pressure of expectation on their backs our young side have managed to exceed all expectations by finding themselves top of the Conference after twenty games, a play off place has gone from being a possibility to an expectation, but Stevenage just seemed to be too much of an ask.

Not that they completely caved in. They gave it a real go in the second half, and finally had Stevenage on the back foot. On another day, given a bit of luck, the equalizer would have come. Perhaps Kedwells cross would have been six inches in front of Luke Moore rather than six inches behind. Perhaps the skippers rampaging run would have been turned in at the near post by Yussuff rather than blocked. It gave the crowd the chance to crank the noise up a notch, the support was fantastic as you would expect, yet despite this the away supporters could be heard above the home fans – not verbally of course, but their collection of drums that suggested an impromptu performance of ‘Stomp’ was taking place in the visitors section. Losing to Millwall last season was in a way acceptable, we would expect to play Millwall on a regular basis in future, but losing to Stevenage requires a little bit of patience and forward thinking – looking to the past can help in this respect, as well as the aforementioned Thurrock debacle, we also managed to lose an FA Cup tie 0-3 at home to Walton & Hersham… and what became of them???

Just when it seemed we were set for a pulsating last ten minutes, with the Dons pushing hard for a leveller, they were caught by a sucker punch ten minutes from time that effectively ended the game. Hatton and Yakubu probably could have done better to snuff the chance out, as Yemi Udubade hit a volley that bobbled into the corner. As if that wasn’t game over anyway, the referee then pulled out a second yellow for Ed Harris following an earlier incident that on first viewing looked more of a ‘collision’, but TV cameras later revealed to be more of a ‘desperate lunge’. Unfortunate for Harris, and unfortunate for the Dons who now head into Tuesdays game with Luton without Harris and the injured Johnson (how we could have done with him…), with only Franks and Ismail Yakubu available, with the manager only last week questioning Yakubu’s fitness regarding playing two games in four days… Is anybody else hoping the weather worsens ahead of Tuesday? We surely can’t afford to give a promotion rival such a big advantage…

So what positives can be taken from this experience? Well, we were a lot better in the second half, one of the reasons for this was the change to a simple 4-4-2. This brought Kedwell into the game, and was a big factor in almost getting back on terms at the start of the second half. This doesn’t mean of course, that we should immediately drop the 4-3-3 that served us so well for the opening couple of months. I just love the fluidity of the system, the way it brings the best of Christian Jolley and Ryan Jackson, it is a genuine 4-3-3 rather than the 4-5-1 it appears to be when we are penned back. But sometimes its obvious that it isn’t working, and it doesn’t seem fair to ask the players to persist with it, especially when the knee jerk reaction is to bring on someone like Jon Main and asking him to run the flanks. Here’s hoping the manager has the confidence to make the switch more frequently in future.

Beyond that, the only positive we can take is the experience our young squad will hopefully take from this. While we need to be worried in the short-term that we froze, that we found ourselves brushed off the ball quite easily, etc, the squad can only improve. We know that if promotion doesn’t come this season it will come next, the squad will gain a years extra experience and we will come good eventually. Patience is a good virtue to have in football, we obviously have the right manager, we know we have the bulk of a team capable of winning promotion to and surviving in League Two, so lets just enjoy the ride over the next couple of years. While visiting a Premier League or Championship ground would have been a fantastic experience for all of us, it’s not to be this year, and never before has the cliché of being able to concentrate on the league been more apt. We have a big six months or so ahead of us…

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12.50

Its Wednesday night here at TADs digs, so it must be time for Saturdays match preview. And a tingle of excitement has just made its way up my back as our beloved AFC Wimbledon gain mention midway during the Rangers-Man U tie on ITV.Its just a promo though, the excitement passes… in fact I’ve been trying my very hardest not to get over excited about this game, for obvious reasons. A victory could see us play one of the sides on my television screen in the next round should the draw be kind – the other team will unfortunately have to wait for next seasons Europa League…

Yet I’m not seeing us at Old Trafford, Anfield, The Emirates – those stadiums most often mentioned by Dons fans when talk of potential third round opponents… of course Glandford Park, Brisbane Road or Edgar Street are equally likely venues unfortunately. I’m seeing Thurrock, I’m seeing Torquay in the Trophy, I’m seeing Wycombe, occasions that were too much of an occasion for AFC Wimbledon.

Having said that, this is a different Dons side that effectively lay down for Stevenage last Easter, allowing them to stroll on to promotion. We have improved a great deal, certainly more than Stevenage would have in that time… but have we improved enough? The other problem we have is I don’t really think we look like the sort of side that can cause an upset. I’ve always thought giantkillers were a band of hardworking battlers, short on talent but big on heart. While our young side might be able to top the Conference after twenty games, I have my doubts as to their ability to knock out a higher ranked side in a one-off game. How many times in the WFC days did we turn over the big boys? Mind you, back then every game seemed like a cup tie…

The present side are currently struggling with injuries, including the previously mentioned defensive problem. Yakubu will be ok for Saturday, but sneaking up almost unnoticed on the blind side is an incredibly tough looking home game with Luton. We’ll put up a fight in that one, but it almost seems as though we may have to sacrifice an important league game for a chance of FA Cup progress. Beyond that I would suggest the starting lineup will revert to full strength despite the success (in the first half at least) of the Kedwell-free lineup. It seems of the fitness worries Jackson and Blackman will be alright for the squad at least, I think Blackman might be in line for the bench and Jackson could suffer too if Brown decides Luke Moore’s impressive recent performances warrant a starting place. Expect Jolley to continue on the right if that’s the case.

As for Stevenage, well their promotion has seen them wander into an upper mid-table position, as you would expect from a Conference winner in their first season, and they should go on to mount at least a play off challenge. Some bookies can’t separate the two sides, but in the real world you have to say they are quite clear favourites for this one. Stranger things have happened, but I’m not exactly counting on looking out for ball 48 on Sunday.

Don’t disguise my pessimism for any lack of interest in the game by the way… this is a huge match, the biggest the Dons have faced in the AFC era, bigger than Wycombe, bigger than Millwall, and will remain so until we face a Conference play-off game/title decider. Expect a huge crowd there too, especially now the all-ticket status has been removed. I sometimes get the impression making games all ticket has a negative effect when the expectation is to be at or around capacity, you get the feeling more than a few of us thought ‘I can’t be bothered to arrange tickets, I’ll just watch on the telly…’. More than a few of those will now make their way to the ground on Saturday morning. Theres no excuses now – bring your floating mates and let’s make it a real cup atmosphere (well, as much of an atmosphere as can be produced at Kingsmeadow…).

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Thursday Night Football

Huge sighs of relief all round at the news the winner won’t have to face Them in the next round. The fortunate thing about it was it was enough to seduce ITV into naming the game as its fixture of choice, meaning the winner of our replay not only gets to face a proper football club in the next round, they will also pick up a six figure sum once prize money and TV money is taken into account.

While we are on the subject of Them, I notice their old message board has been closed, replaced by a version which is readable without registration, thus subjecting the rest of the world (or anyone who bothers searching for it) to their inane chatter. And it doesn’t cast them in a good light. I thought I was ignorant (last night for example I turned down an invitation for a party celebrating the release of Aung San Suu Khi because I mistook it for a Twinings marketing event…), but they push the boundary that little bit further. Every town has its weirdos and knobheads, up in MK they seem to gather in one place…

But onto more pressing matters… two proper football clubs face off to decide who goes on to play another proper football club in Round Two of the FA Cup. And of course its on a Thursday, for some reason. I wouldn’t mind Thursday games if the positive (being closer to the weekend) wasn’t overwhelmingly outweighed by the negative (Kettering game switched to a Sunday…). What is strange is its only November and this isn’t the first time we have been asked to play on the weirdest night of the football week. We are of course both getting paid a load of money, and at least the TV company involved isn’t the same one that thinks its a good idea to switch our longest away trip of the season to a Friday night (and that could have been worse, it could have been a Monday…).

You wonder exactly how this is going to affect the Dons players. They had the chance to play in what they rightly or wrongly considered to be THE fixture, and now Stevenage have taken it away from them. My advice to them will be make them pay. But first, make sure you beat Ebbsfleet in the ultimate banana skin game. It will be easy to suggest Ebbsfleet have missed their chance, but the Dons patchy couple of road games since the initial fixture won’t have Dons fans travelling in complete confidence. Plus Ebbsfleet themselves have developed a nice little habit of winning football matches. Oh, and TB, despite being a cautious type, somehow mentioned the Third Round in his pre match O/S comments – the ultimate bad omen if ever one was needed.

It seems as though we won’t have to rely entirely on the youth at the back, thanks to the return of the not-exactly-veteran Brett Johnson. Christian Jolley serves the final game of the ridiculous ban for his laughable red card in the first game, and Lee Minshull appears to be injured again, which ever the observant one I managed to miss… At least the virus that swept the club at the weekend seems to have died off, with Jon Main returning.  

I’m not going to guess the side because for some reason I think TB might have something up his sleeve for this one. Maybe thats wishful thinking, but I’ll be interested to see what line-up, and more importantly formation, he chooses tomorrow night. Whatever he decides, one thing is important and that is our support. I hope not too many of you have been put off by the televised status/potential cold and rain… tomorrow your team may need you…

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WUP 8.4

First published in November ’10 in WUP, my reaction to a shocking FA Cup draw, as Dons fans had to face the prospect of facing Them for the first time. Also, a round up of first round action where FCUM hit the headlines…

The blog post I refer to in the second paragraph can be read here.

I think all of us are going to remember where we were when ball five and ball thirteen somehow made their way out of the hat together, in the same manner everyone remembers where they were when JR was shot… sitting in front of the TV like everybody else… For me it was a very surreal moment, I’ve only ever felt like that before once a few years back, when I momentarily thought my finger was off after an incident involving a pen knife and an uncooperative tin of hot dogs. Fortunately my finger was at worst only mildly mutilated, and went on to make a full recovery… and AFC Wimbledon will too. Of course, thanks to the wonders of modern technology you got to read my thoughts on the draw mere hours after it happened, thanks to what at the time was just my feelings and initial reaction spilling forth onto a blank document, but went on to become the most widely read and influential few hundred words in Anonymous Don history… all two years of it. In fact the only post that to date has garnered more attention was a series of six photographs – no text – published shortly after the Hampton away game.

Some might say it was because I caught the zeitgeist. Others will say it had more to do with rival Dons bloggers being on holiday at the time. But for 48 hours, the usual handful of visitors a day were replaced by thousands worldwide as the post was linked from guestbook to message board, website to word of mouth. Which of course, rapidly raised the profile of the blog. Or should I say, rapidly inflated my ego to the point my head almost exploded. With so many people viewing, someone influential was bound to spot it sooner or later, or so I thought… and it all came to a head on Tuesday when I found myself being interviewed by Paxman on Newsnight giving my opinion on the whole gory episode, confidently batting off Paxo’s naive attempts to play Devils Advocate… in my head, of course, all in my head, as I walked to work that morning. Naturally, once the average football fans attention span moved elsewhere everything died down again, leaving me to get on with enjoying writing about football rather than staring at a rapidly increasing blog stats page.

Of course, by the time you get around to reading this article, the whole sorry situation could have blown over, as ITV sheepishly prepare to show the Ebbsfleet v Stevenage game. If it hasn’t, I would imagine there is a bit of a strange atmosphere at that Kettering game… But it does at least mean I am sort of justified in ignoring the whole sorry process from this point on. There was so much more to First Round weekend than the draw. Starting of course on Friday night at Spotland. Our friends up at FCUM had what looked like a plum tie, a great night out at a rival much further up the football pyramid – like us at Millwall last year you get the impression despite the relative league status the visitors were probably the bigger side. Football should have done the talking, to be honest I thought ESPN were having a laugh when they chose it as their Friday night game… we all knew FCUM would put up a decent battle in front of their army of fans, but it had 2-0 home win written all over it. Oh me of little faith.

It turned out to be one of those games that reaffirms your faith in the FA Cup. After I finally found a suspect website capable of streaming the match with sufficient quality to actually be able to spot the current official FA Cup ball… which truly is awful by the way. It’s apparently orange, but so dull there is a real possibility that irony will intervene, shall we see a second round game halted as the players cannot spot the ball amidst the mud on a threadbare pitch, forcing the referee to call for a white ball? Watching the Southport-Sheffield Wednesday game I found its barely more visible on a standard television set. What a cock-up, I’m sure ESPN and ITV were delighted with the decision… although ITV have been doing their very best to turn people off their football coverage for years now, I smell a conspiracy… Of course FCUM were accused of hypocrisy over their decision to switch their game to Friday night for TV, absolute nonsense of course… I was depressed but sadly not surprised to read isolated comments from other northern non-league sides along the lines of FCUM being disliked due to the perception they feel they ‘invented non-league football’… where have we heard comments such as these before? It’s nice to know jealousy is alive and well lower down the pyramid.

Unlike either of our encounters with League sides, FCUM got their moment of glory thanks to an almighty cock-up from the Rochdale keeper. It was one of those incidents you expect the referee to blow his whistle, and we all know the law is the goalkeeper should be in control of the ball, from the replay it appeared to be a very rare example of a goalkeeper having both hands touching the ball but NOT being in control of it. As Norton tapped in to the open net, you do wonder whether the referee might have had the four thousand or so FCUM fans behind him weighing on his mind as he decided whether or not to make a decision! Their victory, when confirmed, also led to another of those FA Cup traditions sadly lost to security madness over the last few years… the non-League clubs fans coming onto the field to chair their players back to the tunnel, and imagine if we ever did that – we would get hammered from all sides, including a sizeable minority within our own club!

While we were playing out possibly the worst cup tie of the weekend, the First Round was creating drama and excitement wherever you looked. The big story, certainly the one that struck me immediately when I got home, was Dover’s victory at Gillingham. The back story made it all the more sweet for Dover, I’m sure Andy Hessenthaler feels a bit of a wally right now… Dover are a club on the up, but I’m not sure this really signals a swing in power in Kent football, however if Gillingham continue to remain in the doldrums and Dover their impressive recovery of late, this could be a League fixture in a few years time. Another BSS club doing well were Woking, with Brighton top of League One they pulled out what should have been the hardest possible draw for them, but escaped with a replay. With a three division gap between the clubs, if you thought we were frustrated after the Ebbsfleet game imagine how Brighton fans must have felt…

Of course, the two games mentioned above must have been all the more sweet considering ITV deemed there no chance of an upset on either of them, instead sending their teams to Fleetwood (who didn’t quite manage it) and Harrow (who battled well but were always looking to make up too much of a gap). THe first round highlights package i just about the only highlights show I can remember when about a three-quarters of the way through it finally happens – you lose the will to watch any more football (especially if you do Match of the Day and flicked to the Football League Show during the adverts…). Fortunately, this year, ITV catered for this by screening the Dons highlights at the very moment that feeling kicks in – glad we could be of use for something on First Round day…

I never tire of telling people how much the FA Cup still means to me, and I presume it matters as much to all of you of a similar age (I was ten years old that hot May afternoon at Wembley in ’88). I can only hope by the time you read this we are still involved in the competition, and cross our fingers that we are looking forward to a tie next week that all of us can enjoy.

Further WUP articles can be found in the Features Index

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Potential Ebbsfleet Report Ruined…

I thought I’d leave it until Sunday before publishing my match report after last weeks Saturday night effort ended up as a full-on rant about the referee. Hang on, surely I’m justified in just rehashing it, changing all references of ‘Darlington’ to ‘Ebbsfleet’ and ‘defeat’ to ‘draw that means we face a pointless replay’…

Well, it might not be pointless. The draw is yet to take place as I write this, as Southport and Sheffield Wednesday trade goals, what I will say is thankfully there is a ten day gap to the replay, meaning the memory of yesterdays mind numbing showing will have all but faded, hopefully replaced by some FA Cup optimism that these two sides will serve up a bit more entertainment second time around.

For the second week in a row we find ourselves bemoaning a refereeing performance – the two sending off decisions were woeful, really poor. Most of the time the sort of challenge Christian Jolley made wouldn’t even justify a free-kick, for those of you who couldn’t make it the highlights on ITV didn’t quite capture the level of astonishment in the ground when the referee pulled out a red card.

Ebbsfleet’s Carew was equally unfortunate to go minutes later. Booked for a quite cynical tugback on Yussuff as the Dons looked to break early on, he then found himself picking up a second yellow for blocking a quick Dons free-kick. Yet he made no movement to block the ball, he just happened to have got back to his feet after the initial foul right in the path of where Moore intended the ball to go. His only crime seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time just when the referee was looking to make up for his earlier error – because subconciously at least I’m sure thats the only reason he was so keen to level up the sides.

Ten versus ten should have made more of a game of it, the contest was drab and uneventful up to that point. Both sides had gone close – Sebb Brown had to be alert to beat out a free kick from range, and Jolley had just got too much on the ball trying to divert a Sam Hatton header into the net. Ebbsfleet played two up front, relying on Shakes and Willock to make something happen, but they were too isolated and their midfield unadventurous.

At the other end it wasn’t really clicking for Wimbledon, while Jolley started well on the left,  Jackson repeatedly gave up possession on the other flank. Jacksons perfmorance was annoying in that he was up against Derek Duncan, a player who we all know loves a rash challenge now and again, and you felt he only had to knock it past him once to get him on a yellow and he would have been in his pocket all afternoon.

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And this is how far I got with my Ebbsfleet match report. I had plenty left to write albeit about a very dull game of football, but by this stage the draw for the second round was made, and all of a sudden a very large shadow was cast over this seasons FA Cup campaign. Shortly after, and in a completely unconnected incident, a large mirror fell off the wall downstairs taking out the phone socket and with it my broadband connection, until now…

I’ll put my thoughts into word shortly, in the mean time apologies to anyone dropping by expecting a full Ebbsfleet match report, maybe I should have found time to write it last night after all…

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Potential Banana Skin (Half An Ebbsfleet Preview…)

FA Cup First Round day looms, an afternoon (well, weekend these days) more exciting than Christmas and birthdays combined, by far the biggest event of the football season. Maybe until the Third Round, but we never get that far in the AFC era… At least we haven’t done yet, we have been handed possibly our best opportunity yet by mercifully not drawing the side running away with the division two above ours for a change. Which doesn’t mean Ebbsfleet shouldn’t be a nerve-wracking afternoon. On the contrary, I think I’ll be more nervous because we are expected to win.

I know some of you share my nerves. Last week I got an email from an intelligent, knowledgeable Dons fan relating to cheap train tickets up to Fleetwood in a few weeks time. Those of you who are one step ahead of the crowd will already have spotted the date clashes with the Second Round date. I have my suspicions this email was sent more with the motive of placating fate, the football gods, whatever you want to call it. Like there is some benign creator looking down thinking ‘Hmmm, these Dons fans are completely non-presumptuous about their First Round tie against a side lower in the league system than themselves, I think I will reward them by gifting them an easy 4-0 win…’. Having said that if we do go through to the second round, and draw Fleetwood away, I’m going to have some apologising to do…

I don’t blame those of you already putting the lucky pants to one side… I’ll be doing the same too. This one has ‘upset’ written all over it, Ebbsfleet have quietly put together an impressive run of form and bring with them not only Lorraine and Duncan, but former trialist Callum Willock, the man who could have been the man who Nathan Elder wasn’t… As well as that Lorraine has apparently been indulging in some good-natured banter with Dons stopper Sebb Brown. Having said that it makes the life of a professional footballer, for all its overwhelming benefits, sound a little tame compared to when I played against friends and ex-team mates in the parks on a Saturday morning… inane breakfast tv catchphrases don’t really compare with receiving text messages telling you you’re a paedo and your mums a slag, before you retaliate by drunk-dialling them repeatedly at 3.30am on the morning of the match…

To be honest I only realised the outside world will be viewing us as overwhelming favourites when I read the profile of Jon Champion on the OS (yes, I actually read the profile of Jon Champion on the OS…) and he was quoted as saying ‘If you hear your fans complaining that they switched on to watch AFC Wimbledon on the highlights and you were only on for ten minutes, that’s a good sign.’… Now at first all I thought was ‘Wow, we’re getting ten minutes of highlights on a major terrestrial tv station hours after the game finishes…’ but then it struck me the only reason ITV seem to be showing up is they are hoping we are going to fall on our arses. Still, ten minutes is pretty good, we rarely got that on Match of the Day back in the 90’s…

Of course, the squad responded to the news three players judged not good enough to play for the Dons are returning by putting in a performance that suggested there might have been at least eleven more that Terry missed. Thats harsh, of course it is, but we can only hope the Darlington performance, coupled with the memory of literally staggering into the next round at Basingstoke, will have focused the players minds a little.

In terms of team news, first off another episode of the unofficial Andre-watch series. The boy Blackman is back in the side tomorrow, however after Bush’s nightmare last week its more important than ever he has a good performance tomorrow. I think after his great start we expected Blackman might receive a bit of unwanted attention from other clubs once we reached the televised stages of this tournament, unfortunately the only unwanted attention he seems to be receiving at the moment relates to his apparently suspect temperament…

Which is a little unwarranted perhaps… one of the reasons Andre appears a little immature at times is because, well, he is still very young. Slamming seats when substituted is just the physical representation of the frustration ALL players feel in those circumstances, he’ll learn how to control it. I think the best reason for wanting Andre to succeed is unlike Bush, he is a contracted Dons player. I’m as much in favour of playing your best eleven as the next man, but when there isn’t much in it can we really be justified in playing a lad for the benefit of another team (i.e. Brentford). I thought Bush was highly regarded there, unless TB knows something we don’t and thinks there might be a chance of signing him in the summer…

Moving on, I’m having a bit of a crisis of confidence (which isn’t all that unusual). As you will remember, a couple of weeks ago I stated my belief that Steven Gregory was as important to the Dons as Danny Kedwell. Since then he has gone off the boil, as have the team. But I’m trying to work out whether Gregory has failed to impress because the team have been poor, or if the teams poor performances have shown Gregory in a negative light?

Perhaps that’s a topic for me to ponder on another occasion (here’s hoping it’s not the match report for this game, as that’ll probably mean we lost…) as the fact it is nearly time for FC United v Rochdale on Friday night more than betrays the fact I’ve effed up the timing of this preview – as it is its highly likely only a few post-pub drunks and early risers will read this anyway…

Predicted Dons line-up – Brown; Hatton, Yakubu, Harris, Blackman; Gregory, Moore S, Yussuff; Kedwell, Jackson, Jolley.

PS Congratulations to the youth who won their 1st Round game at Dartford. Their Second Round tie at home to Aldershot is just asking for a report from this blog…

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Helen Chamberlain And Norman Cook Have Given Us…

Ebbsfleet at home.

Although there was something of a cock-up when it was initially announced we would be playing ball 18, Exeter City, despite already having been drawn. Experienced broadcaster Jim Rosenthal eventually announced the correction, as I began to wonder whether the Devonians would be sending their reserves…

Yet Ebbsfleet it is. A quick return for them after their relegation last season, and a quicker return for Paul Lorraine and Derek Duncan, along with former Dons triallist Callum Willock. Its not exactly a draw thats going to get the casual Dons fan out of their sofa, but it is more than winnable and allows a decent chance of progression to the Second Round. Plus ITV are currently following Ebbsfleet on their Road To Wembley, which means the game should be featured on their highlights show beyond just showing the goals – it’ll be ‘special report’ rather than extensive highlights, but if we win that coverage will follow us into the next round. At least we won’t find ourselves playing on a Monday this time around…

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The Magic Failed To Make It (Basingstoke 0 AFC Wimbledon 1)

It’s too much, sometimes, to expect a game to live up to the expectations you place on it beforehand. I was torn beforehand between this turning out that the Dons turned up focused and romped to victory (baiting the Football Gods albeit) or a pulsating cup tie where the Dons ran out victors by the odd goal in plenty. In truth, it was neither, in fact it barely qualified as a football match… but still Wimbledon won. We now go through to the First Round Propa, with all the excitement and nervousness that brings.

Not that I wasn’t nervous or excited before this one, I was. But that pretty much evaporated within the first quarter-hour or so, as neither side showed they possessed the ability to take charge of the game, or even string more than a couple of passes together before tamely returning the ball to their opponents, or simply knocking it out of play. Perhaps that is unfair, the Dons did create a couple of openings in the first half, a Kedwell shot that might have been goal-bound had it not struck a Basingstoke mans arm on the way through (the myopic linesman on the dugout side was having none of it…), and Ricky Wellard wriggled through before slipping when well positioned… In fact a few slipped over on a pitch that seemed neither one thing or another – it was slick and relatively short, but seemed pretty thick and held the ball up on occasions.

Not that either side had much of an excuse, this was dire stuff. You know its a poor game when the off-field conversation turns away from the match and on to ever more random topics. In fact it was a strange atmosphere really, the Dons fans were strung around three sides of the pitch and there was no one area that focussed on getting chants and songs started, if it hadn’t been so cold it could have passed for a pre-season game. The Magic of the FA Cup is still alive and kicking, but I’m not sure which courier the FA use but The Magic failed to make it to this match.

Enough Dons players were switched on enough to ensure Basingstoke’s threat remained a remote one, and poor finishing  let the hosts down badly, although to be fair the Dons restricted them to efforts from range. Going forward it wasn’t quite happening for Christian Jolley down the left, Ryan Jackson was having more luck on his flank. To the point that at one point an esteemed fellow blogger voiced his concern that we overuse him. I thought about that a bit, and although that might seem so on days like today we do like to use both flanks and you can’t expect both young players to deliver every time. There have been occasions when Jolley has looked the bigger threat, and you have to remember Ryan is fortunate to have the impeccable Sam Hatton backing him up.

Jolley had Andre Blackman behind him, and did Andre take his opportunity with both hands? Erm… Actually ‘Erm…’ is probably an acceptable answer under these circumstances, Basingstoke didn’t overly test him this afternoon but he put in a couple of solid challenges, one of which saw him pick up a minor knock. He didn’t pick up a booking, nor looked like getting one (although you never know with Andre…), and showed no sign before that of the red mist descending. Yet because of the knock he was withdrawn late in the second half, much to his great annoyance. Yes, he took his frustrations out on the bench (that is the physical bench rather than those sitting on it…), but that because he knows he probably didn’t do enough to guarantee himself a start against Darlington next Saturday. He’ll get another chance in R1 though…

One performance I do need to pick out is that of Sebb Brown. On a day when he wasn’t really tested he showed excellent concentration and alertness on the occasions he was called into action, and his decision-making on high balls is coming into its own. Sticking high balls into the box has been the undoing of many a young keeper (including the Anonymous Don…), Sebb knows he can’t come for everything, and he can’t catch every ball he does come for. Last season, without the confidence that comes from being Number One for club and country, he may have flapped at a few of those balls, but today we saw a couple of well-timed punches, the ball ending up far from the danger area.

A less limited team would have caused us problems today, we could have had it a lot tougher undoubtedly, but we should be grateful for our victory. In effect it’s all we can ask for from our side in cup competition – especially the most important of them all. It won’t be a game that will live long in the memory, it didn’t need to be, but it gives us the opportunity of games that certainly will…

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