ZERO to hero. Stacy Long put the smiles back on Wimbledon’s haggard faces with his stoppage-time penalty to give the Dons a winning start to 2013 and part down payment for the points needed for the Club’s Football League survival at Torquay on New Year’s Day.
Only three days before Long was looking for the earth to swallow him whole when his oopsie daisy back header gifted Oxford United their third deflating goal to kill off any remote hopes the Dons had of a fightback.
But at Plainmoor Long accepted the responsibility for clinching all three vital points when Rashid Yussuff was brought down in the box by Australian defender Aaron Downes, who unsuccessfully trialled for a Dons’ contract in pre-season.
Devon is proving a delicious locale for the Dons. Back in October Yussuff fired home the winner over Plymouth in injury-time for a 2-1 victory.
The Dons, seizing on anything that heralds a turnaround in fortunes after the 2012 annus horribilis, are hoping it is a sign of better times ahead, at least that is what Neal Ardley is thinking.
“Today was vital for us and that last minute could be a major turning point in our season,” exhaled Ardley. The jury’s still out on that one, there’s a couple of testers coming up this month, but hey, as they say a win is a win is a win.
But the performance, coming on the eve of what is expected to be a transit lounge of comings-and-goings in the January transfer window, was a welcome bonus three points as anxious Dons fans count down the number required to ensure League Two survival.
And just what is that target? The number of points needed to avoid the drop in the past ten seasons has been: (last season first) 46, 48, 48, 41, 47, 48, 52, 44, 49, 49. Average that out and the mean target is around 47. So the Dons, currently (still bottom feeding the table) on 22 points, have about 25, or better still 28 points, to be sure of staying up.
But it won’t be all one-way traffic with the Dons in the mix to get a couple of experienced players in throughout this month. If the mooted Fenlon deal does come off and the Club does get some decent money out of the transaction, then there could be some interesting outcomes, although realistically Wimbledon is competing in the market place against other far better resourced clubs, so we have to be grounded about any prospect of a rush of quality signings, particularly for a club 92nd in the Football League.
Wheeler-dealer extraordinaire Harry Redknapp said something interesting the other day about dealing in the transfer window, which is prescient for all participants. “Who’s going to let people go? People hold you to ransom if they know you’re desperate. It’s a very difficult time… I’ve got a list of names, obviously. But getting them isn’t easy and it’s all about getting value.”
Throughout this whole bartering process it will be insightful how an inexperienced manager as Neal Ardley will handle the tricky business of getting in the players who CAN make a difference in the confines of Wimbledon’s budget (remember that bucket collection at the Oxford game?) and given the club’s unappealing league position and at the same shunting off a couple of the current squad superfluous to requirements.
One player NA may be keen to keep from the welter of loaned players is Toby Ajala, who was incisive going forward and gives the team an attacking outlet.
As one fan put it: “Toby Ajala should take a bow for today’s performance. He’s finally given us an out ball from the back (on occasions we attempt one rather than hoofing it anywhere) and he had their defence looking worried every time he ran at them. Delivery of the final ball is impoving with confidence but work rate-wise I thought he was outstanding today.”
He was loaned in from Bristol City and Ardley will do well to keep the 21-year-old winger at Kingsmeadow for an extended spell if Bristol City decide they do want to keep him after what he has been showing in the first matches in the Football League.
As little-used Ryan Hervel said with relief…
Another relieved soul was West Ham loanee Paul McCallum, who after playing with cards in his first two games, grabbed the Dons opener in the fifth minute for his first Football League goal.
Ardley made a couple of big calls but gave credit to the team after giving them a severe bollocking for their dreadful showing at home to Oxford.
“On a terrible pitch, the boys dug deep and got the result. They nearly threw it away. It is a credit to the boys that they lost the lead twice and still came back and won it. That was brilliant for us,” he said.
“With the pitch the way it was, we had to work hard and play the percentages. Though we started brightly, we had a spell when we got a lot of things wrong. In our shape, I thought we were too open and one or two players were not contributing enough. We made a couple of changes at half-time to make us more compact.”
One of those changes was last season’s leading scorer Jack Midson, making way for Jason Prior.
But frowns made way for smiles for the first time since the last win in the League at York City on November 10.
As Ray Armfield cheekily blagged:”Helen Chamberlain, Basil Fawlty, Miranda Hart, Agatha Christie…..your boys got a hell of a beating 🙂 . ” It was that kind of day.