SEVEN months in the making. Neal Ardley has in all likelihood been waiting to put his full imprint on his team. The jettisoning of nine players means there are just nine players left of the free-falling Wimbledon squad he inherited from Terry Brown last October.
Give or take a couple of consolatory pats on the back, surely there were no grievances about Ardley’s cull. For a team that was 18 minutes away from relegation on the final day and encumbered by the worst defence in League 2, it compelled Ardley to act without sentimentality. Give the gaffer full marks for biting down hard on the bullet.
Wimbledon only scrambled over the line buttressed by the leadership and experience of the players he recruited during the January transfer window. Given that outcome there must be confidence that Ardley can once again identify the players he needs to strengthen the Dons and avoid another gruelling season like we all endured. The trick will be in competing with other better-resourced clubs pursuing the same available talent.
A case in point is Jon Meades. An outstanding success as an extended loan from Ardley’s contacts at Cardiff City, Meades was widely expected to rush and sign a permanent deal with Wimbledon after his release from Bournemouth. He had a whale of a time with the lads in the Vegas post-season piss up and it was accepted he would be one of us next season.
But other clubs have seen what Meades did at Wimbledon and are prepared to offer the Welshman more. It would be heart-warming to think that Meades will take less money and sign for the Dons, but what would you do in a similiar situation in your work-place? The moral is don’t count your chickens until Erik posts the player signing confirmation on the official web-site. Remember what happened only last January with Steven Gregory and Gillingham?
We all might think that AFC Wimbledon is pretty special, and it is. But when players talk turkey it usually is to the highest bidder. Hope all this economic rationalising is wrong.
So Ardley has made the call and he now faces the task of rebuilding the squad in his image. An obvious priority will be in the decrepit defence where he has discarded Pim Balkestein, skipper Mat Mitchel-King, Curtis Osano, Kelly Youga and failed to offer one-time Dons hero Chris Hussey a longer term deal.
He will use likely new skipper Alan Bennett as his cornerstone and he still has Will Antwi, Jim Fenlon and perhaps a redeployed Warren Cummings, who was signed for two seasons by Terry Brown yet only made 9 league appearances and disappeared from view after playing at Rochdale on January 5. Some are suggesting one way of utilising Cummings in his second season could be in a youth coaching role at the Club.
Rumours have linked the Dons with Aldershot captain and right-back Ben Herd and a low-key target in the Conference South. But rumours will be swirling about possible targets in the coming months and patience will be the operative word.
Ardley said offers have been made to John Sullivan, Luke Moore, Charlie Strutton and Kevin Sainte-Luce. You would expect Moore, Strutton and KSL to re-commit, while there may be other clubs encircling Sullivan.
“We have made an offer to John Sullivan. John is a good goalkeeper and hopefully he enjoyed it here enough at the end of last season to stay with us,” Ardley said.
“These players have been told that next season there will not be anything here for them. That is the disappointing part of my job because all of them have been hard-working and have had a fantastic attitude.
“It’s sad, but that’s football, and if you are trying to progress and shape the team the way you want it, then these things have to happen.
“They played a really big part in getting us over the line at the end of last season. Unfortunately, the league does not lie though and we ended up near the bottom.”
Midfielders Sammy Moore, Harry Pell and Peter Sweeney, recovering from a broken foot, are already contracted, while squad men Stacy Long, Rashid Yussuff and Louis Harris were let go. Jack Midson is the lone forward on the books after the release of Jason Prior and uncertainty over whether Crawley Town will keep Gary Alexander for his remaining season.
Prior’s release was difficult for some fans to accept after he fought back from a broken leg to play a role in the remaining two games of the season but he was deemed not the same player after his promising career was shattered by a horrific tackle by Crawley’s Hope Akpan in April last year.
You can only sympathise with Prior who said on Twitter:” Looking forward to a new challenge and hopefully avoiding leg breakers for the foreseeable future! Thanks to the well wishers and everyone at Wimbledon. Gutted how my time at the club turned out wish you all the best for the future….”
Now we wait and see what squad Ardley can assemble in the coming months. It should be fascinating.
UPDATE: John Sullivan has signed with League 2 rivals Portsmouth.
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