Three games and three weeks after having been conclusively turned over by those nasty ruffians from Crawley and their extraordinarily uncouth manager, the AFC Wimbledon travelling jamboree licked their scratches and grazes and came again, writes IAIN SANDFORD.
This time the location promised to be far more hospitable. If Crawley’s concrete jungle of dank underpasses and multi-storey car parks on a finger-numbingly cold late winter Friday evening represents my own private hell, then a leisurely jaunt up the M11 in early Spring Saturday sunshine to the resplendent Cambridge represents just the opposite.
Despite having won our intervening two home games, the mood was expectantly tense before the match as we realised its pivotal importance in our chase for the Conference play-offs.
Pre-match chatter turned to which players were up to the rigours of Conference football and which weren’t. I made my own views very clear. Luke Moore was the first name on my list of players who just couldn’t cut the mustard at this level. “Not enough physical strength, flits in and out of games, a bit flakey…” This was about as robust as my argument got but I was nevertheless adamant. Luke Moore wasn’t up to it.
Fast forward two hours and I was humiliatingly eating every crumb of every word that I had uttered earlier. The 2-1 victory at Cambridge was when everything clicked into place for Terry Brown’s side and for the rest of that season, right up until the play-off final, we were treated to a banquet of free flowing, winning football. And at the heart of everything that was good about those performances, knitting the play together from his advanced midfield position and generally playing clever and intuitive football, was one Luke Moore.
Fast forward again – this time two years. To the equivalent April Saturday in the footballing calendar. On the footballing front, everything has changed. The League we’re in, the management team, the style of football we play, the players – they have all changed.
This time we’re right in the thick of a prolonged relegation battle that is suffocating in its intensity. We’re now playing survival football, we’re playing the percentages and the stats that hopefully will get us out of the relegation mire.
The 2-2 draw we played out against Exeter at the Fortress Cherry Red that afternoon demanded resilience, strong heads and stout hearts. And who was it that personified those virtues by scoring the two goals that rescued a point and kept us in the hunt for survival? Yes, it was Luke Moore, the only surviving name that features in both the AFC Wimbledon team sheets of April 2011 and April 2013.
There are two other key Luke Moore moments that spring to mind. The crucial, nerveless second penalty high into the net that enabled us to maintain the critical momentum in the Eastlands shoot-out against Luton. And the winning left-footed strike against Port Vale in January last season that broke the back of a debilitating run of win less matches and launched a mini-revival that was to save our season and Terry Brown’s job…for now.
So Terry rated Luke Moore. Neal Ardley – who you sense doesn’t suffer mediocrity gladly – rates Luke Moore. And his team mates clearly rate Luke Moore – he recently picked up the Players’ Player of the Year Award for his stirring displays in this most embattled of seasons. AFC Wimbledon’s longest-serving player works prodigiously hard, is versatile and scores important goals.
And yet throughout his four years with AFC Wimbledon, Luke has had his steady flow of detractors and brickbats. But he’s won me round and now it’s time to win all of the other doubters round.
So when you’re drawing up your mental list of who Neal Ardley should retain and who he should let go this summer, just study the evidence before making your choices.
I, for one, sincerely hope that Luke Moore ain’t going anywhere this summer. He has made a major contribution to AFC Wimbledon’s recent history, he obviously loves the club and gives us the thread of continuity that I believe every successful football club needs.
As Chumbawamba once put: I get knocked down, But I get up again, You nay ever gonna keep me down. Luke Moore – AFC Wimbledon’s Resurrection Man!