Matt Tubbs3
Matt Tubbs .. just 26 minutes to score first league goal for Dons.

TWO points dropped late on against a side likely to figure in the promotion hunt, but there were also plenty of positives in Wimbledon’s first hit out of the season against Shrewsbury Town at Kingsmeadow on Saturday.

The Dons recovered from going behind after nine minutes to be 2-1 up through debut goals from Matt Tubbs and Sean Rigg before one-time player of interest James Collins nabbed his second goal with six minutes left to get the Shrews a 2-2 draw.

Sure, Wimbledon can bemoan throwing away an opening day victory over a team generally expected to be challenging for promotion, but on reflection there was much to like for a rebuilt side coming off last season’s 20th place.

At least the forward line of Adebayo Akinfenwa, Matt Tubbs and Sean Rigg presented some goal threat, George Francomb looked sharp on the right flank and newcomers Dannie Bulman and Jack Smith showed enough to suggest they will become influential figures.

Adam Barrett will only develop a better understanding with the back four after being flung into the breach late in the week as an emergency loan signing for the sidelined Andy Frampton and James Shea, preferred as first-choice goalkeeper to last season’s unchallenged custodian Ross Worner, will only get better with more outings.

There were some murmurs over Neal Ardley’s reluctance over substitutions in the final 15 minutes as the Shrews were tightening the screws, with Kevin Sainte-Luce not introduced until stoppage time and groggy skipper Alan Bennett replaced by Mark Phillips after copping an elbow which may place him in doubt for Tuesday’s trip to Milton Keynes for a League Cup tie.

Adebayo Akinfenwa2
Adebayo Akinfenwa …. ‘Beast, Beast’ chant around the Meadow.

Even though Ardley excelled over the summer months with some stunning player acquisitions, there are those lurking and ready to pounce and decry his inadequacies as the Dons gaffer. As much as some of the big names are being watched, so too is Ardley and his ability to bring it all together. As if we needed no reminding, football is very much a game of opinions.

So what did we learn from game one? The Beast’s  hold up play was a different gravy to last season’s fare. Tubbsy needed only 26 minutes to net his first official goal for the Dons and the pair’s chemistry and intuition will reap goals if Wimbledon are to take up occupancy in the top half of League Two this campaign.

Rigg and Francomb give the Dons attacking width on both flanks and if Ardley can find the right midfield partner for bulwark Bulman then a supply of possession can lead to a steady stream of ammunition for Bayo and Tubbs to fire the bullets.

But Wimbledon aficionados these things do take time, so patience please, give it time to gel. There are plenty of challenges and with it opportunities ahead as long as injuries and suspensions don’t get unduly in the way.

The fixtures list has thrown up a testing start to the season. After the Milton Keynes Cup diversion in mid-week comes a visit to newly promoted Luton Town next weekend, then away to Southend United, who reached the playoffs last season and are fancied to do it again.

“We always had a goal threat, which was something we talked about after last season,” Ardley said.

“It was a great ball in and great movement from Matt Tubbs for our first goal. I thought after the first 20 minutes we were the better team until the last 10-15 minutes.

“I’m learning all the time and I know I’m not the finished article by any stretch of the imagination.  I am trying to come up with a formula that can win us games in League 2 consistently.

“We feel that we’ve got good players in. We just have to ensure that everyone is on the same page – which we do in training – so that we all know how we are trying to achieve our goals.

Ross Worner
Ross Worner … told to up his game to answer James Shea challenge.

“It’s probably the best team Wimbledon have ever had on paper. I’ve got the try to make sure that on grass, it shows. We’re really happy with our squad and we’ll try to keep them all fit – that’s the main thing.

One player from last season’s squad whose place can no longer be taken for granted is Ross Worner as first-choice goalkeeper with the arrival of James Shea.

“I said to him at the end of last season I would bring someone in to challenge him, I didn’t have that last season. I said to them both whoever did best in preseason would start the first game and I’ve stuck to my word,” Ardley said.

“I want Ross to up his game in training so that if anything happens to Shea, be it loss of form or injury, Ross comes in and says ‘it’s mine now.”

The internal competition can only be beneficial for Wimbledon this season.

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  1. Don’t really want to slaughter the boys after one game – as I didn’t feel there was a lack of effort.

    That said, I found much of yesterday depressingly similar to last year’s fare at KM. And that situation rests with our management team who still have a lot of work to do…

    Two terrible goals conceded, some pedestrian attacking and very poor ball retention – especially in the final twenty minutes. We were screaming out for subs from 60 minutes onward and no action taken. A paucity of attacking pace means our play has to be that much more precise. There was quite a lot of directionless passing which got worse as tiredness kicked in.

    We didn’t look nearly fit enough. The Shrews had ‘legs’ and composure until the final whistle.

    They doubled up on our wide men, while we always seem to be outnumbered when defending those same situations on the flanks. So some work on shape and organisation required.

    Neal’s quite fathomless logic for crowding his own penalty area with players on free kicks and corners will not help his new keeper and fails to offer any sort of ‘out ball’ if we win the first header or clear our lines. There may be only one team going to score from this situation but our approach will not (IMO) significantly reduce the number of goals we concede over the season.

    Still no really consistent dead ball quality. One useful set piece all afternoon dragging the Shrews into their front post and leaving Bayo one-on-one at the far stick.

    So, plus points: Bayo did hold the ball up well and offered a few neat lay offs and flick-ons; Tubbs did seem to know where these were going and offered something off the ball even though he’s not nearly up to speed – took his goal well. Bulman was typically, er, bullish(!) and will make a better first choice no.4 than Sammy. (Whether Sammy is really an ‘8’ is debatable, but there isn’t a better option right now).

    I realise this comes over as a bit whingey given we’ve only played one fixture but thought it worthy recording some disappointment so we can all enjoy the management team sticking it to me by ironing these (and no doubt other) issues out as the campaign progresses. 😉


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