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.
42:Unbelievable save from Leutwiler after Tubbs smashes in a snap shot inside the Town box and Woods there to block the rebound #salop
— Shrewsbury Town FC (@shrewsweb) August 9, 2014
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.
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.
Bayo fires just over the crossbar and that brings more of those "Beast" chants from the Chemflow End. Gonna hear it a lot this season!
— AFC Wimbledon (@AFCWimbledon) August 9, 2014
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.
Already liking the Tubbs/Bayo partnership. Bayo's hold up play is obviously excellent, but Tubbs constantly plays on the shoulder. Clever.
— Nico (@AFCWnico) August 9, 2014
“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.
— Anthony Spencer (@ant_spencer) August 9, 2014
“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.
“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.”
Over the moon to have signed a contract extension to keep me at the club for another 2 years. ⚽️?. Up the dons #afcwimbledon
— Barry Fuller (@barryfuller2) August 9, 2014
The internal competition can only be beneficial for Wimbledon this season.
Read more on the WDSA forum match thread
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