NO ONE could have envisaged Wimbledon going into their fourth season of League Two would have Adebayo Akinfenwa, Matt Tubbs and Dannie Bulman in their ranks plus some handy buys in Sean Rigg, Jack Smith and Mark Phillips. Maybe some of them, but not all, writes OnyaDon.
It has been quite a coup for Neal Ardley and his management team and one that has not only raised eyes within the Wimbledon camp but outside of it as well.
Expectations have understandably been heightened, some have even suggested making the play-offs but we can take it that we are fully expecting to do better than last season’s 20th spot and the miserly 49 goals, and so we should.
So where will the Dons finish this season? If you go by WDSA’s ever-expanding Pundits Poll and take a mean average it will be ninth.
That’s just outside the play-off slots but a significant jump on last season’s resting place of 20th [after the deduction of three competition points].
The poll of 28 long-time fans, absolute legends and club high-rollers were asked to place the Dons before a ball was kicked. The outcome was fascinating and instructive.
Thirteen [almost half] tipped the team to make the play-offs; while the remaining 15 plumped for between 9th to 14th. No one is countenancing a relegation struggle in line with the last three seasons. They are expecting a distinct improvement in fortunes.
For my part I am going for a ‘100% improvement’ in places from 20th to 10th. While the addition of some high-profile stars (by L2 standards) is tempting to let the emotions run wild, I am held back in going after a tilt at promotion for these reasons.
Wimbledon are heavily reliant on Bayo and Tubbs; there isn’t a sturdy contingency and of course funds dictated that; we’re putting all our eggs into one basket.
It might all go spectacularly well, but it has to run for us. So too with the size of the squad. Already Andy Frampton is on the sidelines for a couple of months; a key man and Ardley will be eager for a relatively injury-free run.
At this stage, before the opening game against promotion fancies Shrewsbury Town, I am waiting to see how the team beds down in the opening 10 games, before any re-assessing.
The bookies are not overly impressed and have the Dons on the 17th line of betting at 8/1 to be promoted.
Neal Ardley will also have to show a resilience with tactics/formations on last season’s tweaking to convince he is a manager of a potential promotion-chasing side. As much as the new-look team is on trial, so too is Ardley as manager.
As much as we want to see Ards do well, he has to pull all the pieces together to make this thing work. He now, most definitely, has the players he wants. He has done exceptionally well to get them all to commit, it’s beyond our expectations, but the gaffer will face a number of varying challenges ahead.
As much as Bayo, Tubbs and Bulman are key men, so too is Ardley and how he guides the ship.
It has, indeed, been some off-season of recruiting and Ardley has upped the ante. The gaffer is expecting more, so are the fans. A modest incremental climb up the standings will not be rapturously received given the ammunition now available.
No, we have some players here on first name terms with success. We should expect that it will carry on this season. But there are no guarantees here. We’ve heard it before (in one particular painful incidence some time ago and too close to home) that teams are too good to go down.
So we shouldn’t take it as read that Wimbledon are too good NOT to succeed, that everything will click and points will flow in. It doesn’t necessarily work that way.
Ardley’s demanding task now after landing those targets, is to make it all work; make it gel; get the team playing as one; get everyone on the same hymn sheet. That is not necessarily straight forward to achieve. Ardley’s managerial reputation could hinge on it.
Just to underline the uncertain vagaries that befall football teams comes the unwelcome news that defensive linchpin Andy Frampton broke his ankle while training in Spain and is out for eight weeks.
The concern is that Frampton, turning 35 in September, will be out of action for longer than that — ankle fractures are notoriously slow healing, after all you have to keep off them in the recuperative stages — and he may not be the force we were expecting him to be this season.
Coming off his shoulder injury which cost him seven weeks last season, Frampton now has another long-term setback and will severely test Ardley’s plans to go into the new season with a smaller squad. These are the risks you take running with such a policy.
It is just very unfortunate that it has struck before the start of the season and to one of the squad’s key players. What happens if something similar happens to Akinfenwa or Tubbs and the heavy responsibility they share to score the goals to get Wimbledon up the L2 table?
There is a fine line operating at Wimbledon this season and luck will also have a big hand in what plays out over the next nine months.
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