THE accepted football wisdom is to give a team 10 games into a new season to get a proper perspective. So what have we learnt after a head-shaking 4-1 loss to Newport County perched a couple of rungs below following on from back-to-back home wins over the leaders and a top four side?
Wimbledon have perfected the art of being consistently inconsistent, a trait synonymous with a mid-table outfit and which conveniently is what the Dons are 10 games in: 12th.
The Dons were two points and one league place better off at the same stage last season before winning just nine of their remaining 36 games — one in four — and petering out to 20th.
The proof in the pudding for this season’s Wimbledon will be to show they have the capability of staying roughly where they are right now over the course of the season.
If that comes across as sounding distinctly unambitious it just reflects the current available evidence. The Dons just do not have the consistency of results to be considered a play-off contender and yet right now they are just one point outside the top seven albeit with their goal difference wiped out to zero.
To some this will be considered a failure given the considerable effort by the Club and fans to attract some big names for this tier in the Football League. Some believed this guaranteed the Dons would be challenging for the playoffs — and with over three-quarters of the season to play that might yet still be the case.
— Dave Morgan (@davidmorgan359) September 27, 2014
In a WDSA poll over 50 per cent of respondents believed the Dons would finish between eighth and 12th while another 20 per cent were emboldened enough to forecast a place in the play-offs.
But while Matt Tubbs and Adebayo Akinfenwa are doing what they were brought in to do and score goals, the Dons defence is equally shipping goals for fun. Sixteen in 10 games and inexperience is certainly not a contributing factor for that.
The errors, cock-ups, misjudgments just keep on coming, never more apparent than in the sloppy defending at Rodney Parade in south Wales on Saturday where the defence relinquished any chance the Dons had of remaining undefeated in seven encounters with Newport County.
@AFCWimbledon Beat 2 of the top sides and then lose to a team made up of old Wimbledon players…
— Daniel Divine (@DanielRDivine) September 27, 2014
The calamities were even more confounding after the same defence marshalled two merited clean sheets in the previous back-to-back wins over Burton Albion and Morecambe and yet conceded four against 15th-placed Newport.
If Neal Ardley was harbouring a way of bringing Andy Frampton back into the starting lineup, he will not have to offer much by way of explanation if he does decide to make a change, although Framps may not be quite ready for the call after going over on his ankle again at training last week.
Ardley has talked about working on the ‘defensive mentality’ and while that might have carried some substance after the stoic Burton and Morecambe performances, it plainly wasn’t evident at Newport.
So do you persist with the shaky status-quo or do you look elsewhere within the squad for answers? If you have 32 and 34 year-old centre-backs contributing to the same problems, surely you cannot say it’s down to their inexperience. But that’s the call for the gaffer to make if he considers he has someone better to come in.
Wimbledon were well in the contest at half-time despite conceding a soft goal, again off a set-piece, in the 18th minute to former Dons defender Ismail Yakubu. Barry Fuller directed a poor back header that went straight out and from the corner Yakubu was left unmarked to power home a header.
Well, @AFCWimbledon concede a goal 19 secs into the 2nd half… great half time team talk that was!!
— Martin Allen (@MartinAllenSmth) September 27, 2014
Yet just 20 seconds into the second-half from the Dons kick-off and Akinfenwa running at the defence, Newport hit back off a hopeful clearance. Though James Shea reached a through ball before Chris Zebroski could get there, he could only divert the ball into Joe Pigott’s path and the on-loan striker from Charlton slotted home for 2-0 and the Dons were chasing the game.
It got worse for Wimbledon in the 65th minute as Pigott found space just inside the area and his strike took a wicked deflection off Adam Barrett and left Shea with no chance.
Akinfenwa, who was thwarted by a fine double save from Newport goalkeeper Joe Day, pulled one back and his fourth goal in three games when he headed a Callum Kennedy cross into the roof of the net with 20 minutes left.
Ade Azeez and last season’s goal hero Kevin Sainte-Luce were introduced and the Dons began to threaten with Akinfenwa proving to be an aerial menace. Tubbs missed a late chance, but Newport killed them off with a breakaway goal from substitute Aaron O’Connor.
Referee puts this mortally wounded result out of its misery. 4-1 to Newport at full time.
— Radio WDON (@RadioWDON) September 27, 2014
Although the margin was clear-cut, Ardley said there was not much between the two teams.
“I did not think it was a 4-1 game even though the result tells you otherwise,” he said. “Though we needed to raise our game a little at half-time, there was not much between the two teams.
“I thought we had goals in us and we would finish the game strongly and we had chances to score five in the end. Their chances in the second-half came when we were chasing the game and that’s always going to happen.
Another terrific performance from #NewportCounty today. Enjoyed the battle between Akinfenwa&Yakubu. The Yak may need a week off to recover!
— Mark Poyser (@MAPoyser) September 27, 2014
“The moment that changed the game was straight after half-time. That’s not good enough and we’ve spoken about that in the changing room. We have to make the opposition work harder to score goals.”
As is so often the case with Wimbledon, it’s one step forward and another step back but fans will be keen to see how the team respond at ninth-placed Cheltenham Town next weekend.
— Joe Moger. (@JoeMoger) September 27, 2014
“I’m disappointed for the fans and also because we had been on a good run and our confidence may take a knock. But we never let our heads drop when we went 3-0 down,” Ardley said.
“We showed desire, effort and energy to get back into the game, but we conceded silly goals in the match. Matt Tubbs missed a great chance when it was 3-1 and Ade Azeez had a goal ruled out for a dubious offside. I don’t look at it and think that we are a poor team and we got pummelled. We chased the game and conceded rubbish goals.”
While the Dons find it difficult to string good games consistently together it’s now seven unbeaten games for Newport County.
“I am thoroughly delighted, we’ve not been clinical enough of late and today we were and were worthy of the three points,” their manager Justin Edinburgh said.
“We scored goals at the right times, the first was a reward for being on top and getting the second so close to the re-start really gave us that foothold in the game that we needed.
— Robert Smith (@OnyaDon) September 27, 2014
“We exploited the space in the second half because they had to chase us and we managed to score some good goals in the process.
“I think we have continued to progress this season with our performances and today we had to be really solid and I thought our back three were magnificent against a real handful.”
Read more views on the WDSA forum match thread