IT SEEMS we’ve reached the crossroads already. Sixteen games in, just over a third of the season gone and Neal Ardley is emptying out on his players after a none too clever 0-2 loss at an all too familiar nemesis Northampton Town. What a load of old cobblers.
That’s against a team who had lost their last four games; their last three at home and had not won at Sixfields since mid-September, while manager Chris Wilder was banished from the touchline. Some might say Northampton was there for the taking.
The Cobblers were below the Dons on the table (admittedly that means little in a Wimbledon context), but in what is becoming a depressingly recurring theme the Dons were not up for it, they were unthreatening, flat.
Losing two nil away at Northampton is a buggeringly poor result. And creating no chances again is maddening.
— Charlie Talbot (@charlietabloid) November 1, 2014
A damning stat is that Wimbledon have the fewest shots on goal in League 2 bar Hartlepool and yet have two of the best strikers in the league.
The momentum from wins over leaders Burton Albion and Bury has long gone. Four matches now with no wins and just two goals. The goals have dried up for Matt Tubbs. He’s not scored in four games while the defence keep conceding.
It was all too much for Neal Ardley and he put the boot in to his players.
“It’s important for me to apologise to the (468) travelling fans because that wasn’t acceptable,” the gaffer let fly. “We were second to everything, out-fought, out-run, we had no quality and we didn’t face adversity very well.
No shots on target and no corners?! Very poor. We seem to be getting found out at the moment #afcwimbledon
— Tim Lloyd (@Tim_Lloyd1) November 2, 2014
“The disappointing thing today was we lost because the opposition’s mentality was better than ours. We weren’t good enough all over the pitch.”
While that might save Ardley from kicking the cat, it’s a worrying development in the context of the season. The players Ardley is berating are supposedly battle-hardened, seen-it-all-before Football League pros. They were brought in this season with the purpose of improving the squad, making the team harder to beat, instilling a competitive edge.
And now Ardley is telling us they were second best all over the pitch, Northampton players worked harder than our boys and wanted it more.
We have now recorded 6 league wins this season. Last season it took us until 11th Feb (29 games) to record 6 league wins. #ProudToBe
— Northampton Town (@ntfc) November 1, 2014
Makes you wonder what Adebayo Akinfenwa, Dannie Bulman, Adam Barrett, Barry Fuller, Andy Frampton, Jack Smith and Matt Tubbs think about that.
Fans will rightfully point out that Ardley said the same things about his players last season, when the team limped home just above relegation.
We supposedly have our best-ever squad, yet heading into November, the Dons are drifting down the table. This is not how it was supposed to be.
This result will inevitably draw out Ardley’s detractors, keen to point out the common denominator in all this. As much as Dons fans filed out of Sixfields in disgust at what they had seen, it all only adds to the task confronting Ardley to find some answers and sharpish.
The gaffer went some of the way to addressing problems of creativity in the midfield by getting 20-year-old Frankie Sutherland in on a month’s loan from QPR. Sutherland came on for last 20 minutes for George Francomb and it was his pass for Bulman set up a chance for Akinfenwa, but he headed wide.
Expect Sutherland to feature more next week in the FA Cup tie at York City, but he’s not going to be the complete answer. Ardley has some work to do.
But the more things change, the more they stay the same. Wimbledon’s loss continued a depressing run against Northampton Town. The Dons have just two draws in seven encounters with the other five ending in defeat. Wimbledon snared a fighting point deep in stoppage time on their previous visit to Sixfields last season.
“Northampton had bundles of injuries and they had to put out a patched-up team,” Ardley said. “It’s a long, hard marathon of a season, but it is a concern when the opposition do what League 2 demands better than you.
Northampton PA: "welcome to those who have travelled from Wimbledon. Hope you made the appropriate gestures on your way past Milton Keynes"
— Timothy Green (@Timothy_Green) November 1, 2014
“Their first goal came from something that we work on every day in training. It came from a throw-in and two experienced players who should know how to defend that did not do it.”
With Tom Beere missing out on a place in the squad because of a toe infection, fellow youth player George Oakley came off the bench in injury time to make his Dons first-team debut. That’s the third home-grown player along with Ben Harrison to play in the first-team this season. But that will be lost in the fall-out over the performance at Sixfields.
Northampton fans were anxious that old Cobbler Bayo Akinfenwa would come back to haunt them with a goal at his former home ground.
They gave The Beast a rousing ovation as he left the pitch following the pre-match warm-up and clearly there is still plenty of affection for the big man at Northampton Town.
Just spoke to Bayo. Said it was 'emotional and bittersweet'. Delighted for Alex Nicholls, said "some things are bigger than football"
— Jefferson Lake (@JeffersonLake) November 1, 2014
Akinfenwa is the 10th highest goalscorer in Northampton Town history, the leading goalscorer at Sixfields, and was recently named in the supporters’ best 11 in the 20-year history of the ground in a poll to commemorate its opening in 1994.
But in the end it wasn’t Bayo who scored against his old club, but the other way around with Kaid Mohamed showing the poacher’s instinct that served Wimbledon well in their Conference promotion season by getting his head to a fierce cross to score the opener in the 32nd minute and from there the Dons were chasing the game.
Read more views on the WDSA forum match thread