IT only took nine games to prise a point out of nemesis Oxford United as Wimbledon put an end to a deflating sequence of eight losses to the Us going back to the Conference days in a scoreless draw at Kassam Stadium.
Oxford have generally counted on a three-point donation from the Dons each time they meet, so a draw, however unaesthetic, is progress for the Dons, who capped a draining five games in a fortnight with two wins, two draws and loss to League One Bristol City in the JP Trophy.
Consistency may be a challenge for the Dons, but you have to admire the symmetry (a consistency in itself) so far this season: six wins, six draws, six defeats.
After 18 games Neal Ardley’s men have acquired 24 points and lie in an anonymous 16th position. This stage last season it was 26 points and 10th placing, but back then the Dons didn’t win a game right through December, so there is plenty of scope to pick up some points to the halfway stage of this season.
Yessssssssssss! Yessssssssssss! Yessssssssssss! Finally the Dons get a point from Oxford! Yessssssssssss! Yessssssssssss! Yessssssssssss!
— Radio WDON (@RadioWDON) November 22, 2014
So a point at Oxford is not to be sneezed at in that context as Ardley looks for positives and, yes, eternal optimists, the Dons still hover six points outside the playoff positions even with their muddling form.
“We’ve got a point away from home and it keeps a little bit of form going,” Ardley said. “We kept a clean sheet against Dagenham last week and we’ve got another one today.
“We are through to the second round of the FA Cup and we put in a fantastic performance at Bristol to give them a run for their money. Overall, in the past couple of weeks the players have performed really well.
— LondonRoadManor (@LondonRoadManor) November 22, 2014
” I’ve been on their backs about every little detail and it has showed. I’ll continue to do that next week to see if we can keep the results going.”
The scoreless draw at Oxford was their second straight in the league after beating Dagenham & Redbridge last week and a hopeful sign that the Dons defence may be finally getting its act together.
Alan Bennett, who said he wanted to send a ‘good strong message’ to the gaffer after losing his spot to mishap-prone Andy Frampton, formed a strong pairing with Adam Barrett to largely keep goalkeeper James Shea untroubled against the Us.
“I will give Neil Cox some credit because he sees defensive stuff better than any of us. We also have Alan Reeves, who was a centre-back in his playing days,” Ardley said.
“Coxy has done a lot of work, including video analysis, with Alan Bennett and Adam Barrett and he’s been showing them a lot of different things. Pictures paint a thousand words as they say and credit to the players for picking that up. We just have to keep the momentum going.
— Oxford Mail OUFC (@OxfordMailOUFC) November 22, 2014
“I asked our goalkeeper James Shea what he’d really had to do, and he said ‘just a couple of routine saves’ so that showed how well we defended.”
While every action has an equal and opposite reaction, the goals are not going in at the other end, particularly in the league. The Dons have netted just three goals in their last six league games and two of those have come from defenders.
Ardley fielded three up front as he brought in Ade Azeez for George Francomb and yet the Dons still couldn’t score.
Neal Ardley asks how many Dons strikers does it take to score a goal against Oxford? pic.twitter.com/2yT8m9iNmT
— 10/12/15 (@AllThingsAFCW) November 22, 2014
“We don’t want to be a ‘one trick pony’ and we want to have other options for how we play,” Ardley said.
“Ade Azeez has been in great form and I thought we could cause them problems with three up front. We played with three centre forwards away from home and it’s ironic that we drew 0-0!”
The Crazy Gang… Coming soon to BT Sport! https://t.co/vyG7qBv2Df
— BT Sport (@btsport) November 20, 2014
But at least Danny Hylton didn’t come back to haunt the Dons after his underwhelming loan spell last season of three goals in 17 appearances. Since Hylton’s move to Oxford this season he’s netted 11 times in all competitions.
Maybe Bennett’s “hair-pulling” tactics on Hylton worked? ” I’m happy for him; he has had a really good start to the season. He’s a quiet lad and it was tough sometimes so for whatever reason it didn’t work for him here,” Benno said before the away trip.
— AFC Wimbledon Youth (@AfcWimbledonU18) November 21, 2014
“He’s really good in the air. I’ll have to pull his hair or something which should distract him! We’ll have to watch him really closely.”
While Hylton was in the starting lineup, two other ex-Dons Jon Meades and Michael Collins stayed on the bench through the whole game.
Another to stay on the bench, but with much future significance for Wimbledon’s future, was 17-year-old defender Ryan Sweeney. He joins fellow Academy prodigies Tom Beere, George Oakley and Ben Harrison in the Dons’ first-team match-day squad this season — now that’s progress !
The University Challenge continues next week with the visit of Cambridge United and another dose of the Us. They are in 13th spot but on the same points as the Dons, three slots lower.
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