RARELY has a loss been so well received, literally around the world, as Wimbledon tweaked the regal beak of Liverpool and needed right royal intervention to preserve the Premier League king-pins’ dignity.
Browse the headlines around the globe in the wake of Liverpool’s 2-1 FA Cup win at heaving Kingsmeadow and the words ‘Gerrard’, ‘saviour’, ‘rescue’ are prominent from Jamaica to Singapore, Canada and the United States to Africa, Hong Kong to Australia and New Zealand.
The Dons might be out of the Cup, but they got plenty of bang for their buck. The widespread publicity and recognition Wimbledon received, even in defeat, will be incalculable.
Really, if you were a certain borough council tossing up who to choose between AFC Wimbledon, lionized in the national sports pages, or say for argument’s sake, a diminished greyhound sport, wouldn’t the decision be obvious?
It’s a night like this that do immeasurable good for AFC Wimbledon, especially in reinforcing how important a football club is to its community. Apart from the profits of hosting Liverpool, there are considerable longer term benefits for our club, hopefully in the coming months with the pending decision of New Plough Lane.
In eye-balling the Premier League aristocrats, the Dons have also raised the bar and expectations for themselves. If Wimbledon can compete with Liverpool, push League One leaders Bristol City, knock out League One Milton Keynes and League Two pacesetters Wycombe Wanderers in the Cups, then a play-off spot this season is not out of the question.
It just comes back to Neal Ardley coaxing that consistency he frequently bangs on about to materialise in the League, starting at Stevenage this Saturday.
But Ardley has a few issues to resolve first, starting with a replacement for Matt Tubbs, who is expected to turn down Wimbledon’s ‘incredible’ offer and sign instead for Portsmouth, preferring their bigger crowds and shorter travelling time to life at Kingsmeadow.
WDSA understands Ardley is hoping to persuade one of two targets to replace Tubbs, while he has his eyes on an experienced defender to take the place of Adam Barrett, whose loan has expired. A midfielder is expected to sign with the club this week.
Ardley did well to get Tubbs in on what turned out to be a half-season loan, but Wimbledon’s progress from here will be contingent on who he can bring in during the transfer window and not stall or even go backwards.
What also made reaching the third round of the FA Cup so rewarding was the reaction of the fans, especially those on the opposite side of the world, captivated by actually seeing their team live on their television screens matching wits with a world-famous club.
“I’m very jealous of those heading to the big match – I’ll be watching at 9am in an Auckland pub over a bacon butty and coffee,” Auckland Don said, adding later “Liverpool were outplayed for good chunks of the game and we created plenty of chances. In the end I think the boys ran out of steam & Stevie ‘bloody’ Gerrard was the difference. A great cup game – very proud of the club.”
Sambaboy had this “I must say I felt really proud of the Dons and the way they acquitted themselves against Liverpool. They kept their cool when a goal down, played with determination and variety, did not flag and took the game to the opposition for much of the match. ”
Rob opined:” What a great game. The boys did the club proud. A great performance in the middle of a good run. It will be difficult to focus on Stevenage but if they play like that or even close to that then the rest of the season could be interesting. Disappointed but proud.”
While Singapore Don, captured in all his glory on the BBC coverage in his blue and yellow wig, added:”What a night! We can all be truly proud of what we have achieved since 2002 – that performance and display from the club and terraces were testimony to a genuine football club with passion, heart and soul. We showed that we are Wimbledon.”
Ivor Hellor probably summed it up best: “I wish everyone was so happy every time we lose a game.”
It may be small compensation but Liverpool for all their Premier League millions needed two special goals from Steven Gerrard to get them home over their less-well-to-do League 2 opposition.
Javier Manquillo found space down the right and delivered a teasing cross that Gerrard met perfectly with a fine header in the 12th minute.
But Kingsmeadow erupted when Adebayo ‘The Beast’ Akinfenwa muscled his way in a ruck to stab home the equaliser in the 36th minute.
The Dons had the better of Liverpool before halftime and into the second half before Gerrard conjured a wonderful free kick to regain the lead in the 62nd minute.
“I’m really disappointed and I think the players should be too. They should be proud of their performance, but this was a chance for us,” Ardley said.
“If we had that bit more quality and nous we could have got something out of the game. Ultimately, at this level world-class players make a difference and he (Steven Gerrard) certainly did tonight.”
Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers praised the plucky Dons. “It was a very tough game, congratulations to AFC Wimbledon – they made it very difficult.
“We adapted at half-time but we still had to defend all the way through to the end. The physicality always puts you under pressure – they have good delivery.
“The ball came into the box consistently and of course that can be a threat. You’ll never be overly comfortable in those situations.
“Neal’s done a very good job with his team tonight. I thought they were very well organised, passed it well, he’s done very, very well here. It was a tricky game.”
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