A DOWNER ON THE RIVIERA

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torquay english rivieraWIMBLEDON were found guilty of trying to protect a hard-earned lead as former Australian trialist Aaron Downes rescued a point for Torquay United on the English ‘Riviera’ in Devon on Saturday. Those bloody Aussies, pah!!

Just when the travelling 772 Dons fans (and press) were jumping about at Plainmoor and others back home and in other parts of the world were going mental listening in to Radio WDON with Harry Pell’s deflected late goal off Downes’s scone, the Gulls defender had the final rejoinder with a ‘good’ header.

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For those who remember, Downes trialled for a contract at Wimbledon last season and was in the frame until Terry Brown got the opportunity to sign Pim Balkestein instead.

There were some who were ‘gutted’ to only get an opening day point at *ahem* Torquay, but taken on the overall context of a 46-game season it is an encouraging start by Neal Ardley’s remodelled team.

Some will also point out that the Dons won on last season’s opening day against Chesterfield at home, but as unconvincing 1-0 wins go that was subsequently shown for what it was worth with Terry Brown shown the door just six games later after a 1-0 home loss against – you guessed it – Torquay.

Conclusion: don’t read too much into opening day results, even a certain 4-1 win in south Wales and a 1-4 loss on the south coast.

Michael Smith
New striker Michael Smith .. beat himself up in the change rooms over missed one-on-one chance,

But as we look ahead to a first big test of Ardley’s squad reshaping at one of his old clubs Millwall in Tuesday’s League Cup, there were some positive signs coming out of the 360-mile round trip to deepest darkest Devon.

New on-loan striker Michael Smith, all 6ft 4in of him, looked a handful as the lone target man in his 67 minutes on the pitch and brought out a great save by the Gulls’ keeper Martin Rice with a thumping shot.

“Michael is beating himself up in the changing room because he missed a one-on-one chance early on,” Ardley said. “But I thought it was a very good debut from him. In the first half Michael had a lot of balls in the air to deal with when he was a bit isolated up there, but he did very well.”

Another new signing Barry Fuller did well furrowing up the right and George Francomb, now signed permanently, showed his class on the ball, while Luke Moore typically worked his socks off.

Chris Arthur conjured some excitement when he came on with Jack Midson and Charlie Sheringham in a triple substitution.

One fan gushed: “Bloody hell Arthur is fast. Got the ball deep in our half, bye bye the entire Torquay right hand side. Couldn’t deliver the cross though. Get him practising crossing at full pelt and there’s some real danger there.”

Ardley, optimistic of a better season now with his new team and support staff in place, handed competitive debuts to six new players and fielded virtually a completely different back-line with new trio Fuller, Andy Frampton and Callum Kennedy joining captain Alan Bennett in defence in front of goalkeeper Ross Worner. The other debutants were George Porter and Smith.

AFC Wimbledon F.C vs Burton F.C Npower Football League 2
Harry Pell .. first on to the Dons score sheet this season.

The defence conceded once for Downes’s stoppage-time equaliser, but we’ll know more about their effectiveness under pressure against Championship outfit Millwall and former Don Gareth Ainsworth’s Wycombe Wanderers next Saturday at Kingsmeadow. There is a considerable improvement needed in the back four after last season’s horrendous 76-goal outflow.

But one aspect that did not please Ardley was the defence dropping back after Pell’s first of a (hopeful) 10-goal season target haul.

“The only thing we were guilty of trying to protect what we’ve got and ultimately then you don’t stop it at source,” Ardley said.

chris arthur
Chris Arthur .. ‘Bloody hell he’s fast.’

We were trying to get them up and get the shape back but people start to drop back to try and keep the lead. That’s something we need to learn from.

“Overall, though we were a lot better defensively and it was our first test. We looked like a team out there and I thought we defended well. Torquay came at us and caused us problems, but I thought we weathered those spells. I am pleased with the way that we are shaping up as a team.”

Significantly, Ardley left leading scorer Jack Midson on the bench and started with the put-yourself-about Smith. Midson got almost 30 minutes late in the game giving an indication that he may play a bigger part with his experience against Millwall in the mid-week cup.

But also noticeable were the options Ardley had on the bench: “We decided beforehand that we would freshen it up around the 60-70 minute mark. When you look at the bench the likes of Charlie Sheringham, Jack Midson, Sammy Moore, Jim Fenlon and Chris Arthur could all be in the starting 11 and that is a great situation to have.”

Torquay fan forevertufc told WDSA: “I was very impressed with your side, much tighter at the back, good neat football, lacking a bit in end product, but think you will be harder to beat this season.

“If not from quite an amazing performance from our No.2 keeper you would have won the game. Based on that I see a finish somewhere at least around 11-14th for your team this season”.

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