Wimbledon relinquished their unbeaten start to the league season going down 2-0 to the Grecians, in a performance that rankled Neal Ardley, who was looking for evidence of self belief from his players. On the available evidence at bedraggled St James Park, the gaffer is yet to be convinced.
For the drooling Exeter City fans it was just like watching Brazil. The players dressed up for the part: sporting a special yellow and blue strip of the Seleção as part of the club’s themed Brazil Day. [If you’re scratching your head, it’s simple: Brazil’s first-ever match at home was against Exeter City in 1914 and the Grecians celebrate it each year.]
Are we watching Brazil is the chant from the stands
— Exeter City FC (@OfficialECFC) August 17, 2013
And it was good for Wimbledon to be such obliging participants in the day’s fun and festivities, samba band et al, particularly in an uninspired opening half that had Ardley spitting chips.
“For 35-40 minutes we had no energy or tempo to our play. Exeter had more energy, they were sharper and on the front foot. I have to give Exeter credit because they were lively, but the difference between the two teams was phenomenal,” Ardley seethed.
“I said to the players that one thing that is high on the list are the givens, which are energy, pace, desire and one-v-one battles. We need to be able to master them. They [Exeter] did the rubbish side of the game and we didn’t. We can’t turn up in this league thinking we don’t need to do the givens.”
The contest was effectively settled in the first half with goals from Irishman John O’Flynn in the 11th and 36th minutes as Wimbledon’s past defensive nightmares resurfaced.
And with the defeat came the first injury concern of the season with skipper Alan Bennett withdrawing on 39 minutes with a hamstring strain after being unable to train during the week because of calf and Achilles injuries.
His injury gave Rhys Weston his first start of the season, underlining how important it was to secure his services as defensive backup and with Will Antwi not yet up to full speed following his recent hernia operation.
Ardley reacted during the interval by bringing on George Francomb for George Porter on the right side and substituted Jack Midson for Charlie Sheringham around the hour.
There were chances, but they were spurned.
Luke Moore had a drive deflected over the bar and then from the subsequent corner Andy Frampton’s header was cleared off the line. Sheringham and Francomb both had efforts cleared off the line, before Harry Pell shot over from close-range.
Great game today, Exeter City were deserved winners however Wimbledon chance in the final minutes looked 2 yards over the line? #technology
— Mark Bullock (@mark_j_bullock) August 17, 2013
Fans had viewed this match as an early test of Ardley’s massive team-rebuilding in the off-season and took a line on the corresponding game last November when they also lost 2-0.
Back then Ardley lashed his team’s performance as “a lack of energy, a lack of desire, a lack of aggression, a lack of communication and we played like individuals.” One Exeter fan dismissed Wimbledon as “comfortably the worst L2 side” he had seen that season.
It wasn’t that dire this time, but concerns all the same.
WDSA’s Andy Powell, at the game, observed: ” If we thought a revival was on, then we may need to think again… at least for the time being. The Grecians turned up looking all Brazilian in their yellow and blue (complete with annoying samba band in the background) and we let them play like Brazilians.
“Within a minute or two it was obvious we either thought their front men were Pele and co; or, judging by the way we kept passing them the ball, thought they were fellow team members, such was our confusion and disorganisation.
We had 2 headed off the line, 1 chased and sliced off the line, an open goal missed from 2 yards out. So unlucky. #afcwimbledon
— Ed Hewison (@EdHewison) August 17, 2013
“I left wondering if the Wimbledon train was on the right tracks. As for Neal Ardley, his pensive face avoiding the fans glance, told us all that he knew there was a lot more work to do if he was to keep the players on the same track.”
But as with everything in life, it’s how the Dons respond and bounce back from this performance/defeat in next week’s home game against recently relegated Scunthorpe United — left-back Callum Kennedy’s old club.
“It is about how we respond to this now,” Ardley said. “I have told them in there that you cannot turn up anywhere in this league and not do the other side of the game. During the first-half we were off the pace. As a manager I know that is not good enough and the players know that.”
— Mark Bullock (@mark_j_bullock) August 17, 2013
Exeter City manager Paul Tisdale was delighted by his team’s performance: “It was a brilliant game of football. The players really started the game fantastically well. There was a lot of positivity, creativity and goal threat and we thoroughly deserved our two-goal lead.
“We maybe could have got more, but 2-0 is good enough. We tried our best not to keep a clean sheet at the end by being a bit sloppy, but Artur (Krysiak) made some good saves. It was a really good performance.”
One Dons fan added: “Exeter played better pass and move than I’ve seen from any team in League 2 to date. We weren’t at our usual (last two league games usual) for harrying and shutting them down so we helped them out a bit there. Once that was sorted it just wasn’t our day in front of goal. All in all, it was still an improvement on last season.”
So after all that, will there be a revaluation of the Dons’ chances this season, given that the vast majority of respondents’ in the WDSA poll has Neal Ardley’s team finishing around 11th-12th, with the next group expecting a couple of places higher than last season’s 20th spot? About 15% believe a playoff challenge is likely.
The poll is about to close, so if you haven’t had your say here’s your last chance.