NEAL ARDLEY conferred it as the “most complete performance” since he took over as manager. The fans rated it the best showing since promotion to the Football League as the Dons ascended “nose bleed territory” in their much-to-be-admired 2-0 win over cashed-up Fleetwood Town, and all sealed with a kiss.
Wimbledon climbed to fourth with two quick goals just before half-time and then battered the Cod Army in the second half to claim an authoritative victory to remain unbeaten in three games at “Fortress Kingsmeadow” this campaign.
So it’s ten points from five games and fourth place contrasted with four points and 21st place at this stage last season: night and day. And to think the Dons had to do this last season just to be here.
Fleetwood Town bemoaned their continuing “rotten luck” as their fourth long trip south to Kingsmeadow, the last two via Milton Keynes, ended without a catch. As Dave Edmunds once declared:“I hear you knocking; But you can’t come in; I hear you knocking; Go back where you been.” [Pardon the triumphalism – not]
Fleetwood manager Graham Alexander moaned about the “injustices” of Wimbledon’s win and how the game was “taken out of their control” by a penalty that should not have been and a deflection that presented Michael Smith with a close-range header. Alexander said “goals change games, particularly those you have no hand in” and his players lost their focus.
Maybe he should have asked Neal Ardley what he would have done and NA could have related how his team fought back from the same situation just a week before to overhaul Scunthorpe United 3-2…..
@RobW_6 dons were great after break but should have been at least one down. Dodgy pen that and a fat deflection with a nice finish
— Rob Stocks (@robstocksbpl) August 31, 2013
What heartened Ardley was not so much getting the win, but the team’s hard-nosed response in the second half to snuff out any comeback from a team rated among the promotion favourites. The Dons were thorough in their application: keeping their structure and shape, maintaining their work rate while effectively closing down the visitors attacks.
“It was the most complete performance since I took over,” Ardley said. “From minute one through to minute 90. We know that we have quality, but we have to do the other sides of the game that you need in this league.
“We gave the boys a game plan for the second half and I thought that we were focused and organised. In the second half it was all about us seeing the game out. A third goal would have put us at ease and we had enough chances to do that, but we did not look in danger at the end.”
What also differentiates Wimbledon from last season’s apprehensive and confused team is the quality of players now available through Ardley’s recruitment. Look at Saturday’s bench and the gaffer was able to call upon Callum Kennedy, Peter Sweeney, Kevin Sainte-Luce, Chris Arthur and the club’s leading scorer Jack Midson.
Ardley has not been afraid to make the big calls and leave experienced players Sweeney and Midson on the bench, present rising youngster Jim Fenlon with his first start of the season over summer left-back signing Kennedy and give George Francomb a turn after bypassing the highly rated playmaker for the past couple of weeks.
So effective was Fenlon that Fleetwood’s tricky wide man Junior Brown was subbed out of the game with 19 minutes left, having made minimal impact.
Even Kennedy told one fan that if he was Fenlon and got dropped after the performance the youngster had put in he’d be knocking on the gaffer’s door wanting to know why. It only just improves competition for team places, something that was purely aspirational last season.
Francomb, who was brought in on loan last season by Terry Brown, has noticed a big shift at Wimbledon this season under the assiduous Ardley.
“Compared to my time on loan here last season the team spirit is so much better. We have a lot of winners in the team. Everyone wants to push in the same direction and go for promotion,” said Francomb, who admits he hasn’t quite recaptured the form he showed during last season’s loan spell.
“It was probably the best performance we have had so far this season. We said at half-time that we had to keep the same intensity going in the second-half and we had loads of chances. I don’t think they had any attempts on goal after that.
Really impressed again by #AFCWimbledon, playing a lovely style of football together with defensive discipline. Ardley's recruits excellent.
— Ian M (@Marriotti67) August 31, 2013
“It was brilliant to get back out there playing again. I have not quite hit the ground running since I came back. I have struggled a bit with my fitness and sharpness, but I felt a bit better out there today so hopefully there is more to come.”
Fleetwood had some great moments early and the Dons were perhaps fortunate not to fall behind when Stewart Murdoch’s fierce 25-yard drive bounced off the crossbar.
But the Dons got their big break four minutes before half-time when referee Iain Williamson ruled Mark Roberts had handled Francomb’s corner and pointed to the spot to the Cod Army’s fury.
Harry Pell had tried to take last week’s abortive penalty against Scunthorpe but lost out to Charlie Sheringham, but confident Pell seized the opportunity this time and had to contend with some mouthy gamesmanship from the goalkeeper Scott Davies as you can clearly see here in this great video with thanks to Dons11.
What was perhaps even more gobsmacking was the goal celebration afterwards between Pell and Francomb, proving just how close team bonding is these days at Kingsmeadow.
It was Francomb’s deflected cross just minutes later that set up Smith’s second goal for the club as he beat the offside trap to nod home from close-range.
The Dons shut out Fleetwood in the second half for a highly encouraging performance ahead of a testing spell of games coming up in September.
“We’ve got a tough month coming up, we’ve got York away, Chesterfield away, we’ve got Burton Albion,” Ardley said. “They’re all very good teams and it’s going to be really tough, so at the end of September if we’re still talking in positive terms then there’ll be even more belief in the squad.”
While watching Syria, much more fun watching #AFCWimbledon today get a fantastic 2-0 win in glorious sunshine. Brilliant team performance.
— Peter Leng (@PeterLeng) August 31, 2013
Ardley was particularly pleased with Sammy Moore, preferred again ahead of the more experienced Sweeney, and the imposing on-loan striker Michael Smith.
“I thought Sammy Moore was phenomenal in midfield, he was as complete as he’s done for us for a long while, he was brilliant. I thought Michael Smith was unplayable. He gave them a really, really tough time,” the gaffer said.
The camaraderie is very noticeable this season. One fan also made a point of the input even new goalkeeping coach Ashley Bayes is contributing to the cause. “The way that Ashley keeps applauding and high-fiving Ross Worner and Seb Brown during the warm-up is a pleasure to see.”
Buzzing!!!! Win!!! Goal!!! Great performance from the lads! …. #afcwimbledon
— PELLE #8 (@Harrypell_7) August 31, 2013
And Harry Pell just adds to his growing army of admirers with his third goal of the season and his infectious (dare say, passionate) enthusiasm. One fan commented:”Pell is massive for us, we have a real presence in midfield now. It was frightening last year how often we simply bypassed midfield as there were no options and frightening how often the opposition bypassed our midfield when attacking!”
So after a great result for the Dons how about having your say ….
And there’s some extra thoughts in the WDSA match thread