THE secret to Wimbledon winning? It’s bleedin’ obvious really. Score more than one goal and the three points are ours. Have a look back this season, it’s true.
The other not-so-secret is that the Dons have been having problems scoring. That is, until Saturday at Kingsmeadow when the goals finally flowed, in a gush, three in three minutes and the winner to boot in the 97th minute to resurrect what was looking like another soul-destroying, relegation-threatening loss to Cheltenham Town.
No need to tell the beleaguered fans how taxing it is watching a niggardly scoring team; it’s also getting on the wick of the management team. Witness Neal Ardley shoving Simon Bassey back into the dugout after a forceful “exchange of views” with Andy Frampton during a tense moment in the Cheltenham game.
Ardley spoke beforehand about conquering the team’s anxiety and nervousness playing at home and yet again the twitchy Dons fell behind to a visiting team 2-0 by the 49th minute. It just wasn’t working and frankly Wimbledon have problems scoring one goal, let alone two …
If we keep scoring goals that late on who cares if we never score in the opening 30?! It's not a Dons match without nerves! #AFCWimbledon
— Alex Mitchell (@MitchellAT) March 22, 2014
But something remarkable happened. Ardley rolled the dice, he changed things around. He had to. He brought on Jake Nicholson for his debut, Chris Arthur on the left wing and Danny Hylton to chase the game.
The goal drought broke in a torrent. Hylton’s nine-game arid stretch was broken with a goal two minutes after coming on as substitute. He steered home Jack Midson’s cross in the 69th minute and a minute later the Dons were level when Nicholson’s shot took a deflection into the bottom corner.
It was game on and Hylton was put clean through by Charlie Wyke’s flick on and finished smartly past Scott Brown to put Wimbledon in front: three goals in as many minutes. The Robins were in a mad flap.
But Wimbledon don’t do things easily. There were a few more twists and turns left and Jason Taylor let fly from 20 yards for the ball to take a devious deflection and bounce over stranded Ross Worner into the Dons goal. Back on terms with 16 minutes of normal time left.
To crown this madcap day step forward Jack Midson. Deep into stoppage time Barry Fuller’s deep cross picked out Wyke and his flick fell perfectly for Midson to stab home the winner in the 97th minute.
Midson has scored some important goals for Wimbledon — with his penalty on the final day against Fleetwood Town the standout — but his winner against the Robins may prove crucial in the outcome of the season.
The win lifted the Dons to 47 points and edged them one spot higher to 15th ahead of Tuesday’s season-defining game against Northampton Town, who are eight points adrift in the drop zone with eight games left. Draw at the Cobblers, even better win, and a major hurdle would have been cleared in the struggle to stay up this season.
It’s still fingernail-chewing, but once again in successive matches the Dons have gone down to the 97th minute to get a result. You can’t question their fortitude at the denouement of matches, even if they can’t work out how to start games.
Ardley is trying to stay positive in the maelstrom of the weekly trench warfare. Tensions boiled over when Bassey and Frampton had words.
One fan observed: “Bassey had a go at Frampton. Frampton called Bassey some choice obscenities. Ardley then had stern words with Bassey.”
Another supporter added:”I did spot Frampton pointing firmly at the bench,” with another saying that “Ardley shoved Bassey back into the dugout after another outburst of foul language.”
Bassey, normally an active tweeter after games, was noticeably subdued, but Ardley told reporters post-game:”When we went 2-0 down, you start to fear the worse. The players, they need me. I’m going to try and stay positive for them.
“We talked about what might happen if we are down and what we would do. We had to stay together and that includes the staff because it’s a test for us too.
“We cannot lose our heads and we stayed positive and tried to push the players on even when we were 2-0 down. That’s the positive in that we came through adversity.”
Perhaps the Dons can count themselves fortunate to have come out with all three points after being outplayed for much of the game by Cheltenham Town.
In 40 years of watching football, I don't think I've ever seen 3 goals scored in 3 minutes by one team – great it was #afcwimbledon today!
— Peter Leng (@PeterLeng) March 22, 2014
Robins boss Mark Yates is still scratching his head about how it all got away from his team, who had been unbeaten in their five lead up games but now are just one point ahead of the Dons in 13th place.
“I don’t know how we managed to lose that match, but we did,” Yates said. “It’s probably our best performance of the season bar three goals in three minutes. I am fuming at that and it sums up our season. We were outstanding and looked comfortable before their first.
“Our fans clapped us off at the end and it’s hard to make sense of it because we were outstanding, but somehow we have lost. We have gifted them goals and we needed to be stronger. We’d have taken a point at 3-3, but to concede again sums us up.”
Cheltenham Town have fallen apart again, shades of Chesterfield three goal conceded in three minutes: pathetic
— Jon Palmer (@JonPalmerSport) March 22, 2014
Still Dons fans who went to Whaddon Road last September won’t mind the outcome. Another case of swings and roundabouts.
But even more satisfying will be getting something out of Tuesday’s trip to Northampton Town. The Dons have not won at Sixfields in two visits and have taken just one point off them in five encounters.
Ardley and the players will be expecting a pitched battle, even more so this week as the Cobblers are fighting for their Football League lives and will see the Dons as a potential three points. It will be up to Wimbledon to match them physically and mentally.
That will tell us more of the size of the fight in the Dons.
Read more views in WDSA match thread