imageCAN’T say Wimbledon set the world on fire in the three games I saw during a recent trip, but there were some promising signs as Neal Ardley beds down his six new signings.

On face value, a win, draw and a loss once again emphasised the continuing problems Ardley has to extract some consistency of the right kind from his squad, with a weakness to defend a lead particularly noticeable.

Tom Elliott looked the pick of the new sextet, his performance in the first half against his old club Cambridge United was a standout, although there is still much to do to be on the same wavelength as Adebayo Akinfenwa up front.

But at least with Elliott and the languid Lyle Taylor the Dons possess more threat up   front, if only spasmodically.

Ade Azeez, so frustratingly hit and miss last season, will have to work more for his chances down the pecking order this time, although he thrilled with an absolute cracking header as substitute to get the winner over Exeter City.

Will Nightingale with Ashes hero and Dons fan Mark Wood.

One thing I did notice was that Ardley now has the option of throwing on Taylor/Elliott and Azeez as substitutes to freshen up the attack, as seen with galvanising effect at Crawley Town and Exeter City.

Although the Dons have their most experienced centre-back pairing of Karleigh Osborne and Paul Robinson, there were still some weaknesses there in the games I saw, particularly marking at set pieces.

The Dons ebullient first half against Cambridge (described by some observers as the best of the season so far) was cancelled out by two woefully defended goals in the minutes after the resumption, and from there the Dons were chasing the game when they should have still been in charge.

Osborne conceded a needless corner and Dons summer target Leon Legge rammed home a header from the resulting set piece, while the defence failed to pick up Barry Corr off another poorly defended corner as Cambridge turned the match in a twinkling.

I made the 640-mile round trip to Carlisle and again Wimbledon tossed away a lead after Andy Barcham had volleyed home Lyle Taylor’s clever pass from right of the box.

Yet again it was piecemeal marking at a corner than allowed Ibehre to volley home what proved the equaliser.

So it was with some in trepidation that I took in my final match against Exeter City at Kingsmeadow. Yet again the Dons grabbed the lead with George Francomb hooking in Elliott’s flick-on from a Jon Meades long throw, but the Grecians were back on terms before halftime.

For a time the Dons laboured to put anything constructive together until the introduction of Taylor and Azeez for Elliott and Akinfenwa.

It was Taylor again who provided the assist, whipping in a cross that Azeez did splendidly with a leaping header across the face of goal for the winner.

As it stands the Dons are mid-table after five games and it’s ridiculously early in the season to make any pronouncements.

Although in saying that, from what I witnessed Ardley has much to do to get his squad into the frame for the play-offs.

If Wimbledon can string together a run of results, show more resilience and organisation at the back and get the forward line on the same hymn sheet, maybe there is something still to come.

Heads drop far too quickly after conceding a goal, with only all-or-nothing Barry Fuller audibly getting stuck in to get more from his teammates.

For a team possessing so much Football League experience as it now has, that should be a given when things go wrong on the field.

But it looks a stronger squad than last season and Ardley has to get the best out of it. He looks to have more options in attack, although there is still a predictable over-reliance on pumping the ball to Akinfenwa as the sole outlet up front.

Fans I spoke to are keen to see Ardley make the big call and give youngster Will Nightingale his chance in defence. By all accounts Will acquitted himself admirably against Championship side Cardiff City in the League Cup and many supporters believe he is ready for regular first team football.

James Shea looks the part in goal. I loved his ‘understanding’ with home fans behind his goal in the John Green Stand to take their time returning the ball to the field in the closing minutes of the Exeter City game and all acknowledged with a wink in thanks with his back strategically turned to the referee.

These are exciting times for Wimbledon in the count down to the momentous decision on the new ground at Plough Lane.

There has been much going on behind the scenes to present an irresistible case to Merton Council for approval to take over the Greyhound Stadium.

A brochure was handed out to fans at the Exeter City game, detailing a coming vote in September for authorisation from paid up Dons Trust members to sell Kingsmeadow to raise money towards the financing of the new stadium.

The club, under the meticulous Erik Samuelson, is building a solid submission to own the ground. What has been significant is the stony silence of the once-bellicose Greyhound lobby. Is that a sign that they know the game is up?

I have the advantage of coming in fresh in my semi-regular pilgrimages to see my team, and what impressed me this time round was the greater professionalism on and off the pitch at the club.

AFC Wimbledon looks like a club on the move (hopefully to a new and larger home), the squad looks stronger, there is a pathway for home-produced players into the first team (Tom Beere started against Exeter), it is well run and organised and living within its means with the promise of New Plough Lane looming on the horizon.

As I left Kingsmeadow I got the distinct impression that I would not be coming back. Instead, in all likelihood, my ‘next’ game will be at New Plough Lane !!







  1. It’s not the sage wisdom of the Wiz, and it’s not done with the astuteness of Windlesham but I offer this from the Exeter match.

    The Dons started as always this season by pinning the opposition in their own half. A goal seemed only a matter of time and that man Francomb duly obliged with an instinctive strike.
    And, as always this season, we then sat back and let them equalise. In fact it seemed so inevitable there was almost an audible sigh of relief when it came.
    Honours even at half-time left the crowd somewhat muted.
    The second half was all Wimbledon for perhaps forty minutes. In fact from our end of the field we could have done with some binoculars the play was that distant. Even Shea found himself retrieving the ball from ever further up the field. At one point I thought he was going to take a throw-in from the half-way line! Yet you had the feeling that if Exeter made a break they would score. Nevertheless, it took fresh legs to finally break Exeter, and for once, Ardley didn’t leave it so late that the substitutes didn’t have time to make an impact. Taylor, Rigg and Azeez connected and it was all over, well almost, save for a dying minute free kick directly in front of Shea’s goal, which frankly demonstrated just how much better Wimbledon were than Exeter on the day.
    So what did I learn about some of our players today…. with humble apologies to Windlesham….
    Fuller = Captain’s innings as always. In fact he takes the match best solo run record for a full length flight that left Exeter shredded. In fact, if Francomb’s tap had been a yard shorter at the end of that run… well,we will never know.
    Francomb = In a league of his own. Goalscorer. Playmaker. Precision crosser, and most importantly he just never gave up for a minute in the 95 played.
    Bayo = Seemed to take the warm-up half-heartedly. (Doesn’t he always?) He had his moments but was a spent force by 60 minutes. One thing that has surely got to be raised sooner rather than later with the FA though is the persistent bad decisions by referees against him. One incident which took place directly in front of the John Green stand would have resulted in a ‘sin bin’ for at least two Exeter players judging by the rugby style way they took him down, yet sure enough, free kick to Exeter.
    Beere = A good solid performance. Better than many others. A rising star.
    Robinson = Easily our best signing of the season on this performance. Solid and came oh so close to putting his own name on the scoresheet. Was seen beating the ground in frustration at one point after another missed effort. 110% effort and didn’t miss a trick all match.
    Barcham = Did something of an Alfie Potter impersonation…. lots of running but nothing very effective… In fact he was responsible for Exeter’s goal. After the ball got slightly away from him while on a run, he should have fought the challenge but instead came to a halt shoulders sagging and arms raised as though it isn’t supposed to happen this way. Completely bottled it and by doing so allowed the Exeter player to make up everything Barcham had gained, and more. Poor.
    Osborne = Spent the entire match walking around an area about ten yards square. I doubt he broke into a sweat until the last five minutes when he committed a dreadful tackle and had to watch and hope Exeter made a hash of a Route One free kick straight in front of goal. His performance made me realise that Wimbledon CAN play three across the back and may have been doing that every time his name has been on the team sheet. Meades, Robinson and Fuller all covered for him and covered well. The one time Osborne wasn’t in his ten yard square was the hole Exeter scored through. Abysmal, bring back Nightingale,… or better still, play 3-4-3 and add some finishing instinct. Osborne isn’t even good enough for Margate. (Just my opinion of course!)

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