Courtesy: Paul Edwards

There was a touch of Championship-level class about Wimbledon’s first win of the season – and their first in League One since March.

Kwesi Appiah’s return to Kingsmeadow in the summer was much heralded by Dons boss Neal Ardley, who believed the Ghana striker should be plying his trade in the second tier of English football.

And the goal with which Appiah opened the scoring with in this victory would certainly grace a higher division.

With his back to goal, the 27-year-old forward flicked the ball past Doncaster’s Andy Butler, span the other side of the centre-half, and calmly slotted the ball past goalkeeper Ian Lawlor from 12 yards.

The finish was of a quality so far removed from the hour of football that had come before it, as neither side could find any energy or inject any impetus in the late-summer heat.

A particularly insipid first-half, in which neither side managed an attempt on target, offered no indication of the ability Appiah – or any of his team-mates, for that matter – could provide.

Indeed, it would have been a most optimistic Wimbledon fan to predict, at the half-time break, that the Dons were going to end their 437-minute wait for a home league goal.

But once Appiah injected his moment of class, a previously morose Kingsmeadow stirred, and Ardley’s men found their zeal.

Just three minutes after the opener, Andy Barcham doubled the lead, dribbling from deep at the heart of the visitors’ defence to fire home a low shot, off Lawlor’s right-hand post, from 25 yards.

It was a deserved goal for the forward, who was Wimbledon’s liveliest player throughout, and ended his own search for a goal, having not scored since February – and not at Kingsmeadow since August 2016.

But despite the Dons’ lack of goals of late, with just one scored in their last 900 minutes of League One football, Ardley was never worried about a lack of firepower in this squad.

“I have every confidence in the forwards we have scoring goals,” he commented after the game. “My job is to get the team enough of the ball and in good positions to create chances for them.”

In the second-half of this encounter, he certainly did his job, although Barcham, who Ardley described as “a real menace”, was key to this.

The 30-year-old’s display, linking nicely with Taylor in and around the 18-yard box, was just lacking with the final pass, in keeping with much of the Dons’ season so far.

It has been poor decision-making in the final third that cost Wimbledon in their first three games, as decent performances at Scunthorpe and Fleetwood were not reflected in points gained.

The lack of service to the industrious yet frustrated Cody McDonald meant the summer signing from Gillingham was unlucky to find himself on the bench for this game, and until his goal, Appiah’s return to the side did not appear merited.

His, and the team’s, improved second-half came likely as a result of a slight tactical change, in which he and Taylor played much closer together as a front-pairing.

Ardley’s preferred 4-3-3 system was still very much in evidence, but with Barcham hugging the touchline and George Francomb offering width on the right from his usual midfield berth, spectators can be forgiven for thinking a more traditional 4-4-2 was in effect.

The fluidity allowed Wimbledon to take charge of affairs, and Lawlor did well to block Barcham from scoring again with 20 minutes to go.

Not that it ever looked like the home side would need another goal to secure their victory. Doncaster, who had won their previous two away games at Blackburn and Bradford in league and cup respectively, could not find any intensity in their play, with George Long only once called into action in the Wimbledon goal.

That said, Callum Kennedy did manage to beat Lawlor, but his shot from a free-kick on the edge of the box hit the underside of the crossbar and bounced clear.

And while a third wouldn’t have flattered the Dons on the evidence of the second period, the home faithful were more than grateful for the two goals they were able to celebrate.

“It was very nice for the team morale to get a clean sheet, a couple of goals, and three points,” said Appiah. “It was nice for me to get a goal and we can push on now.”

They will do so away at Blackpool this weekend. Having ended their search for a win, and a home goal, Wimbledon will now look to secure their first three points on the road since February.

The free-scoring Tangerines will be a test, but under the marshalling of the outstanding Deji Oshilaja at centre-half, the Dons might just need a single goal to really get their season motoring.

  • Report originally written for the South London Press newspaper. Photo: Paul Edwards.

    // Nick Draper – @ngdraper

  • comment_170828

    “Neil Cox also confirmed that the signing of Harry Forrester concludes AFC Wimbledon’s business in terms of new signings for the summer transfer window.”

    So there it was for all to see. A perfunctory sentence almost hidden away in the confirmation of what seemed like the worst-kept transfer secret since Terry Brown ‘unveiled’ Marcus Gayle as his first signing after taking the Dons job. Once you’ve got your head around us doing business with a club the size of Rangers (putting aside the jibes about the League One being a step up in standards from the SPL), on paper, at least, Forrester certainly looks like we’ve traded up from the injury-plagued Chris Whelpdale. But if I’m being honest, he didn’t seem to be the type of player seen by many as being the final piece of the 2017/18 jigsaw.

    With the current strike force of Lyle Taylor, Cody McDonald and Kwesi Appiah, plus the youthful promise of Jayden Antwi, there’s no obvious replacement for Tom Elliott and what he brought to the table. By that I mean goals, plus – and just as importantly – an outlet to hold/win the ball and create opportunities for others. McDonald and Appiah in particular are the poacher type of forwards who need a ‘lump’ to play off to get the best out of their obvious abilities. But now we don’t have one and it appears we won’t – at least until the transfer window swings open again in January.

    I’ll put my cards on the table here and state I wanted (and half-expected) to see Michael Smith back in a Wimbledon jersey again: as I write, he’s still very much surplus to requirements at Portsmouth, with even Pompey manager Kenny Jackett saying he was available, but with seemingly little interest. As with Appiah, Deji Oshilaja and Callum Kennedy before him, there would be no need to try and ‘sell’ the club to Smith either, given that Smudger has had a previous spell with us, and although he hasn’t pulled up any trees recently, Neal seems to like a ‘project’ – and re-igniting Smith’s career could have been just that.

    Perhaps budgets or wages were factors, but Smith appeared a more realistic target than the ludicrously over-priced John Akinde, currently being pawed over by one or two clubs who, if recent finances are anything to go by, really should know better, or a risky punt on a free agent like Carlton Cole, being courted by Southend to line-up alongside Nile Ranger – now back with the Shrimpers after spending ten weeks at Her Majesty’s pleasure . . .

    But it’s the tactical side that concerns me the most. We’ve seen in the opening few games how opposition teams, who have done some relatively simple homework to press us in possession, can invariably force Paul Robinson into punting the ball long – towards the target man we now haven’t got and a forward line in general who haven’t hit the net since March.

    The inevitability of then watching the likes Andy Barcham being outmuscled in the air by a gnarled 6’4” central defender, before the ball is regained by them and pressure builds on our creaking defence, once again is already testing my patience. Perhaps Neal has visions of us out-footballing sides, especially on the much-improved Kingsmeadow playing surface, and I sometimes wonder if he has now replaced the Belinda Carlisle poster on the bedroom wall of his youth with one of Roberto Martinez (metaphorically, I hasten to add!).

    So surprise me Neal. Until the yellow-tied Jim White slams shut (© Sky Sports News) the transfer window and then self-combusts in a frenzy, there’s still time. Show me that Plan B, baby!

    // Ray Armfield – @KentWomble


    With the signing of Harry Forrester on a season-long loan being announced after we had recorded this week’s podcast, we thought it would be a good idea to publish our thoughts on our new addition. What does Harry offer us; is it wise that he will be our last signing of the summer; and what does this mean for Andy Barcham and Dean Parrett?

    Episode 96 of the 9yrspodcast, featuring Jon Main, will be available tomorrow on iTunes and YouTube.


    It’s hardly a secret that football has its own language. It more than likely always has done but it wasn’t until ITV thought that employing Ron Atkinson as a co-commentator was a good idea that football’s language started to become one that was barely comprehensible and at times laudibly laughable.

    “He’s lollipopped one up to the back stick and the big unit’s risen like a salmon and stuck it in the onion bag.”

    I am not sure if Atkinson ever uttered this as a complete sentence, this is more of an amalgam of the worst of his banalities, but what was a collection of ridiculous similes and metaphors in 1996 is now pretty much par for the course in football punditry. Now I’ve done it – par for the course. Not that that’s unusual either – casually dropping in an expression or cliché from another sport entirely into your football commentary. Sky Sports’ Daniel Mann, when he isn’t laughing at his own comments, can’t resist a pun predicated on the rules or sayings from another sport. It’s got to the point now that I don’t watch a Sky game if he’s commentating. Turning the sound down is another option but nobody actually needs to see Burton Albion against Birmingham on a Friday night.

    It’s bad enough that commentators and co-commentators and pundits have invented their own lexicon but it’s now starting to seep into the language of everyday folk. While queuing for a coffee at Glanford Park, I couldn’t help but overhear two Dons fans discussing the first half display when one, and I kid you not, said to his friend: “Our box-to-boxers need to rethink their exit strategy as the Scunthorpe midfield are constantly in and around Jimmy Abdou.”

    You can be in and around the top six but in and around Jimmy Abdou? I watched Football on 5 that evening and the “expert summariser”, basically Colin Murray’s unwitting stooge-cum-straight man, used that phrase, “in and around”, three times. In and around Jimmy Abdou. No offence to our Comoros international but what an unpleasant image that conjures up.

    In and around a person. Early doors. The back stick. The transfer window slams shut. Seasons going to the wire. Could the wire get caught in the transfer window, like a lawn-mower cable? A foot race. A foot race? Two people are running after the same thing, on foot, of course it’s a foot race. Football clubs constantly being referred to as “football clubs” when we know they are bloody football clubs. We’ve just watched them play a game of football (although I blame Owen Coyle for starting that). Nobody in “real life” speaks like that.

    “How did your meeting with the directors go?”

    “Not bad, we sat down around a table . . . ”

    “Did you thrash it out?”

    “Well, I demanded showdown talks . . . ”

    “It’s a big game for the football club, it’s important for the football club to progress, both on and off the pitch…and in and around Jimmy Abdou.”

    Like a horrible image you can’t un-see, I can’t un-hear that. I realise punditry is not easy and passing comment about a football match on live TV is a skill (and anyone who has seen me on the 9yrs Live Facebook stream will attest to the idea that I certainly don’t make it look easy) but at least they have an excuse. Under pressure, millions watching, and if you’re Jermaine Jenas you have the added pressure of trying to think of something intelligent and insightful when you are naturally neither of those two things, but there’s really no need for it with common or garden supporters. That’s just not how normal people speak.

    Alan Smith, the ex-Leicester and Arsenal Alan Smith, not the ex-Leeds and Man United Alan Smith or the former Palace manager Alan Smith, has developed a very odd way of describing action where all the … well, action is at the beginning of the sentence and all the adjectives are at the end: “He’s had a shot but it’s hit the bar and come down on the line there, the big Belgian.”

    There’s a coherent sentence in there somewhere Alan but just not in the order that you said it in.

    But what really grinds my gears is a phrase that has crept into football in the past couple of seasons. Davie Provan, again an employee of Sky, started using it and now everyone’s doing it. A player has made a great effort to get into the box and on the end of a cross after a flowing counter attack but he doesn’t quite make it.

    “Look at the number 8 there, literally breaking his neck to get on the end of that ball.”

    Literally breaking his neck. No – sorry Davie, I’m going to have to stop you there. Write that down, read it out loud and then tell me that that is an appropriate thing to say when there’s probably quite a few people watching who literally have broken their necks. Players say it, managers say it, pundits . . . I think it was during the Scotland v England game earlier in the “summer” when the summariser put a huge emphasis on literally – “he’s LITERALLY broken his neck to get on the end of that move.” LITERALLY?

    Sorry, this is meant to be an article about AFC Wimbledon, I realise that. It kind of is because I’ve mentioned Jimmy Abdou and Scunthorpe. It’s LITERALLY an article about AFC Wimbledon Football Club. It’s not, but it’s in and around an AFC Wimbledon article . . .

    // Kevin Borras


    This summer’s arrivals of George Long and Jimmy Abdou marked a change in Neal Ardley’s philosophy regarding our use of the loan system.

    Having had our fingers burned by the likes of Michael Smith and Matt Tubbs, and following the unsuccessful term of Ben Wilson, we ensured our first season in League One was built on a stable squad of permanent signings.

    But needs must. At our level, it is proving increasingly difficult to find players that improve on who came before, especially within budget constraints, and we were forced to find a temporary solution in the centre of midfield and in goal this year.

    This is not an undue concern: neither player will be recalled before the end of the campaign, and we can always repeat the trick next season.

    However, Football League rules limit the number of such players we can bring in, so any more bad luck with injuries may still cost us. Yet it is the absence of a limit on the numbers that can be loaned from a club that is causing us, and our lower league rivals, greater headaches.

    We are all aware of how some leading Premier League clubs abuse the loan system: stockpiling young players with no intention of using them in their own domestic or European squads, but happy to see them enhance other teams and their abilities to take points from championship rivals. For an example of how severe the tactic has become, look at Chelsea, who on July 5 this year announced simultaneously that youngster Tammy Abraham had signed a five-year contract extension at Stamford Bridge, and been lent to Swansea for the forthcoming season.

    Indeed, Chelsea have 26 contracted players out on loan this year: 12 of which will be competing in the top two divisions of the pyramid this season.

    Which begs the question: why do Chelsea, or any other Premier League side for that matter, need to be part of the Football League Trophy?

    We are told that it is to help the development of young English players, but if they can be so readily farmed-out to top-flight competitors, what benefit do they gain from a few games against League One or Two opposition – many of whom will be playing at a much lower intensity as they would in a League or FA Cup tie, or be making many changes to also give playing time to the lesser experienced members of the squad?

    If the aim is to give these players the opportunity to play men’s football, then why not send more players on permanent loans to clubs in our league? Stoke City’s Ryan Sweeney has just begun a second-spell with Bristol Rovers, and Huddersfield striker Jordy Hiwula will be spending another year in the third tier: this time with Fleetwood Town after his successful time at Bradford last season.

    But that is not the aim of the loan system, at least not for the country’s bigger clubs, nor is it the aim of inviting so-called ‘B’ Teams into the FL Trophy, and with apologies for sounding like every article in When Saturday Comes that you’ve ever read, everything is done in the self-serving interests of the clubs. And the danger it poses to clubs like ourselves is ever-increasing.

    Take, for example, Neal Ardley’s comments following the Brentford game, in which he said he, “didn’t think players should be asked to play a 90-minute league game on the Saturday, followed by 120 minutes in a midweek cup tie and then a further league game the next Saturday. It’s too early in the season to submit players to that sort of challenge.”

    His early, indirect call for the abandonment of extra-time in the competition is surely done with the knowledge of the inflated fixture list caused by the expanded Trophy, and its group format.

    So whilst our small, currently injury-plagued squad deals with the demands of those games, many Premier League youngsters are left kicking their heels, failing to progress, waiting for a handful of fixtures against Crewe and Forest Green Rovers.

    The re-introduction of the banning of loans between clubs in the same division would encourage more clubs to send their developing talent – or ‘assets’, as the boardrooms in the Premier League refer to them – for a season in proper, competitive football.

    It worked for Harry Kane, Jermain Defoe, and David Beckham: there is no reason it wouldn’t work for Harvey St Clair, Josh Grant, or Joe Bursik’s England team-mate, Jonathan Panzo.

    And it would eliminate any pretence for young teams competing in a Football League competition. A win for all of us.

    But these ‘elite’ teams like to work for the few, not the many, and the powers that be are more concerned with how clubs mow their pitches than they do the welfare of the lifeblood of the game – be it the small clubs and their supporters, or the career progression of the next generation of players.

    // Nick Draper – @ngdraper


    Risk. It’s a fantastic board game. I love the tactics, and with a little bit of luck, you can make some serious strides to achieving your goal. But the title says it all: you have to sometimes take some strange risks in order to achieve your goal. And I saw how the calculated risk Neal has taken this season – introducing a new style of play – paid-off against Burton in pre-season. In abundance.

    So, looking at that Burton game, I would like to start from the back, and Joe McDonnell. He didn’t have to make many saves that made the Kingsmeadow faithful gasp and coo in awe, but all the other elements to his game were, simply put, brilliant. He commanded crosses and his distribution was excellent (he even made an assist to Cody McDonald’s goal), but what struck me the most was how assured he was with the ball at his feet. We played a very interesting possession game against the Brewers and it negated the tactics that Nigel Clough likes his teams to play. We drew their team out, created massive spaces on the tiny Kingsmeadow pitch, and played the ball around the opposition. And young Joe played more than his part in achieving that tactic.

    Our back four (and a half, if you include Anthony Hartigan as a defensive midfielder) were incredibly assured, stemming from the confidence they had in McDonnell’s skills on the ball. Young Toby Sibbick, playing at right-back, put in a great performance and has certainly shown the management team that he isn’t here to prop up the squad numbers; Paul Robinson and Will Nightingale were so assured, so versatile, and so incredibly well organised that I can only echo Kevin Borras’s sentiment that they appeared to be a modern day Franz Beckenbauer and Hans-Georg Schwarzenbeck; and with Deji Oshilaja, we had a left back who was so at ease with moving forward with the ball at his feet, it made me wonder how Jon Meades and Callum Kennedy will ever make the team, should Neal want to stick with this formation.

    Young Anthony Hartigan was, to compare to another German great, a young Stefan Effenberg. He bossed the defensive midfield like he was in his late twenties, not like he is only 17 years old. My friend’s father-in-law, who was visiting from Germany and attended the match, echoed my sentiments. When I informed him of Hartigan’s tender age, the gentleman spat half his mouthful of beer out, exasperated with that revelation. So assured in position and on the ball, he played the perfect unassuming game. Egli Kaja, on the right wing, was as good going forward as Hartigan was defending: brilliant at causing the Burton defence headaches. Dean Parrett was back to his energetic self, spilling the ball out to the wings and looking for that pass to split their defence open, whilst Andy Barcham was Andy Barcham, one we can always depend on and who is ready to run himself into the ground. Jimmy Abdou, who I have massive hopes for, had a very quiet game, but I am certain he will adapt to the Neal Ardley school of high pressure soon enough, and Cody McDonald was also impressive. He isn’t your target man or striker who will take the ball from 30 yards, run and shoot; he is a poacher – a six-yard-box striker. And he brings a whole new dimension to the AFC Wimbledon story that is being written.

    I will not criticise any player on the pitch against Burton, for I cannot criticise any player. This is because they wore their heart on their sleeve, defeated a Championship team with absolute ease, kept a clean sheet, and didn’t once worry me that the “better team” was actually going to cause Wimbledon any problems. So I’m very hopeful that this new style of football will stand us in good stead this season. Sometimes it will fail, of course, but I really feel that for the most part, it will succeed, for Neal is creating a band of players who play for each other, not hoof and hope.

    I never thought I would ever quote Jim Carrey, but he was right when he said, “It is better to risk starving to death then surrender. If you give up on your dreams, what’s left?” This summer’s transfer recruitment is a risk because it takes us away from any long ball football we have been accustomed to for so long. It might need a little tweaking, as is evident from the draw at Scunthorpe, but the early signs are good, and I have faith that we are heading in the right direction. After watching the game at Glanford Park on iFollow, I maintain the above sentiments ring true.

    // Mark Hendrikx – @MarkatCIFF