I’ve seen a few people pondering what’s behind our upturn in fortunes. It’s true Jimmy Abdou has had an influence; it’s true that our defence is one of the best in the league; and it’s equally true that the 3-5-2 formation suits us very well.

I don’t think it’s down to any one factor, but if I had to pinpoint something that’s made us click, I’d say it’s how settled the side is now – and credit should go to the management team, including Jason Moriarty and Stuart Douglas, for that.

Neal is making very few changes and when he does, he’s not sacrificing quality: the players who come in are as effective in their roles as those they replace, and that’s further testament to the squad he’s got and the attitude of the dressing room.

Darius and Deji are players in very good form of course, but I also want to give credit to the third member of the back three, Barry Fuller.

I gave our captain a hard time earlier in the season: he seemed off the pace and lacking in his usual character. I didn’t think he’d come back the same player after his injury.

And it may still be his last season with us, but Barry’s proved me wrong. As part of a back three, losing a bit of pace isn’t such a problem, and his one-on-one defending is still as good as anyone in the division.

Up the other end, we got off to another great start with a goal after just 14 minutes. Lyle played his part – as he does in every other goal we score – in setting up that man Abdou to slot home intp the bottom corner.

Critical to go ahead against a team struggling for form and from the moment the ball nestled in Bradford’s net, you could sense this might be a good day.

The home side offered little threat in the first half and there was only one real scare when Dom Poleon, five yards out, failed to connect with a free header.

And speaking of our old boys, I thought Jake Reeves was pretty average. Nice hair, neat passing, and tidy link-up play, but nothing that hurt us.

Charlie Wyke, meanwhile, is apparently attracting attention from higher up. If that’s true, maybe our defenders that had him in their pocket all afternoon should be receiving similar interest.

And Mr. Poleon, who was a bit chirpy in the week about his departure from KM. In answer to what he said, I saw nothing Saturday afternoon to suggest he’d get in our team at the moment.

Second half, the home team came out fired up looking for an equaliser. And it was Poleon who looked to have levelled things up on 49 minutes. But as he wheeled away to celebrate, the ref had a chat to the lino, confirmed Dom had the last touch, and the goal was ruled out for offside. Sympathy oozed from the Dons faithful with a chorus of, “It’s all your fault” – to his old tune.

That proved to be the turning point in the game as ten minutes later, McDonald found Barcham in space in their box and he calmly slotted home our second. Cue backpacks and flasks everywhere in delirious scenes amongst the travelling Dons army.

Goal number three arrived shortly after and summed up Cody McDonald. He chased a hopeful punt up-field, outmuscled his defender, ran clear into the box, and bludgeoned his shot past the keeper. I don’t think Cody’s has had an easy time with us, but he’s put in 100 per cent week after week – and earned every goal he’s scored.

So it was fitting that he got another one to round off a memorable day. Joe Pigott made his second appearance and threaded a neat ball through, which Cody dispatched into the Bantams’ worn-out net.

So have we finally turned a corner? Many still don’t want to believe we have, but it’s hard to ignore the mounting evidence. Unbeaten in five, three wins in the last four, top six in the form table – and six goals this week.

We won’t win every game, but having witnessed the shift in momentum lately, I think we might find ourselves safe from relegation earlier than we thought.

The noises coming from the dressing room are good, and it’s notable that the squad and management discussed tactics and agreed a plan for this game. That must give the players more responsibility on the pitch: it certainly looks that way.

Plenty will say how far there is to go and a couple of bad results puts us right back in it. That’s all true of course, and we do have a fan-base that thrives on worry and negativity, but the inescapable truth is that we are a team in form that’s on a bit of a roll …

My MOTM Not a bad performance amongst the men in black, but I’m going to go with Barry Fuller this week: back in form and part of a defence that has kept four clean sheets in a row.

Player Ratings Long 7; Fuller 8, Oshilaja 9, Charles 8; Francomb 7, Abdou 8, Soares 7, Trotter 7, Barcham 8; McDonald 8, Taylor 7.

Up Next I expect Rotherham to be a tougher game than Bradford. The Millers are in great form themselves – unbeaten in eight – and looking to have a good chance for the play-offs. We’ll need to be at our steely best, but we’re a confident side and we’ll go there expecting to get something.

// Andy Dixon – @andydixon975


It’s these games that will ultimately decide our fate this season, so it was hard to come away from Kingsmeadow on Saturday feeling anything but optimistic.

Neal’s got them pretty well organised. Granted, it’s taken five months and a long overdue switch in formation, but even the Ardley haters will find it difficult to criticise our performances in these last few games.

We set up 3-5-2 for this one. Deji, Charles and Fuller playing at the back; Francomb and Barcham wing backs; Soares, Abdou and Trotter our regular midfield three; and Cody and Lyle continued their partnership up front.

We’ve played this formation a number of times recently – including last week, despite my inaccurate reporting – and the reason many were calling for it earlier in the season is that it’s a system that fits our personnel: too often earlier in the campaign Neal wanted to play a formation which didn’t seem to suit our players.

But this is no time to criticise: he’s got there in the end.

In a system the players look comfortable with, and with a little bit of confidence, we finally look like a team who can push on towards the safety of mid-table, rather than one that will drop back in to the relegation places as quick as you can say 4-3-3.

A couple of months ago, I wouldn’t have dared make such a prediction. But I do now, and mainly because we don’t look like a side that will get beaten easily.

We also have that critical third striker and one that offers something different. As many people know, we were within a gnat’s whisker of signing Michael Smith in the summer window, and how different our season might have been if we’d got that deal over the line.

But back to Blackpool, and I thought we had the better of the game for all but 20 minutes of the second half. We imposed ourselves on them in the first 45, but they were disciplined in their shape and we found it hard to create clear goal-scoring opportunities.

They didn’t commit numbers forward so we struggled to get in behind them. The shooting chances we did have were from distance, and we barely kept those in the ground, never mind anywhere near their net.

Second half, and after we got the goal, Blackpool were forced to come out and play. And for that 20 minute period I thought they attacked us with pace and movement that we found hard to deal with.

So what a relief it was to get the second goal. The fact Joe got it on debut was the icing on the cake – and a middle finger to the lukewarm reaction some supporters gave his signing.

Joe is the type of player Neal’s proved he can work with: he’s coming into his prime, he’s physically mature, has experience of this level, and is hungry to do well. Give me one of those over Tyrone Barnett or Carlton Cole every time.

Once we’d got that second goal, the game was over and we could enjoy the last ten minutes whilst keeping half an eye on events at Sixfields.

And I make no apologies for rejoicing in the misery of the franchise. To rise up the table out of the relegation places is always very welcome, but to do it at the expense of them lot makes it all the sweeter.

January 20 could go down as the day the wheels finally started to come seriously loose for the league’s most hated club. The day they lost to their local rivals, the day we rose above them in the league, the day they took up their place in the bottom four and also the day their best player received a straight red card in injury time. If Carlsberg did Saturdays …

The football Gods don’t like cheats and something about that club seems mouth-wateringly cursed.

What would relegation to League Two mean for them? I don’t know, but it’s a delicious scenario to ponder: sacking their new manager (one of the brightest young talents in the game, snigger), reduced crowds (yes they could dwindle further), an increased financial burden on Winky’s empire, and the real possibility of dropping down to non-league.

And wouldn’t that be the ultimate slap in the face for Winkelman, to spend many millions of pounds over 15 years, only to end up in non-league where he should have started in the first place.

Anyway, enough of them, where does today leave us and what can we expect from the coming weeks? Providing we can stay clear of serious injuries, I think we have a real chance to push on and turn this into a positive season.

Things change quickly in football and I felt a swing of momentum at Wembley. We knew we were on a hiding to nothing that day and being such underdogs brought us all together, the cheering of corners and unwavering support regardless of the scoreline was a timely reminder of what our club is all about.

It was an exit from the cup but rather than be a negative factor in our season, we got a great day out and an experience which galvanized the club for the relegation battle ahead. A battle we are much more likely to win with a united club.

My MOTM Liam Trotter gets my vote this week. His second goal in three games got us going, but I thought his overall performance was excellent. Liam’s showed his strengths in breaking up play, winning the ball back, and starting our attacks. Sometimes this work goes un-noticed, but he plays a key role in winning the midfield battle and to consistently improve his performance in the face of ongoing criticism from the fan base is admirable.

Player Ratings Long 7; Fuller 7, Oshilaja 7, Charles 8; Francomb 6, Abdou 7, Soares 6, Trotter 8, Barcham 7; McDonald 6, Taylor 7.

The Oppo For 20 minutes of the second half I thought they were excellent and maybe, like us, would benefit from having the shackles off and told to attack from the start. Well-documented problems off the pitch inevitably have a detrimental effect on it, so until ownership issues are resolved, I expect them to bounce around at the bottom of League One and top of League Two. They look to have enough quality to stay up this season: there was definitely more passion that I saw from Southend at KM and more talent than I saw in the franchise side last week.

Up Next We’ve got a tough schedule, starting with three trips up north. The first of these is to Valley Parade: not the happiest of hunting grounds for us, but the Bantams’ promotion bid is stalling badly and we’ve already had the better of them this season. I think we can go there and get something and predict a 1-1 draw.

// Andy Dixon – @andydixon975


I arrived at the away end just as a marauding army of franchise chavs came round the corner chanting, “We’re the real Wimbledon”. I don’t find that sort of thing offensive, although my mind did wander to what Stanley Reed would have made of the strange sight in front of me.

Expect he’d be as confused as the vast majority of the wider football community because the very essence of football supporting is following a team that represents your home town and your community.

A point that seems lost on their customers. But when you look around them carefully and spot Arsenal, Tottenham, and Chelsea badges amongst the weirdos, dribblers and generally challenged, you can understand why.

Milton Keynes seems no closer to understanding the steps that must be taken for them to become a normal team with traditional identity. As Winkelman grows his fan base, he needs a club that represents their town and nowhere else, a successful model used by around 91 other clubs in the league.

I expect deep down their owner would love to drop the Dons and ironically it might be our club that finally provides him with an opportunity to do so, as their incendiary use of the name Dons forms part of our defence at the EFL hearing.

If by some miracle the Football League themselves were to recommend a name change, Winky can play the good guy and climb down gracefully on the main issue – keeping the franchise mired in the dishonesty of its past.

Convenient timing for him as our return to Plough Lane exposes another of his lies on which project franchise was built.

This was the third visit I’ve made to Stadium MK and walking into the ground this time I felt nothing – very different from the nausea and stomach-churning arrival at the FA Cup game back in December 2012.

On this occasion we were here for a relegation six-pointer. Rather than laugh at the lack of home support and atmosphere (I’d guess five to six thousand of the 9,500 attendance were actually in the ground), I was only concerned with it making our job that bit easier.

The only worry as we took the field was George Long missing due to sickness (he should be back next week) but Macca has been in good form for the under-21s and handled the job superbly. Other than George it was our regular starting eleven in a 4-4-2.

We had the better of the first half, both in possession and territory, but as is often the case we failed to turn these advantages into efforts on goal. Taylor and McDonald both had decent shooting chances, but neither worked the keeper. Down the other end, Joe was called into action when he made a decent save tipping over a Muirhead shot from the edge of the box.

Second half we went into our shell and when Neal’s first substitution was Meades and not Forrester, you knew we were more interested in cementing the point than venturing out for all three.

But we could have nicked the win late on. A ball in from the edge of the box found its way to Andy Barcham with enough space to make himself a hero; sadly Barch produced the shot of a man with a fiver on 0-0 and that was our last chance gone.

So neither team good enough to score but having trudged away after the 1-0 defeat last time we were here, I decided to settle for that. Some have had a pop at Ardley for not being more positive, and I’d certainly agree franchise were there for the taking, but it was crucial not to lose this one.

After the positivity of the Southend win and the reconnection between squad and fans at Wembley, we couldn’t afford a moral-sapping defeat to the arch enemies. I get as frustrated as the next fan with our safety first approach, but I’m going to let this one ride in view of the enhanced effect results against Milton Keynes have.

Having said all that I almost look forward to getting into a situation where we have to win league games. I believe if Neal was forced to send this team out to win, we’d turn up plenty more results.

My MOTM Deji Oshilaja. Another very impressive display. Gave the franchise strikers very little opportunity, but he’s also become a key player bringing the ball out of defence and at set pieces (particularly the back post delivery that he heads back across goal).

Player Ratings McDonnell 7; Fuller 6, Charles 7, Oshilaja 8, Francomb 6; Trotter 6, Soares 6, Abdou 7, Barcham 6; Taylor 6 McDonald 6.

The Oppo Probably the best news from Saturday was they’re definitely in the relegation mix. Think they were missing Sow (a front man they brought in from Scotland) but other than him that was their first-choice eleven. I don’t see the fuss about Chuks Aneke, their defensive frailties will be regularly exposed against better front lines than we’ve got, and they look pretty toothless up front. A quick glance at their fixtures towards the end of the campaign suggest a serious chance of them disappearing to League Two if they’re not clear of trouble by the end of March. In April they host Blackburn, Doncaster, and Scunthorpe – as well as facing tough trips to Southend and Wigan. And should it come down to the evening (yes, a 17:30 kick-off) of May 5, we entertain Bury at KM while the franchise head to Shrewsbury.

Up Next Blackpool at KM and a game we should really be targeting to take three points from. Hopefully, Neal will refresh the team again after it worked so well against Southend: I’d like to see more of Will Nightingale in this relegation battle, and we’ll also have a target man option – that extra threat up front should see us climb out the bottom four by the end of the month.

// Andy Dixon – @andydixon975


Wes Daily Chief Football Writer,

Sources within AFC Wimbledon have confirmed that a former Kingsmeadow favourite will be returning to the club in January.

Supporters at the South London club will be delighted to hear that long-time fan Derek Arvery has purchased a half-season ticket and will make his first trip to Kingsmeadow in over two years when the Dons play Blackpool on January 20.

Arvery, pictured above – in customary green jumper and cap – watching over former player John Lelliott from his old seat in the Ru Paul Swank Stand, has not been to a Dons home game since October 2015.

The 52-year-old Communications Executive was last seen leaving that game – a 5-2 defeat to Morecambe – telling friends acquaintances other fans that he has been called away on important business, and was unlikely to attend any forthcoming fixtures.

Concerns grew Questions were raised about the welfare of Arvery after he did not return for any game in the remainder of the 2015-16 season, and his seat – which had remained empty – was taken by a new supporter when Wimbledon kicked-off the following campaign against Bolton Wanderers.

That fan – Layla D. Wimbledon, “34” – said she had no knowledge of nor any connection to Arvery, and although she was sorry that he did not appear to be attending games anymore, she was delighted to have landed a much sought-after season ticket near the club’s Peter Kay Aga Oven Presidential Suite.

“I love this club and can’t wait to see my heroes, like Alessandro Alibabar and Kyle Sailor, every week,” she said. “Wembley was amazing and I’m sure Bill Hardley will take us there again this series.”

Fortunately, it appears Arvery has been legitimately abroad on business and is looking forward to returning to Kingsmeadow – albeit now in the Don Kingston Green Noodle Stand.

“We only have seats in that stand,” Dons Chief Executive Derek Samuelsunderland informed us. “So as much as the regulars in the Swank Stand will miss his tactical insights and witty criticisms of our players and management staff – his observation that the only crossing George Francomb should be doing is blindfolded across the A3 was particularly well-received, I remember – he’ll have to settle for a new vantage point.

“We look forward to the return of his letters reminding us that we are a fan’s club and he should be allowed to sit where he likes and have meetings with our manager on request.”

In other news, Wimbledon fans might be disappointed to hear that there won’t be changes to the first-team squad during the January transfer window, with manager Hardley saying it would be, “difficult to improve” a squad that has so far taken his side to fourth-bottom of the table this campaign.