comment_180203

Some games you know very early on you’re not getting anything and, five minutes in, Saturday felt like one of those days.

I travelled not expecting much and a chat in the pub with a Millers fan did nothing for my expectations. He described a well organised team that are working really hard for each other: not a team with any star players, but a hard-working group on a good run and full of confidence.

Neal’s pre-match comments suggested this was a good opportunity to find out how far we’ve come as a team and how we’d measure up against one of the better sides in the division.

And there’s no doubt we’ve made significant progress in recent weeks, but when pitted against a team challenging for promotion, we got a bit of a reality check.

It’s not that we played badly. We were well organised, full of energy, and matched them in many departments – it’s just that we lack that little bit of quality that you need to get something from games like this.

In tough away games in February, you need performances from your big players. We didn’t get one and it may be just me, but is Lyle starting to look like a player in his last few months with the club?

We set up in our now familiar 3-5-2; the only change from Valley Parade seeing Robinson wheeled out in place of Barry Fuller, who was missing because of calf injury.

I had my doubts about Robbo when we got the team news. He didn’t have a bad game but his distribution would have been more at home at Twickenham. Jon Meades hasn’t been in the best of form, but I’d still have preferred him to come in for Barry.

The cynic in me wonders whether Neal feels he has to justify Robbo’s contract with the odd appearance. It’s well known they are close mates and many of us were surprised he got another deal.

Hindsight make us all wise of course (and I haven’t forgotten Robbo played a massive part in our promotion), but he’s not League One quality now and those wages could have been better spent elsewhere.

Anyway, we started okay at the New York stadium, but Rotherham took the lead on 14 minutes. A clever ball to the back post found Michael Smith isolated with Andy Barcham; Smith got the better of him and slotted home for 1-0.

I didn’t fancy us to get back in it.

Lyle has been great for the club and scored some fantastic goals. None of us will forget the one at Wembley, the individual brilliance at Northampton, or that one against Franchise at Kingsmeadow.

But on a cold February day in Rotherham you need a hard-nosed centre forward who will roll his sleeves up and get stuck in. We’ve got a prima-donna with half an eye on what deal might be coming his way in the summer.

Don’t get me wrong: Taylor will score more goals this season and play a crucial role in keeping us up, but I look forward to replacing him with someone whose first priority is the team – not himself. I think a Tom Elliot type would have given the Rotherham defence a better workout and I hope Neal can develop Joe Pigott or work his magic again in the summer transfer window.

But it’s not only Lyle. Andy Barcham looks dangerous against bottom half clubs, and Cody McDonald proved what he can do against a struggling defence only last week. But when they come up against decent teams at this level, we just don’t trouble them. With the exception of Harry’s scuffed effort late on I can’t remember one really dangerous situation for us, or their keeper having to make a save.

I’m not criticising the players or the manager, that’s the quality our budget gets us and that’s how it will be until Plough Lane revenues increase our spending power.

So we never looked like scoring, but we did have decent possession and territory in the second half, and you could argue we had the better of that period. So although the second goal on 92 minutes was disappointing, I don’t think there was any doubt that Rotherham deserved the points.

The Oppo Lots of good qualities I’ve mentioned and two ex-wombles playing well for them. Smudger got a lot of stick at Gigg Lane, but it’s hard to perform at your best on a sinking ship. I thought he looked much better in a Rotherham shirt and will score the goals needed to keep them in the top six. Semi Ajayi looked a bit green in his loan spell with us, and I can’t remember exactly how that ended. Was he one of those that mysteriously disappeared back to his club mid-loan? Well, he’s filled out a bit now and looked very accomplished at the centre of the Millers defence. I’ve seen most clubs in the division and I think Rotherham have an excellent chance of the play-offs: they may even win them.

My MOTM Jimmy Abdou gets my vote this week. Another excellent performance in midfield in which he reminded me of Dannie Bulman at his pestering best, but with that extra bit of quality when he gets on the ball or makes a pass. I’ve seen people question why Jimmy didn’t get a run in the team sooner, but he’s had an injury, a suspension, and international duty. As soon as he’s had a regular start he’s shown why Neal brought him in. He only became available after the Liam Trotter deal was done, and I think there’ll be a contract on the table after his testimonial at Millwall.

Player Ratings Long 7; Charles 7 Oshilaja 8 Robinson 5; Francomb 7, Soares 6, Trotter 6, Abdou 8, Barcham 6; McDonald 6, Taylor 5.

Up Next We may not have had the quality to match Rotherham but we’ve proved recently that we can hold our own against the bottom half teams. If we’re up for it on Tuesday night I think we’ll have too much for league’s bottom club. There may be one or two changes – we know Neal is going to have to use the squad to get through February – and I wouldn’t be surprised if he starts this week. Kennedy could come in for Barcham, and we might see Meades given a start – either at the back or in midfield.

Joe Pigott wont have to wait too long for a start so he might play 90 minutes. That gives us the option to rest Cody and bring him on around the hour mark to give Lyle a breather.

Whilst I remain confident that we’ll pull away from trouble, these are three crucial games coming up. Northampton and Plymouth are both improving and neither will be the banker points they appeared to be a month or two back, so we need to make the most of the game with Bury – and I expect to be traveling back down the M1 with three points on Tuesday night.

// Andy Dixon – @andydixon975

comment_180127

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

comment_180120

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

comment_180113

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

comment_171113

Back in early September, the 9yrspodcast ran an article about past performance perhaps being an indicator of future performance. Well, another two months on, 11 more games down, how are we doing against ‘expected results’ – and should we be worried?

The final game for this update was the 1-0 defeat away at Charlton – a game we were expected to win, according to the analysis – so it was a particularly bitter pill to swallow, as they are our nearest rivals. As my daughter and her boyfriend made a rare away match, I await their match report.

But for all the analysis that can be done on these last 11 games, and the five before, nothing gives a flavour on how we played, our luck or lack of lack, or the formation and players; it just coldly analyses the result as three points, one point, or none at all.

But taking emotion out of the equation, using stats to make decisions and predications, certainly seems to be the flavour of the season within our club, whether it is within the professional playing confines of the club or my fairly crass amateur way to predict.

So, to recap. At the end of the last article, where were we? Well, having played a game less than at that time last season, we were just ahead of schedule – but only just: four points from five games instead of from six. So between then (Blackpool away) and Charlton, we have taken 11 points from 11 games.

Now that is not disastrous, but any of you that know our target is about 53 points will realise that to attain that aim, we need to average a minimum of 1.15 points a game, so we have slipped into what is generally recognised as relegation form: one point per game, or under, across a whole season, and you are going down!

But what of individual games against the opposition: how did we perform against our expected results and scores?

  • Click here for a full breakdown of predictions and results

First up was Pompey, old foes from League Two and given past history, an expected 2-0 home win. So that was a bad start to the beginning of this next phase of the season and it got no better when we drew, rather than beat, Gillingham (a predicted 2-1 home win).

The win at Blackburn went against the flow, albeit any team we have not played before I treat as a home win for the home side. Then we lost to them. And surprisingly, Southend comes out as an away draw in prediction, so that was again disappointing, but then Rochdale, Oxford, Northampton, Rotherham and – yes – even Plymouth were all down as predicted losses, even if all by the odd goal.

So our wins against Northampton and Rotherham, plus the draw with Rochdale, were actually better results than expected – the Northampton game being the history changer.

So finally, finishing with the loss to Charlton, how did we do overall in the last 11 games? Well, the expected points haul was 13 and we achieved 11, so again, a tad disappointing. It leaves us in 20th place in the league, on 15 points with a -8 goal difference.

Comparing this 16 game stretch to last season, we found ourselves then in 9th place, on 23 points and with a goal difference of plus two. Better times. But at that stage, we had played different, not necessarily better, teams – just teams we might have had a better record against. In fact, comparing actual results against the predicted we find we should have had, from the 16 games we played in 2016, 23 points. Result!

So finally, before my final note about the future, I’ll make one observation about the table this time last year: Shrewsbury were bottom with 11 points. So what a difference a year makes, eh?

Looking forward shall we say as far as Christmas, what do the predictions say, and will they be enough for us to enjoy the festive period? Well, seven games are scheduled, culminating in the return of Jake Reeves with Bradford on December 23. For these we expect to get 12 points, which would put us on 27 points, but that does include an ‘assumption-based’ 1-0 to us against Wigan and despite the loss last year, a win against Bradford to finish off.

The acid question is: will we, fans and players, be enjoying our Christmas? Well compared to last year, if we achieve our target, we will be six points better off than Shrewsbury were on that date in 2016 (21 points), and would sit relatively happily between 15 and 17th place. We actually sat in 9th on 32 points, but this year the league is much more compressed than it usually is.

And perhaps our trip to Bristol Rovers on Saturday – an away game we have history of performing poorly in – will herald a change in our fortunes which, both stats wise and playing wise is proving to be hard, would be most welcome.

// Jim Potter

comment_170911

I saw a picture, on Twitter, of Malta warming up before their match against Scotland. The photo depicted 10 players in a line going the entire breadth of the pitch, and the text below stated that they were preparing for their formation already. Amusing? I tittered at the caption.

This got me to thinking about formations and their evolution over the past few decades, and how we would line up if we would adopt different tactics with our current squad – should everyone be fit. For my examples below, I will not touch on the goalkeeping position, as George Long has that role.

Let’s start with the 1950s and the common 4-2-4 line-up. This is something that Steve McClaren brought in with five minutes to go during Middlesborough’s run to the UEFA Cup Final in 2006. What makes this formation so incredibly hard is that the attacking wings of the front four have to either play as wingers that track back to defend, or risk a 6-6 score line by the final whistle. Enjoyable to watch? Probably, but just as equally frustrating to observe with the team not defending. My team for this formation would be:

FULLER        CHARLES        OSHILAJA        MEADES

ABDOU        TROTTER

FORRESTER        TAYLOR        MCDONALD        BARCHAM

How do I see this formation working for us? I can’t at the moment. Fuller and Meades would have no cover and we would be battered by the flanks. But upon looking at that line-up, you can rest assured that provided we kept the ball, the attacking side of this team would pummel the opposition.

When you look at the 1960s, you cannot help but contemplate the greatest of all Real Madrid teams. They adopted (in 1960 specifically) a 3-2-2-3 formation. Yes, they had Puskas and Di Stefano in attack, but they also had Santamaria in central defence. And their possession-based game is sometimes considered the basis on which the Barcelona team between 2000 and 2010 was built. My team for this formation would be:

NIGHTINGALE        CHARLES        OSHILAJA

HARTIGAN        ABDOU

PARRETT        BARCHAM

TAYLOR        APPIAH        FORRESTER

How do I see this formation working for us? Maybe, on a narrow pitch, this formation would utilise the ‘playing on the floor’ that Neal Ardley wants to do right now. Abdou and Hartigan would be great defensive cover, whilst Barcham and Parrett would be excellent in setting up attacking options.

If you look at the 1970s, you cannot discard England’s World Cup winning team. Sir Alf Ramsey adopted an inverted 4-3-3 formation. This is where the shape of the midfield and forwards shape an M-W shape. This was also the biggest success of the early 1970s Ajax team featuring Johann Cruyff. No-one can deny the success of Ajax in that decade with that attacking football, however Zdenek Zeman’s Foggia in Italy adopted the same formation and caused a stir in the defensive-minded Serie A. My team for this formation would be:

SIBBICK        CHARLES        OSHILAJA        MEADES

FRANCOMB        ABDOU        TROTTER

TAYLOR        APPIAH        FORRESTER

How do I see this formation working for us? Well, if anything is to go by this season so far, it isn’t. This formation only works if you have a dynamic and fast midfield who aren’t playing against an over-crowded middle of the park.

The 1980s brought lump-it-and-run football to those who couldn’t play like Hamburg or Mönchengladbach. The 4-4-2 diamond was taken seriously and is one of my two favourite formations. With Felix Magath on the top of the diamond and Wolfgang Rolff being used primarily as defensive cover and the central defensive pairing of Hieronymous and Jakobs, Hamburg didn’t have much of a worry against a Juventus team featuring Tardelli, Platini, and Rossi. This goes to show that if you are solid in formation with a diamond, you are very hard (pun intended) to break apart. My team for this formation would be:

FULLER        CHARLES        OSHILAJA        KENNEDY

HARTIGAN

ABDOU        BARCHAM

FORRESTER

TAYLOR        APPIAH

How do I see this formation working for us? This is quite an interesting system. It keeps our back four in the defensive half of the pitch: something I feel Barry would struggle with, as he is constantly bombing up the wings. Same goes for Callum. But if the back four kept their shape and defensive mentality in check, we’d probably see many 1-0 victories.

The 1990s brought one word to the fore: Goooooolazo. Italian football was at its fiercest. The defensive nous of Inter Milan, AC Milan, Juventus and even the national team brought success and massive frustration for those watching due, mainly, to the lack of goals. With all of those teams mainly adopting a 5-3-2 formation, the defences shored up the goals conceded numbers but, more importantly, developed football into much more of a chess match – and if my team won 1-0 every week, I wouldn’t be moaning. My team for this formation would be:

FULLER        NIGHTINGALE        CHARLES        OSHILAJA        MEADES

HARTIGAN        TROTTER        ABDOU

TAYLOR        APPIAH

How do I see this formation working for us? If we don’t utilise the wing-backs, this formation has 0-0 written all over it. The midfield would be too deep and Kwesi and Lyle, up front, would cut very frustrated figures.

The Noughties brought a different nation to the fore, yet again. French football took the world by the scruff of the neck, and in the case of Zinedine Zidane in the World Cup final in 2006, a head-butt to the chest. after the success of Aimé Jacquet, 4-2-3-1 was adopted by Roger Lemerre, and with the strength of having two formidable defensive midfielders who also had the ability of creating a phenomenal through-ball, their team was a tactical sensation. My team for this formation would be:

FULLER        CHARLES        OSHILAJA        MEADES

HARTIGAN        ABDOU

PARRETT        EGAN        BARCHAM

TAYLOR

How do I see this formation working for us? Similar to the 4-4-2 diamond shape, this would be quite defensive-minded, but were Abdou and Hartigan to play one-twos around the opposition midfield, I believe that we could have a good attacking instinct. However, we’d be reliant on out-scoring the opposition.

So then we look at the 2010s. Sorry folks: I must talk about my beloved Germany here. I could write about them for hours and bore you out of your mind. Jürgen Klinsmann decided to appoint Joachim Löw as his assistant, and after Klinsi left, it was very quickly apparent that Löw was the tactician in that relationship. Jogi has adopted the 4-2-3-1 formation but created more of a 4-2-1-3 when attacking. The ability of the two forwards to revert to midfielders or two midfielders to advance to attackers proves the tactical nous available to Löw. My team for this formation would be:

SIBBICK        CHARLES        OSHILAJA        MEADES

HARTIGAN        ABDOU

PARRETT        TAYLOR        BARCHAM

APPIAH

How do I see this formation working for us? As I posted above: this all depends on how Jimmy and Anthony in the defensive midfield positions link up. I’d prefer to see a 4-1-3-1-1 formation, but that is too ‘middle of the park’. However, with Toby Sibbick’s defensive nous and Jon Meades’s no-nonsense defending, I believe we would just about be okay.

Out of all these formations, I believe that the 4-3-3 is not working. Why? Because our squad is incredibly midfield-heavy. We have to look at accommodating the midfielders and take the game to the opposition again. The true Wimbledon way. Personally, I don’t care if we lose 5-0 – just as long as the players actually give a shit, and put in a bit of effort.

// Mark Hendrikx – @MarkatCIFF

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In finance, we are often told that past performance is no indicator of future performance, but does this hold true in football? Crunching the historical numbers might just give us a confident indicator as to how we will perform this year . . .

So, as I write this at midday on the first new Saturday of the season, we proudly sit atop of the League One table, due to it being categorised alphabetically before the first ball is kicked. We achieved what we needed to achieve last year – survival – but where to now?

I usually do an analysis of some sort at the beginning and end of a season to try and garner an idea of how well we may do, and where we may end up. It’s almost become a pre-season superstition or ritual for me now: an omen of relative success, whatever the measure.

Coming into our second season in this league, there has been a lot of trepidation about how we will fare. Whilst an occasional exceptional season can and does occur, generally, in the longer term, the law of averages imparts on a team’s performance, season in and season out.

In our case we have, certainly since the Conference, been bang average. The rapid climb in our earlier years has now been offset by a slightly more negative performance, in that we have lost more than we have won – although we have also drawn quite a lot.

Indeed, apart from the amazing run that resulted in the play-off final win, we’ve won a few and lost a few – which was exactly what we were doing until the MK win last year, when our season then totally tailed off.

In averaging terms, that was possibly expected (balancing out that great run last year) or, being positive for this coming season, it could be a ‘credit’ for us, a sort of ‘in the bank’ extra that might compensate for a poor run of form: balance in the universe and all that.

Anyway, to this year’s analysis, which follows the path of previous years (and last year’s table – included in the total so you can use it to update as the season progresses if you wish!).

I’ve averaged the history of results, home and away, against each team in this division, and come up with a predicted result and score. Where we have never played a team before, I have assumed each home team will win 1-0.

I have taken into account last season’s results as well, but in long term scenarios, such as our matches against Oxford, last year’s success, though welcome, has had minimal impact, as our form against them has been so poor in the past – and we still have a bogey team to beat, in Northampton Town.

Last year we were predicted to achieve 61 points in the season: winning 49 at home and 12 away. In the end, with that awful end of season performance, we fell just short of that total, with 57 points (32 at home and 25 away). Just turning a couple of draws into wins would have seen us achieve this and have been elevated to 12th place in the division.

The facts and averaging do not lie, but it always seemed at the outset that the away form would be better than just the equivalent of four away wins all season, and so it proved to be: the percentage split of 56 to 44 is probably closer to what most people would guess it would be. Mine would be 60:40, if pushed for a breakdown.

So to this season then, and the first positive: the stats suggest we should gain more points than last. We’re now up to 64, which last season would have equated to an 11th place finish. With Sheffield United having garnered an exceptional 100 points last year, and therefore being the stand out team, the general consensus this season is that the division will be a lot tighter, so such a total may move you further up or down the table as it finally pans out.

Again, our form is heavily biased towards a great season at home and, as a season ticket holder, I hold out hope for that, but our away form this coming year looks more realistic compared to last season’s actual form. We’ll have to wait to see what the impact is of a change in playing style with the current personnel, and the effect of the new ‘Chelsea-style’ pitch at KM . . .

So if the stats are to be believed, we are again on for a bang average season within League 1. But then, the stats themselves are based upon the average, and it’s the exceptions the prove the rule of change.

The unknowns are those that have come up and those that have come down, and therefore a couple of teams we have never played before in this current form of a Wimbledon football club. Some like Portsmouth we have reasonably good records against overall, but will their promotion momentum make them an unstoppable force this year? And will the likes of Rotherham be able to halt the slide down the divisions? We wait to see.

The first five games

As before, when this analysis has appeared in the WUP fanzine, the podcast team are going to let me update and evaluate this analysis as the season progresses.

So, almost exactly one month into the season, how are we doing? Well, in the real world: better than this time last year. Just. At this time on this date last season, we had played six games and had four points: this season, we have four points from five games: a slight improvement!

Last year, we had drawn at Northampton and Rochdale, won at home to Chesterfield, but lost to Walsall, Bolton and Scunthorpe. Predication-wise, we were down to win at home to Bolton and Scunny, lose at Northampton and Walsall, but win at Rochdale and Chesterfield.

But against the teams we have played this year, we have only ‘achieved’ our forecast result against Doncaster (though with a better score of 2-0). We were down to win at Scunthorpe (which by all accounts we should have) and probably drawn at Fleetwood, where I think they beat us for the first time. Likewise, Shrewsbury’s first win at Kingsmeadow upset the apple cart, whilst Blackpool, as a new team, was predicted to be the standard 1-0 loss we ‘achieved’.

So from a potential 15 points, we expected 10, but achieved only four. Not the most auspicious of starts then.

So on a process that looks at averages over the long term, it is naturally a bit dangerous to hypothesise too much going forward. However, having more on the board than this time last year certainly should support the players with a touch of confidence, something that seems so crucial to how we perform.

We’ll have a fair few tough games to play until the next podcast update, so like me, maybe keep updating your table to see how things are going.

CLICK HERE FOR FULL BREAKDOWN OF RESULTS & PREDICTIONS

// Jim Potter

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

    comment_170821

    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