Do not adjust your computer monitor. It appears that AFCW has managed to win three points in a game, and away too. This remains unconfirmed though.
Your editor was unsurprisingly elsewhere, and therefore doesn’t believe it. However, Warton Womble was, and swears blind that not only did it happen but we played semi-decently too. He even went to the pains of writing me a match report – so if this is a hoax, it’s a pretty elaborate one…
What to say about Port of the Potteries 1 Port of London 2? About time, I guess.
There was a buzz around the away end right from the off, and watching the warm up and seeing Jason Euell stroking in some fine shots sent many a fan back to the old days. But it was the announcement of the team news that got my heart thumping a bit: not the new signings, but the fact that Sammy Hatton was on the bench, and Jamie Stuart aka Captain Fantastic wasnâ€™t even there. More on that later.
Watching the opening exchanges we started to see improvements straight away. A steeliness in the midfield and the much vaulted centre-back pairing of MMK and McNaughton certainly inspired more confidence. We started passing. To our own players. We won second balls. We even managed to play out of defence. As a unit, the away end felt we really could be witnessing the birth of League 2 AFC Wimbledon. Perhaps even an end to the Learning Curveâ„¢?
And then, slightly against the run of play, they scored. Fraser Franks (starting in place of Hatton) was easily beaten down the right, and looked out of his depth. Shaun Riggs crossed and Marc Richards headed in from about 4 yards.
But perhaps this was a good thing, because it showed how far we had come in two weeks. Previous Dons sides this season would have seen this as a hurdle too high, rolled over and conceded three more. Instead, we didnâ€™t lose our heads. We kept our shape, and more importantly our composure, and continued to play well, without creating too many clear-cut chances.
Then Sammy Moore crossed low, and Jack Midson somehow managed to get a touch on it. And we held our breath as the ball slowly dribbled over the line. Their keeper tried to claw it out but the goal was given. Cue delirium in the away end. Luke Moore replaced Jason Euell, who picked up a slight knock on his calf. Overall, the Dons definitely edged the first half, with chances at a premium.
The second half started in the same way, and it became clear that Fraser Franks had been targeted by the Vale as being a weak link. For once, instead of grumbling on the touchline, TB noticed, and tried to do something about it, bringing on Sammy Hatton.
Again, chances were hard to come by, but there was certainly a positive mood in the Donsâ€™ camp, with decent football being played, and more importantly, variety in our play â€“ little one-twos mixed with balls over the top meant we were less predictable, and as the half progressed there was a confidence not felt for some time â€“ we could go on to win this.
And win we did â€“ some fine work on the right by Harrison, who squared to Luke Moore. He took a touch before careful bending it into the corner.
It felt like it was coming, a deserved winner. The only remaining question was whether we could hold on to the lead. But the MMK/McNaughton partnership held firm, and despite Sammy Hatton trying his best to lose his head, everyone else got on with the job in hand.
So an away win, and our first 3 points since Morecambe away in October. But much more importantly, we looked like a team who could play. And TB proved he wasnâ€™t afraid of making big decisions, which might just be the saving of his position at this time.
The new additions? The not-very-new McNaughton was strong and didnâ€™t do much wrong â€“ Iâ€™d like to see that pairing with MMK become a regular one, as they seemed to work well together. Billy Knott played well, as did George Moncur, who started on the right, and they looked comfortable at this level. Knott showed a classy first touch. He also knew how to protect the ball rather than give away possession under a feeble challenge like a true Don, but Iâ€™m sure heâ€™ll learn soon 😉 winking . Both linked well with Jason Euell and Sammy Moore.
I was surprised to see Euell starting to be honest, given he probably isnâ€™t match fit. He lacked a little pace, and his first touch wasnâ€™t quite perfect at times, but thatâ€™s just a bit of rust â€“ as Paul Scholes and Terry Henry have proved, class is permanent:) happy . What hadnâ€™t changed was the vision, with some lovely passes which split the defence which has been severely lacking.
Our record signing? A little quiet in the first half, but was encouraged to run in the second half with better service, and started to get into the game. He set up the winner too, and showed ability with couple of good first touches and turns.
But this was the first competitive game with them, playing in a diamond with Sammy Moore at the back, Moncur on the right, Knott on the left and Euell/Luke Moore just behind the strikers. Their understanding of each otherâ€™s game visibly improved over the course of the game, and once they fully gel you could imagine a very strong starting four in midfield. Itâ€™s just a shame Knott and Moncur are on loanâ€¦
Plus Points: A win and 3 points, but more importantly a performance to be proud of â€“ especially considering we came back from behind. TB set the side up with the right intention, and we seemed to have more of a cutting edge. And we scored two from open play.
Minus Points: Right back â€“ Fraser Franks isnâ€™t good enough; neither is Sammy Hatton. The loanees simply highlight the fact. They both lack composure under pressure. And itâ€™s a shame that we no longer walk in a Hatton Wonderland , but itâ€™s time for TB to find someone to replace him.
The Refereeâ€™s aâ€¦: chap in black unsure of his parentage. Didnâ€™t give a couple of decisions, including a fairly obvious red card when Griffith tried to cut Billy Knott in half, but, to be fair, missed a fairly blatant handball by McNaughton early on too, so best not complain too hardâ€¦
Them: Going through some tough times at the moment, which remind me of some Norwegian bastards. Canâ€™t feel too sorry for them though, as they charged Â£20.50 for a ticket. Quite a nice modern stadium, although not quite sure why all the away fans were squashed into one block of seating, given the amount of space available. Itâ€™s certainly the kind of thing we should be building if when we get back to Merton. Their scorer looked strong, but he was the only one you thought youâ€™d have. Will probably be mid-table if they arenâ€™t into receivership.
Point to Ponder: If weâ€™d signed the loanees on permanent deals Iâ€™d sleep like a baby tonight. As it is, I just canâ€™t help wondering what will happen when Knott and Moncur go. Euell was replaced by Luke Moore, who seemed to relish decent service, and ditto Toks when he replaced Knott, but I canâ€™t help feeling that month-long loans might not be enough. I hope Iâ€™m wrong, because it was such an improved performance. Iâ€™d love to have Knott sign tomorrow (Moncur I want to see more of) but if they donâ€™t?
Threeâ€™s a crowd: Disappointing; although the announced number was 4326, it looked like fewer than that, and they werenâ€™t half quiet. A shame as itâ€™s hard to have banter with yourself without looking peculiarâ€¦
Anything else? An unusual substitution, when the 4th Official came on for the lino. The problem was that no-one knew how many additional minutes were given, and as we couldnâ€™t see the scoreboard and clock, most Dons were down to their knuckles by the time the ref actually blew his whistle. There was even a â€œThey think itâ€™s all over momentâ€ when the ref awarded a free kick and the away end started celebrating the win prematurelyâ€¦ at least it didnâ€™t come to bite us on the arse.
But perhaps the most interesting talking point â€“ where was Captain Fantastic? Some said injured, although I couldnâ€™t find anything on the OS or anywhere else. The evidence today was clear â€“ we are better without him than with. Their goal was due to a defensive lapse by Fraser Franks â€“ everything else was mopped up with, dare I say it, ease? GG took the armband, and played the best Iâ€™ve seen him. There was no Jamie Stuart sized hole. Whilst he was great last season, I think this could be the final nail in his starting place. Time will tell.
In a nutshell: Bring on Gillingham!
No, I still don’t believe us winning a game is anything other than a cruel elaborate hoax. Very elaborate though, I have to admit – the OS is in on it, the national and local press are running with it too, and the players and fans are continuing with it on the various messageboards and social media sites.
This could almost match the
crackpotted retarded conspiracy theorists truthseekers who believe that 9/11 was an inside job.
Anyway, assuming we did actually win a game, as WW said – about bloody time too. And pretty welcome as well – another defeat and the London Underground network would have had to deal with a few AFCW fans throwing themselves in front of their rolling stock.
But something was different yesterday, and I think it might have been summed up when we went 1-0 down. I was sitting in a cold press box at the Amex, and while I rolled my eyes when I found out the score, I had that sense that I hadn’t had for a while – it was a case of when, not if we’d pull a goal back. That we did a few minutes later made the half time cuppa a bit nicer tasting.
Of course, we scored and the rest is recent history…
So, what? Well, it’s a rather nice change not to have your Sunday ruined with yet another post mortem on inglorious failure. This warm glow of a victory is a weird feeling, isn’t it? Suddenly things feel nicer, birds are singing sweeter, the sky is bluer, even little things that usually annoy me on a Sunday (like getting up) aren’t quite so bad.
The mood is certainly different. It is however but one victory, and it’s very easy to get carried away. We could very easily return to bad old ways at Priestfield next week, and this now becomes just as an important seven days for everyone as last week. The shot in the arm the new signings have given us is all very well, but we need three or four wins, not just one.
It’s still a concern that the new players are mostly here for a month, with no obvious hints that they’ll remain past February. Especially when you read that other sides near us in the table are taking players on loan until the end of the season.
I would be disappointed – and not a little angry – to see that we haven’t planned for this and we’re back to square one should Euell, Moncur and Knott go back to their parent clubs. If you think the mood was bad after Swindon, just imagine what it will be like if we’re caught short this time next month…
Still, enough churlishness. We did win yesterday after all, or so the establishment tells us anyway 😉 What we have also gained is a bit of breathing space – if all goes well, having Saturday 7th January off might have kept AFC Wimbledon in the Football League. It gave us a week off from an absolute hellish run, forced us to dip into the transfer market and give us a mental health break that we so badly needed.
WW mentioned about getting off the Learning Curveâ„¢. Personally, I don’t think any club really fully does that, but we’ve had the hardest lessons since 2002 this season, and certainly the hardest lessons of all since the middle of October.
Yesterday proved the harshest of harsh realities that the club has now (finally?) learnt – you have to have decent players to do anything in this division. We might have taken an irreversable step this past week, insofar as when we have to replace the likes of Euell/Moncur/Knott we can’t do it with the likes of Max Porter.
It may have got missed, but Lee Minshull is now on loan (and presumably for longer than a month) at Newport County. The rumour mill suggests Porter will join him. Reece Jones is on loan at Carshalton, which seems a pretty big drop for a player in L2 – even somebody like him who seems to be a bag carrier for the first team squad. Even this summer, they were still the type of players we showed a keen interest in.
Step back for a moment and think of the players we’ve got in this past couple of weeks :
– A player from a L1 side who came through the ranks of a Prem side, was playing in the top flight less than two seasons ago and was still a Championship player last season (Euell).
– Two players from the West Ham setup, both of whom have made the team sheets of the first team (C-Mac and Moncur).
– A player from the Chelski youth setup who was considered good enough to be signed by a current Premiership side (Knott)
– A player who came into a L2 side last season and ended up their joint top scorer (Byron)
None of them are exactly part timers. All of them are proven talent at levels higher than anything we’ve experienced as AFCW.
The question is, how do you replace them? I might see us take Euell on in the summer, but the other loanees are too highly rated for us to keep hold of them. If anything, it just heightens the likelyhood of some serious moves to be made during the summer…
Moving onto more current matters, some are still concerned about our defence, a part of the pitch where TB has never quite shown 100% attention to, if his interviews over the past four years are anything to go by. The next time he does one, will he still go on about needing more in midfield? While C-Mac and MMK are getting a cautious thumbs up, poor FF and GG seemed to be the most quizzed about from yesterday.
Will the next couple of games force TB to look at the full back positions? Do we have any money spare to strengthen? Will we get a few extra sheckles from our
sugar daddies benefactors to make it happen if not? If it’s not even on the radar, then it’s a pretty big opportunity missed. We’re still too close to the drop zone for comfort, and the likes of Plymouth are picking up points too.
Judging by the reports I’ve heard, I still don’t fancy this back line in a relegation battle to hold firm. In fact, I would suggest that it will be the reason why we will limp to safety rather than being comfortably mid table by March. It does sound pretty brittle, even by League Two standards, and we’re hoping that we play other teams who aren’t very potent up front…
Still, that’s for another day. We won a game, and by fuck we needed it. Finally we can start watching the Eastlands penalties without that horror of what went on since. While we need a lot more rebuilding, with luck that can wait until the summer.
One other thing – remember how in the Conf we always used to get three points off Mansfield? I think Port Vale might end up being the same kind of club that will always give us cheer. And if that is the case, if PV had taken anything off us we must have really been shit…