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The Morning After The Night Before

AKA we go again…


I’ve got to be honest, like our manager this morning I’ve got mixed emotions about last night. The nagging doubt is that we could (and maybe should) have been planning a replay at Anfield right now.

If only we’d got it on target soon after Gerrard netted his second. If only Mignolet decided that he would up his game for us last night. If only Azeez had been just a quarter of a yard quicker to the ball in the dying minutes.

If only.

But losing 2-1 to the 1988 FA Cup runners up is the closest you’ll get to a moral victory without it being an actual one. Reading around, just about everyone is full of praise for us. For the way we played, for the way we handled a genuinely massive cup tie, even for pushing last season’s EPL runners up so close.

Last night, in so many ways, AFC Wimbledon came of age.

It’s a cliche to remind ourselves who we were playing x amount of years ago, but it’s a good reminder to do just that : in 2003, around this weekend, we played Southall at KM in the CCL – we drew 2-2.

In 2007 we had to traipse down to Ramsgutter and a venue that to this day still makes me shudder. And in 2009, we were still in places which time forgot – we were at Bognor Regis Town.

And we won 5-1 that day.

You do forget sometimes how far this particular incarnation has come in such a relatively short space of time. True, that doesn’t excuse some moments of outright amateurism this club can cough up on occasions, but we’ve reminders of that against Pompey and Newport recently as well.

Did last night “make” AFC Wimbledon? Yes and no. Yes, because this was the first properly major tie we faced (and I don’t include the Franchise circus, because the wider footballing world has given that one a “meh” since the first game), and the first one where we’ve been on worldwide media.

Hell, even Deadspin got on the act last night.

We could have crumbled under that scrutiny, but if anything we reveled in it. And that’s why last night didn’t make AFCW – it just re-affirmed it.

I reckon that subconsciously, we miss the big days like this – anyone who watched Wimbledon from 1986-2002 would have felt at home last night.

Yes, it was a massive tie, but it wasn’t the “ooh look, we’re playing Liverpool and we may never do so again” type reaction that Havant fans still have.

True, we may not play the Scousers again for a long time, but most L2 sides will be in the same boat. All the while we remain a FL side, we’re only 1 or 2 wins in the C1C or two wins in the FAC to get a decent tie anyway.

There have been many bon mots this morning, but something caught my eye in the Independent that summed it up:

In the 27 years since Lawrie Sanchez headed the Crazy Gang into history much has changed for both clubs, but especially Wimbledon. It may have sometimes felt like purgatory being a Liverpool fan in the Sir Alex Ferguson era but they have merely lost status, slipping from England’s dominant team to part of the chasing pack. Wimbledon fans have had their club stolen away to Milton Keynes, started a new one, won five promotions in nine years, and are now back where they were in the early 1980s.

Bold bit mine. And I bet those who saw us play Carlisle and Bury the first time round won’t disagree.

The ticketing arrangements worked as well as they could, I don’t recall any away fans getting in the home end. Although sadly, the actual checking of tickets in the Chemflow End was practically non-existent – I’m sure there were those with YGT tickets who felt they could get away with standing elsewhere, and did just that.

I eventually moved to the disabled section (which I can get away with ATM, and I don’t mean mentally either) but those rammed in on the exit gangways must have considered pissing on somebody’s leg.

You know how they used to claim the Kop gave those standing on it such a warm feeling? That was the bloke behind them who had a couple of beers beforehand and not being able to move…

Speaking of the Scousers, I’m told many if not most of them had London accents. Obviously, when you’re one of the biggest three clubs in the country (behind Yernited but ahead of Arsenil) you’re going to get plenty of out-of-towners, but they didn’t seem to make much noise.

And this morning’s headlines may be eulogising Steven Gerrard, but it’s games like this where you realise just how good he actually is.

His free kick won’t be the last time he scores similar this season, and against defences far better than ours. It’s like when John Terry played in the Chelski friendly, you can see the difference between him and the rest of them.

It may have been the usual leveller of the FAC, but I was surprised how otherwise ordinary LFC were. OK, they had close to 70% possession, and as we tired they could have got a couple more. Not that I think we would have deserved that.

But you can see why they went out of the CL so early, why Leicester pulled back from 2-0 to draw 2-2 only a few days ago, and why they’re not going to be close to the Premier League title for another 26 years at this rate.

Balotelli came on, and the most impact he made was the record sprint to the tunnel after the full time whistle. Southampton must still be pissing themselves over selling Lambert to them, and while their defence was as solid as one should expect from a Prem side, I can see why better teams have more joy against them.

Remember – we’re a mid-table L2 side and we caused them enough problems to possibly force a replay.

So, that’s really that I guess. We lost the game but we won a lot of kudos. We weren’t gubbed, which was the all-round fear beforehand, and the fact we’re asking ourselves “if only” this morning is a very good sign indeed.

The question remains though – now what? Playing Stevenage this Saturday is going to be a massive comedown, and you know Westley will be drumming that into his robots.

Fortunately, we still have a late playoff run to aim for, and that must now be our focus. I doubt if we’ll get in them, but it’s going to be a lot of fun to try it. We’re good enough to at least give it a go, and it would be an absolute travesty if we fail to build on this.

We may be doing that without Tubbs though. Some strong – very strong – rumour milling last night suggested that we may be seeing him in a Pompey shirt by the end of the week.

Mind you, I also heard a “players dad” type comment insinuating that the contract we’ve offered has, to quote, “turned his head”. Me, I’m keeping an open mind, and I expect the former will happen. But I’m more interested/concerned in getting a replacement for him rather than keeping him.

If he stays, great. If he doesn’t, the likes of Appiah and Smith proves there is more than enough talent out there. Besides, yesterday might have made a couple of potential signings think they want to be a part of AFCW.

Finally, last night would have done the NPL move a lot of good – national and international exposure, wide praise and highlighting just why we need it.

I hope this is a massive shot in the arm for the Bring The Dons Home campaign, because to be blunt it’s felt a little underwhelming. Although I’ve filled it in, I’ve only had one email in total from them, which got lost in the pre-Xmas pile.

I don’t recall too many updates on the OS as well, although I appreciate it’s not an effort from AFCW itself as such. Even so, this needs to be pushed a lot more now.

I don’t know whether that is complacency or Xmas getting in the way – people forget or keep meaning to do it – but it doesn’t seem to have the traction I hoped it would. There’s still time, of course, and with luck it will wake people up over it.

Here’s the link again in case you still haven’t done it. We really won’t get a better chance to get this done, and your letters of support really will help.

Or as I overheard somebody say, imagine last night if we were back in SW19…