So much for the February From Hell™ then.
There are not one, not two but three reports from various SW19 correspondents today. Anyone would think we’ve beaten Luton Town in the last minute…
First up is Tudor with something short and probably not very sweet:
Theme Park Kingsmeadow
installs new rollercoaster:
Luton left puking.
Next, a fuller report from Secret Agent :
Did any one else think before the game that this was a stern test of how far NA has come this season?
Sure, we all know how tough the run of games in the past couple of weeks has been and NA has been keen to emphasise his need to use the squad to protect the players from injury and burnout, so Top Hat 3 Hatless 2 was the sort of result that suggests that our leader has learned a good number of lessons this season and that maybe, just maybe he is getting past the exclusive use of stats and using tactics to our advantage on a more regular basis.
Ok, I would have taken a point before the game and those I spoke with were of pretty much the same opinion. My Luton-supporting mate, Graeme certainly was of the opinion that this was their most difficult game this month and a point would be a nice result for them.
We knew that Luton were missing their first choice centre backs due to the red mist descending in recent games, but things improved for the Dons when Mark Tyler (probably one of the best, if not the best goalie in this division) was also ruled out with a bang to the knee, so in came the untried and untested Elliot Justham who John Still had plucked from the obscurity of East Thurrock, as is his MO. Fair to say that he wasn’t really at fault for the goals but had his posts to thank on at least three occasions!
The Dons started quickly and with intent to put the Luton back line under the cosh. For the first twenty or so minutes we had them defending almost in the second row of the Nongshim Stand but to no avail, bar the woodwork being in the wrong place or too wide.
It was a feeling of “we need to score while we are on top”. Clearly the players though so too, as a nice bit of one-two play between Tanner and AA resulted in the latter being through with Justham to beat. AA forced a diving parry from the keeper, but Alfie Potter followed up to put the ball into an empty net. 1-0 and certainly not against the run of play.
After the goal, Luton tried to come back into it a bit but were always susceptible to a fast counter attack from the boys in blue. From a left side corner, Justham could only punch the ball away among a cluster of players. It was a decent punch too, but fell to Bulman, out side the area on the right, who took a touch, lined it up and smacked the ball into the top left corner.
The ball was still rising when it hit the net, cue delirium from the Dons faithful. 2-0 and good money for it just a couple of minutes from the break.
However, as is often the case, we failed to clear a ball in our box and the diminutive Guttridge forced a shot away that hit Shea’s right hand post and fell for Stockely to tap home. 2-1 and suddenly, John Still’s half time team talk becomes a bit easier, while NA’s became somewhat more difficult, perhaps?
Second half starts and it is almost a complete reversal. All the momentum is with Luton as they come out firing and with purpose and it’s our turn to defend deep and in numbers with not much in the way of an out ball to AA.
The partnership between Oshilaja and Winfield is looking anything but assured (more to do with Winfield to be honest) and after a spell of pressure, Stockley receives the ball via a slip on the right side of our box by Winfield, who recovers just in time to scythe down Stockley a yard inside the box.
The ref puts out his arm, we hold our collective heads and then sigh with relief when realising that the man in black has booked Stockley for a dive and awarded a free kick to us. Cue the surreal sound of the Main Stand chanting “you don’t know what you’re doing” to the ref.
The relief is short lived though as an attempt at a lofted back pass the Shea from Bulman hits Oshilaja and the ball ends up at the feet of Elliot Lee (son of Rob apparently) who finishes well to level things up. 2-2.
At this stage, we are on the ropes and can’t seem to string passes together and get out of our half, so NA rings the changes, bring off Rigg for Beere with 15 to go and then using the rawness of Azeez for the hardworking but less effective Tanner with ten to go, in the hope of pressing Luton back a bit.
This worked with a few minutes to go as Azeez ran past the defenders at will and seemed to get caught in two minds as he approached the goal at a fairly acute angle.
Was it a shot or a cross for Potter? Suffice to say, the keeper smothered it and the chance was gone. At this stage it is a very open game and both sides are looking for the mistake or touch of magic to win it.
With a minute left, NA brings on Connolly for Potter. The 4th official shows a minimum of three minutes added time. With a long ball down the middle Beast gets his head to the ball, Connolly skips into the box, rounds the keeper and slots home in the third added minute. 3-2 and the collective heads of the Luton players drop as a point is snatched away from them at the death.
No complaints from the Dons though and from my vantage point it did look as if the roof on the Chemflow end was moving as the celebrations took hold. Whew!
Plus points: A win. At home. Against a playoff team. Late goal. Good performances from mostly everyone.
Minus points: Dave Winfield. The guy is a lump, really big guy. Sure, it’s only his second game alongside Oshilaja, but there must be a reason he couldn’t get a game for York (3rd bottom as I write). He may be 26 but he plays like he’s 36. At least we only signed him for a month!
Us: Maybe, just maybe, we could be on the way to something approaching consistency at home? We still have to play Wycombe, Southend, Pompey Northampton and Oxford at KM, but should be enter these games with trepidation or confidence? It could be the key to making a push for the playoffs. Shrewsbury are a good indicator of what strong home form can do for you.
Them: Ok, so they were short of key players in key positions, but it’s a squad game these days, even at L2 level and they were found wanting, especially at the back. To be fair, they have only beaten us once (I think) in seven games since we first played them in the first game in the Conference for us both.
Three’s a crowd: Fewer than 4100 for an all ticket game? In hindsight, we missed out here. 1 ticket per person (DT member, Shareholder, Membership) right up until mid afternoon on Friday when it was upped to four per person. A chance missed to earn a few £k. Shame.
The referee’s a: Womble! Did pretty well apart from the missed penalty for them. It’s about time we got a call like that after watching us battle against 12 men at Wycombe and Burton in the league!
And another thing: All our goals were scored by players who haven’t scored for us since they signed this time round (applicable to Potter and Connolly).
So was it worth it? Seriously?
In a nutshell: Eight points off the playoffs, 13 points off the drop zone. Bring on Cambridge, we owe them one and they don’t have Kwesi Appiah now!
And finally, from Oli Duffy:
The pressure was certainly more on Luton to win this game than it was for Wimbledon to, with the Hatters slipping out of the automatic promotion spots and the Dons already having bagged an adequate – if not commendable – four points from their tough run against promotion-hopefuls Newport, Burton, and Shrewsbury.
We certainly seemed to thrive under the knowledge that we didn’t have much to lose in this match, and the attacking moves on display at Kingsmeadow were the best I’ve seen all season.
In the first half, our midfield looked great. Bulman put in a phenomenal amount of effort on and off the ball, and it was a delight to watch Potter bamboozling Fraser Franks and co.
Akinfenwa was at his best, providing the vital touch to bring the aerial balls under control and some killer passes too. Having said all that, I feel 2-1 was a fair reflection of the game at half time.
We certainly had more chances than Luton did, but they quite often found themselves in dangerous areas also and if we were a bit unlucky it good have been all level on forty-five minutes. The promise in attack they displayed made me apprehensive about what would come in the second half.
It was not an unfamiliar feeling watching Wimbledon come out of the blocks much slower than the opposition in the second half, and the dread increased when they got their equaliser.
Reeves and Potter appeared a little overawed by the larger and less subtle Luton midfield, and that tosspot Gutt(e?)ridge played annoyingly well and was in all honesty unlucky not to score.
Their fans were incessantly annoying – or at least the ones who placed themselves in the vicinity of the YGT divide were – and among their more unusual chants was ‘You’re racist and that’s the way you like it’. I have no idea how that one started.
I was surprised their fans did not react more angrily to their penalty appeal, it was certainly a foul. We got away with that one there, but I guess we’ve had our own share of bad luck this season, and doubtless there’s more to come.
To our credit we reacted well to their equaliser, and that includes management as well as players. The introduction of Azeez, Beere, and Connolly added some pace, energy, and guild to reinvigorate our attack and reminded the Luton defence of their frailties.
It was such an open game it always felt like there was going to be a winner, and thank god it was us that got it. It turned out to be a game in which we displayed attacking flair, resilience, and the ability to reassert ourselves in a match that had been running away from us.
It could have quite easily been another promising lead at home thrown away. But it wasn’t, and that’s seven points from our four games of death. Well done Ardley.
Now for to play Cambridge who seem to still be hungover from the FA Cup, and bottom placed Hartlepool. Zero points coming our way.
I’m glad it wasn’t me who made that last remark 😉
If you’ve got through all that little lot, congratulations. But it was certainly worth it in the end – both on here and at KM on Saturday.
One thing this game proved is how fine the margins in football really are. If DC hadn’t rounded their keeper, this weekend would have full of wailing, teeth gnashing, and the usual calculations proving this result would relegate us.
Admittedly, I haven’t seen their “penalty”, but then neither did the ref by all accounts. Still, you need a bit of luck in this business and it will make up for the times we’ve been sodomised by an official.
This weekend and this Monday morning feels a lot nicer. Granted, most of us would have accepted a draw against Luton before the game, so to go 2-0 and end up being 2-2 would have been a pisser.
And you don’t need me to remind you about the mood if we had lost 3-2 rather than won by it…
None of that matters, though. We won, we got the three points, and all is well with the world. And the February From Hell™ doesn’t seem nearly as bad after all.
We’ve played four teams in the top seven, and we’ve got seven points from them. That’s a pretty good return. If we beat Cambridge and Hartlepool this week, not only are we as good as safe but suddenly the playoffs look tantilisingly close.
I said “if”.
The world and his wife knows that there’s only one outcome from a game where the opposition got gubbed over the weekend and can’t even sell their arse for a win.
Likewise, there is only going to be one conclusion from playing the side rooted to the bottom of the entire Football League, eight points adrift and playing like they’re doomed.
Which makes wins like Saturday, and Newport, and the point at Burton ever more important. We can, and probably will, do our usual in the next two games but at least we will be annoyed rather than shitting ourselves over hardly any points this month.
I would wax lyrical about if we manage to break the cycle of failure against these teams this week, but it ain’t going to happen. So I won’t.
Back to Saturday, and one negative does sound like our inability to get going in the second half. I have to admit, when we went 2-0 up then 2-1, there was something predictable about it going 2-2.
While NA can claim at least some credit for the first half performance and more credit for changing things towards the end, he still fails to seal the deal over his HT team talks.
Even now, I’m convinced he needs an experienced head beside him (is Shaun North still available?) just to have somebody else to bounce off in some important situations.
Granted, if we hadn’t conceded just before half time it would have made his talk a fair bit easier. But even so, you could have predicted us starting slowly, and quickly going from two goals up to just one.
The other negative is Winfield, who came in with low expectations and is managing to live down to them. Yes, he’s only here for a month, and you can blame Mark Phillips for this situation.
But when people are suggesting he plays like Curtis Osano, it does sound like a month is enough.
We might need him for longer simply because Phillips either seems to get a) injured a lot, or b) likely to get himself dismissed again.
If we do keep Winfield for longer – assuming he improves and he won’t break the bank – he could be the Kelly Youga of 2015. As in, he does a job but not much more.
Though I seriously doubt if any of our current centre backs will be here next season.
Still, the contractually obligated negativity out of the way. It’s great to see DC back and scoring – when his goal was shown on Sky Sports News, the presenter said he’s still got it.
It proves that players like him never lose it – Marcus Gayle and pre-Franchise Mick Harford were also great examples of this. DC himself thinks that he’ll be an impact sub this season, which assumes we’re keeping Tanner until the end of the campaign.
Tanner, by the way, needs a goal himself – there seems to be a bit of doubt creeping in about him already.
One wonders if this will be DC’s last season, or if he gets his fitness and his spark back whether he might decide he has one more campaign left in him from the bench.
He clearly wants to be a coach, and he’s helping behind the scenes with us, so you would assume that something is in the pipeline. Or at the very least, hope there is.
So, that’s the weekend that was. It will be really nice to get at least four points from the next two games, and to be blunt if we’re looking to progress that’s what we need to do.
In an odd way, the next two games could make or break our season, but in the right way – if we slip up, then we’ll just be mid-table.
And that’s a nice thing to write as February closes…