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A valiant effort

Now that’s a bit more like it…

It’s always nice to return to winning ways, especially after THAT clusterfuck last week. It’s even nicer to put a team to the sword and give them an early Xmas present they don’t want.

Your editor was otherwise engaged over the weekend (Fulham and QPR), but STTA wasn’t…

Last week’s defeat at the Frenzydome might have been hard to swallow but it wasn’t completely unexpected.

Nothing lasts forever in football, we’d been laughing at the Franchise for 2 or 3 months so it was probably time the footballing gods knocked us off our perch.

How would we respond though? I’d heard the dreaded messages about reactions from the players and bouncing back, that was enough for me to have a tenner on The Valiants at 4/1.

Not for the first time this season the squad proved me wrong, we were worth every bit of The Forgiven Men 4 The Forgotten Men 0.

The bad news was John Meades joined Darius on the sidelines, another injury that’s unlikely to be solved quickly. The other change saw an out-of-form Dean Parrett replaced by George Francomb.

The good news was a return to our 4-3-3 formation and a clear intention to worry about our own game rather than any problems Port Vale might cause us.

The first half was a pretty one-sided affair, we were as dominant as those displays against Bury and could easily have gone in 3 or 4 up.

Taylor brought two good saves out of Alnwick, Elliot went close with a header, Poleon with a sublime chip and Reeves blazed high and wide.

But 0-0 it was so half-time had us pondering, could we keep up the pressure in the second period and make the break through?

Eight minutes into the second period we got the answer. Great work down the left by Sean Kelly, a one-two with Taylor got him to the byline and his ball across left Dom Poleon with a simple tap in. 1-0 Dons.

Five minutes later and we put the game out of reach. Dean Parrett delivered another excellent corner and Tom Elliot rose above the crowd to head home. 2-0.

Glad to say there was no hint of game management at 2 up, instead we pressed on in search of further goals. Our endeavour was rewarded on 85 minutes when Taylor fed the ball in to Barnett who spun his man and slotted into the top corner (yes Tyrone Barnett, I’ll provide the praise further down). 3-0.

There was time for one more and we duly produced. Parrett delivered another inswinging corner on 89 minutes and Robertson buried it this time. 4-0 and game over.

Plus points: bouncing back, goals, Barcham returning.

Minus points: Meades injury

The referee’s a…: bit of a homer I thought but not on the scale of the wanker in Bucks, this one favoured us but he wasn’t changing the result.

Them: terrible away record and you can see why. Played some neat football but barely threatened our goal. Never fancied them to get back in it once we went ahead. Their home form will keep them up but little more.

Anything else: two players to mention here, Sean Kelly and Tyrone Barnett.

Kelly had a rough time of it when he was dropped in the deep end back in August but he’s settled in at the club now and produced some solid performances. Not going to shift Meades when he’s fit but that doesn’t mean he won’t get plenty of game time.

And now for Mr. Barnett. I gave him a bit of grief recently and since then I’ve witnessed some much-improved performances and 3 goals. He played a huge part in keeping us in the FA Cup and fingers crossed that was a pivotal moment in his Dons career.

It was immeasurably important to stay in the cup but we may see the benefits of Tyrone’s connection with us at Curzon long after we have exited this years competition.

Point to ponder: so we were organized, clinical and ruthless on Saturday, why so different from the toothless, tentative and disorganized display we witnessed 7 days earlier?

Firstly Lyle Taylor. I’ve complimented Lyle previously on his attitude towards being switched to the right side man in a front three.

But watching the contrast between last week and this there’s more, creativity yes but he also brings passion and energy to the team. When he’s missing we’re just not the same proposition.

Secondly our formation. I’m not a fan of 4-4-2 other than situations that demand a change within a game like Curzon Ashton. I appreciate our injuries played a part in how we set up last week but given the clusterfuck we produced maybe the formation we play matters more than the personnel that play it.

Thirdly and most importantly our mentality. There was a theme in the player interviews and pre-match briefing with the gaffer, we were focused on us this week, how we were going to play. We would be at it from the first whistle, because when we’re at it we’re too much for a lot of sides in the league.

Was there a suggestion in here that we worried too much about the opposition in the previous fixture? We certainly seemed pre-occupied by something.

So could it be that the defeat against our arch enemies is the ‘Stevenage moment’ of this campaign? Not on the same scale of course but a change in mentality none the less, one that sees us no longer concerning ourselves with the oppositions strengths and tactics. A shift in emphasis from countering their threat to focusing on our own.

If that is what’s happened I’ll look back on the Franchise defeat fondly, for this is a mental hurdle we’ve needed to jump for some time.

I didn’t update last week, as you can probably guess, but before we reflect on the weekend just gone, a quick thought on THAT game on the 10th – I wonder if we still don’t know how to handle that particular fixture?

It’s almost as though we’re scared of facing them. On the field as much as off it.

I know the club and many of its supporters (including this place) want to never face them ever. And that’s understandable. But they exist, over 2000 do want to go to Buckinghamshire once a season, and will continue to do so for a good while.

And chances are, we’ll be facing them in league fixtures on at least a semi-regular basis.

So we’ve got to learn to deal with them properly, even if it means holding your nose and your stomach a lot more. Because as the Port Vale reaction showed, still waters really do run far too deep…

Still, Franchise lost and we won. And it feels like the world’s natural order has finally righted itself.

Make no mistake – we needed this. Not only from last week, but for a good while too. I know we beat Bury and Curzon, but the last few weeks haven’t been that impressive.

There was the growing sense that we were slowly on the decline, so to hear we a) played well, and b) put it in the net a few times as well was pleasing.

It was around this time last year, in the second half at Newport, where things started to turn**. One wonders what the reaction will be as we approached January 2017.

** – there is one bit in that report that I’m sure a certain couple of point-scorers on a certain social media outlet will be cutting and pasting already. Suffice to say, hindsight is such a wonderful thing…

If it’s true that the players and NA himself had that look of “we owe you this one”, then maybe we could be on the cusp of something decent after all.

Alternatively, we aren’t, and we were lucky to be facing a team immensely shit away. But then, you can only beat what’s in front of you…

That said, we seem to be doing the right thing this season – dispatching the shit teams (mostly), holding our own against the ones in a similar position to ourselves, and only struggling against the top four or five.

Mid-table mediocrity, anyone?

Mind you, we would have given our right bollock just to stay up before the season started, so what other body part you’d sacrifice to even be in the playoffs is up to you.

The PV game seemed to merely re-affirm that we have a backbone, and an impressive ability to dust ourselves down and get going again.

Reports that we didn’t take our foot off PV’s throat when we were 2-0 up are good to read. I can understand doing that away from home, but when you’re on your own turf – why not go for the jugular?

The much-maligned Tyrone Barnett (known as T-Bar on iPloughLane – don’t ask) is suddenly a goal-scoring machine. Though as many said after Saturday, if only we could have just scored one the week before…

We’ve over-relied a bit on Taylor and Elliott, so a third goalscorer that isn’t Poleon is very good to have.

Could we effectively secure our L1 status over Christmas? We need 24 more points, apparently, and NA has set the players a target.

Unless we have an absolutely catastrophic loss of form from January onwards, we should get that relatively comfortably. It’s not even Xmas and we’re already talking in those terms.

It’s effectively twelve points between us and the drop zone, if you include goal difference (and how weird does that feel talking about ours in positive terms?).

Of course, there’s always the danger that we’ll get raided in the January transfer window, and I would hope we can rebuff all bids.

If we can’t, then we should make sure we get as much money as possible, and – perhaps more importantly – be able to replace any leaver ASAP.

I still think we should look into bringing a player or two in with a view to next season’s planning. Though equally I wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t.

Whatever happens, it’s nice to be talking about things like this. Much rather be where we are than a few other sides, put it that way.

And speaking of looking forward – Sutton. The ballot gets drawn today, and that’s going to cause a bit of consternation amongst the unlucky.

Given that there may be the occasional Womble in the home end, and that there will be some ST holders not applying, chances are most who want to go will be able to get in.

Like the Staines playoff game, there’s going to be a lot of people helping each other out over this. Football fans can be, and are resourceful in these sort of situations, after all.

If you’re not selected in the ballot, keep an eye out for spares. I expect there’ll be some bargaining tools, like a couple of pints/money/sexual favours, it’s that kind of fixture.

It does highlight how much we could do with a loyalty pot though. While this is an extreme case of demand outstripping supply, we’ve had two such games – Sutton and Liverpool – in the last two seasons alone.

And considering we’re in League One, just one win away from another high-demand draw in the League Cup (yeah, I know).

We’re not that badly supported as it is**, home and away, and when we return home we’ll have more people who will want tickets for these sort of fixtures.

** – it’s possible that, all the while we’re at KM anyway, we’re at our “natural” level right now as a club. Our away turnouts have never been too shabby, PV took similar to KM what we would do in reverse, and you’d be surprised at how “small” some L1 stalwart clubs actually are…

I see that Millwall have implemented such a scheme this season. While their clientele is, ahem, a bit different to ours, it’s something that I’d like to think would be part of a wider membership review at AFCW.

We haven’t had a WFSC-esque membership scheme since 2002, probably even before that, though I can’t quite find in either pre-1990s programmes, or old copies of Grapevine, what benefits you used to get with it.

From memory, you got things like reduced discounts on travel, and I think something off from the Don’s Shop (errant apostrophe deliberate, for the old skoolers amongst you).

Again, nicking from our neighbours in SE16, that would be worthwhile to have from 2019 onwards – and I’m certain other clubs will have even better perks for the money.

At the moment, there’s no real point in having one, but like so many things in the next two years ahead, now would be a good time to properly start thinking what we need – and indeed, want.

Take the fact that the office staff will be making 1200 phone calls within the next couple of days – that’s a lot of manhours and it’s something I’m sure in future could/should be done online (or by an automated phonecall).

The volunteer side of things is going be downgraded anyway, either through sheer practicality (we will need a full time ticket office at NPL), or redundancy (turnstile operators, amongst other positions).

And when you start expanding the club’s operational side of things, you might as well make the most of it.

Anyway, it’s Xmas ahead, so hopefully it’s your bird and not our form that gets stuffed…