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Steam Iron

Bloody hell, who saw that coming…?

Every so often, perhaps once or twice a season, there is an away performance that is not only unexpected but leaves you thinking why the hell you can’t pull that off most weeks.

Make no mistake, Steel 1 Carbon Fiber 2 last night was one of them.

It was one of those sort of evenings where one of two things were likely to happen – either a drab and depressing 4-0 gubbing, with your mood not helped by the rain. Or you get the rare but lovely bollock-smashing win, that only usually exist in fables from the past.

Most predicted the former. Some felt we were capable of the latter, but did they really have faith in that?

At 9.41pm last night though, in cold and wet Lincolnshire, we believed it after all. This wasn’t a smash-and-grab either, this was one of the most deserved three points in a good while.

NA was brave (or maybe he was forced into it) to change the formation, and with the same logic as man discovering fire – it worked, even if you don’t fully understand why. Bit like it did at Gillingham this time last week, as well.

If you are to pick holes, you could argue that we weren’t ever going to score, at least in the first half. Wasn’t for the want of trying, but as much as we nullified them in midfield and defence – we were as useful as a Franchise fan with a real live woman in attack.

True they had a couple of (very) half chances, but if it had finished 0-0 we’d still be reasonably happy.

Which led us to the second half. Normally when you play a team who is second, they tend to come out firing, we go on the back foot, and more often than not all the good work is undone by just one lapse.

It didn’t happen.

What did transpire was that we took the lead, albeit with Parrett falling over the ball and somehow managing to prod it home. Hey, they all count.

Poleon’s stunner counted as well, and boy was it orgasmic. This was one of those games where everything – finally – falls into place right in front of you.

Of course, we had the inevitable fuckup. Actually, it wasn’t, although two deflected free kicks in three away games isn’t anything other than sheer misfortune. And I’m not convinced it was a foul to begin with.

Strangely though, the inevitable equaliser never really came that close to happening. Shea gathered a couple of things well, and I think the fatigue started to set in by this stage, but you can’t say we didn’t deserve that.

And no, that’s not bigging ourselves up – we genuinely deserved the three points last night. To get even one would have been a travesty.

Giddyness? Perhaps, but considering how many people would have taken a draw at 19h44 yesterday you could be forgiven for thinking that.

There are quite a few thoughts to take away from last night, so let’s begin. Firstly – make no mistake, this is a massive three points. The ones you expect least are the ones that end up being the most satisfying.

Many were saying after Walsall that our win on Saturday was needed because we’d only get two points at most in the next week. We’ve got three already. And while Notlob on Saturday is a possible/probable loss, suddenly we go there with a bit of confidence.

Secondly, lest we forget that this was our first away League win since October. We needed this victory perhaps more than we realise, and if nothing else it relieves pressure to perform at home.

The post-game celebrations with players, management and supporters said it all on one level, but I think there was a sense of relief too. If we’d drawn, especially after being 2-2, we’d accept the point but it would be another road trip sans victoire.

And yes, it would have been easier to have got that previously elusive win at Shrewsbury or Gillingham. But we’re AFC Wimbledon, and we do things the hard way.

Finally, at least for this section, you can now say we’ve finally turned the corner. It’s only looking back now and realising just how horrible December and January were. Losing to Sutton affected us more than we thought.

Last night, we were a team up for it. We worked hard, we often worked smart as well. We kept going after the break, and when we were pegged back to 2-1. And when five minutes of injury time was added, we dug in even more.

That doesn’t happen by accident…

Plus points: We won. Best performance for a good while. Nobody played shit. Poleon’s strike. Working hard from start to finish. Unexpected three points.

Minus points: Their goal.

The referee’s a…: I’m convinced he had money on the draw, or even a Scunny win. When it was 0-0, he was decent enough, hardly noticed it, that kind of thing. But when we went 2-0 ahead, suddenly he put on a home shirt.

We couldn’t get a free kick for love nor money. Poleon got hauled down, and he got penalised for having the temerity to be touched by an oppo player. Scunny needed a little bit of help, so he gave them a free kick on the edge of the box. You know what happened next.

And when all else failed, he gave them five minutes injury time. Bet he’s feeling sore this morning. Not to mention a bit broke…

Them: For a team second in the table, and even allowing for the fact they haven’t won in six games, I didn’t think they were all that. Mind you, I felt that in the second half at our place as well.

Their goal was a deflection from a free kick, and that’s really as good as it got for them. I know we played a large part in neutralising that, but I don’t think they’ll go up automatically at this rate.

They’ve got money behind them, apparently, so they didn’t quite need to charge us £22. You could also see why they’re moving from Glanford Park, ironically as it was the first brand new FL ground post-war.

Didn’t seem too bad, clientele wise, though they did try their luck accusing us of not singing at 2-0 up. Also, 3368 there wasn’t particularly good for a team still in the automatic promotion places.

I liked their scoreboard, clearly purchased from Stamford Bridge in 1989, even down to the finger-wagging animation when somebody was booked. Bit weird seeing a clock that went from 45.00 to 0.00 than the other way round, mind you.

Oh, and in injury time, when everyone was checking the “real-time” clock to see how many more minutes the ref was going to award Scunny, the scoreboard operator decided to put up the latest scores instead. A bit like when ITV cut to a commercial break during an FA Cup tie

Point to ponder: So, can we actually make the playoffs? After last season, and as said previously, I’m keeping quiet about poo-pooing that (although in my defence, I eventually changed my mind after playing Dagenham).

Equally, can we still go down? The L1 table says we’re ten points clear – eleven with goal difference – and with a game in hand on everyone except Port Vale, who have played twice less than us.

The answer to both is, probably not.

Let’s start with the looking-behind-us situation. After last night especially, and the way we’ve turned our performances around, it’s 98% certain we won’t go down. We would have to lose about five straight games, for starters, and even at our lowest ebb this season we never did that.

When we’ve really needed to, we’ve got results. Equalising in injury time against both Charlton and Coventry saved us from the first proper brush with a relegation battle, and our performances (and results) since then have gone upwards.

Plus, as our own basement battle in 2012/13 proved, when you’re in the shit like Port Vale and Swindon are – it’s actually very hard to put on a run of wins. Not to mention everyone down there is likely to face at least one other struggler.

So it’s true that we’re probably a couple of wins away from safety. Even one might do it, although I’ll be very glad when we get that 50 point mark.

If we’re not looking down, then what about looking up? I can’t remember what the biggest gap was between us and the playoffs last year (when/before we hit the 2016 purple patch), but I think nine points (plus goal difference) is probably too big to close.

Not to say it can’t be done, as there will be teams going on utterly shit runs of form, but there are still so many teams ahead of us (a couple with games in hand on ourselves) that it’s a long shot at best.

Fatigue might cost us if nothing else. The distraction of the 14th March always seems to affect our form in one way, shape or form. And if we are serious about extending our season, we’ll need to win at the Macron this Saturday as a minimum.

But the very fact that we can even mention playoffs – even in passing – says something. I don’t know what, but it’s a helluva lot better than just settling for 20th…

Truth is stranger than fiction: 1) Up North. Cold, wet, miserable. A League One cliche. 2) A 45-minute rendition in the first half of “Neal Ardley’s yellow/blue army”. Even made it to the beamback. 3) Speaking of which, it seemed a popular move, with about 250 turning up. They even ran out of beer…

Anything else? Assuming that our season peters out, and we can have a comfortable run-in, we can finally start planning the most important close season for a good while.

Last time out, we were a month behind everyone else anyway, but getting promoted almost seemed unexpected. That’s why I think we may have made a couple of signings we otherwise wouldn’t have done.

This time round, there’s not likely to be any excuses.

We won’t nearly be so naive about L1, or at least we shouldn’t be. To our credit, our squad and management team did eventually come to grips with the increase in pace and sharpness one division above.

Budget will always be an issue, especially when losing some serious dosh because we bottled it against Sutton (and yes, that still stings). But even so, it’s clear you can still make a decent fist of it in L1 with the World’s Smallest Budgetâ„¢ – if you get your player recruitment right.

Some of our problems early on were down to the unfortunate situation with Ryan Clarke, and if we are going to give Shea competition next season, then we’d better do some proper scouting this time.

We should be making initial moves on getting a new striker in already. I really hoped it would work out for Tyrone Barnett, but it’s obvious he’s down the pecking order now. He was a bit of a last ditch purchase, and we need to plan better this close season.

Which might mean doing what we did with Soares. We tracked him, he was available, we obviously put a bit of money in Bury’s hand, and he’s visibly improving with every game. Repeat that for as many close-season purchases and who knows what next season will bring?

Despite last night, there’s bound to be some changes. And I think NA knows that he can’t have his Terry Brown 2012 close season – it will cost him his job, for a start. He’s fortunate that he’s more adaptable than our ex-boss, and that he is (eventually) willing to learn.

But pressure will be on him regardless. And it would be ironic if that is partly down to having a good 2016/17 campaign…

So, was it worth it? Absobloodylutely.

In a nutshell: We’re the Wombles, the mighty Wombles, we always win away…. (cough)