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Good Friday Agreement

Just three games to go…

The arse-end of the 2016/17 campaign – or the post-season friendlies, as somebody elsewhere put it – is reaching its understated climax, and it’s probably no surprise that we drew 0-0 against Swindon.

More remarkably, perhaps, was that nearly 900 or us decided to spend a Bank Holiday stuck in a traffic jam. One of them being STTA…

The majority of our current squad arrived for 2015/2016 pre-season in July 21 months ago. To this Saturday the only time they’ve had off completely away from the game was the break between the post-Wembley Vegas trip and pre-season this term, around 4-5 weeks.

In that period from July ’15 to now we’ve progressed from a bang average League 2 side to a mid-table League 1 side. That sort of progress isn’t achieved without a lot of hard work so who can blame them if they’re a bit knackered at the season draws to a close.

We’ve proved how good we can be when we’re really motivated, 14th March was evidence of that. So if clubs fighting for their lives are proving hard to get results against – when we’ve nowt left to play for – we shouldn’t really be losing any sleep over it (or be mumbling ‘already on the beach’ cliches while we’re sleeping).

If we were fighting to stay in the division we’d be turning up results, in an ideal world we should be getting results anyway, but football isn’t like that.

What is important though is that we could if we needed to. Whereas Swindon couldn’t. They were that useless they failed to put us under any real pressure in arguably their most important game of the season.

We have another gear, or rather several more gears because Neal has assembled a very strong squad over the last couple of years, one that doesn’t need a major overhaul in the Summer – but more of that later.

Back at the County Ground we set up 4-4-2. Macca was in goal (with Jimmy falling ill) shielded by Darius, Robbo, Francomb and Kelly in defence. Meades played in midfield with Bully, Soares and Jake. Barnett & Taylor were the top 2.

First half we kicked into a blustery wind, highlights were limited to a scuffed shot by Barnett and a decent save by Macca down to his left on the only occasion he was called into action.

Have to say I expected more from the Robins in such a crucial game for their survival but from early on I couldn’t see them finding a way through Darius. They didn’t look remotely likely to unlock our makeshift defence and I could only see them scoring if we provided one of our gifts.

Second half was more enjoyable. The home side came out and had a go, their lightweight talentless troops could only muster the odd half chance (that they never looked like converting) but their attacking play created space for us to counter.

When we did we mostly countered straight into an offside position, the one occasion we stayed on Jake fluffed the chance. Ultimately neither side had the quality to put the ball in the net….. or anywhere particularly near it.

Plus points: a clean sheet, mathematical safety, being us and not them.

Minus points: still waiting for our first goal in April.

The referee’s a…: unlikely to get many Christmas cards from SN1. Thought he gave us plenty much to the annoyance of the home support.

Them: you can see why they’re in trouble. Too many lightweight players, too many youngsters and I’d guess a few loanees in that side. They lacked character, ideas and creativity. A team needs an identity and they don’t have one.

No excuse to be down where they are if crowds of just under 8k are the norm. Difficult to say whether they have any chance of staying up, their remaining fixtures are Walsall, Scunny and Charlton so on yesterday’s evidence I’d say they’re gone.

Anything else: yes let’s get back to our squad and exactly what changes we’re likely to see before the 2017/2018 campaign gets underway.

Firstly, who are we at risk of losing? For me we’ve got 2 players who may attract attention, Jake Reeves and Lyle Taylor. We are only likely to lose our players to big spending League 1 clubs or Championship clubs. I’m thinking along the lines of Charlton, Pompey or Bradford – who showed an interest in Jake last season.

Some of you may have put Darius or Tom Elliot on that list but to attract interest from ‘above’ I think players need obvious talent for the level they’re at and potential to develop further.

Jake is 23 and comfortably pulls the strings for a League 1 side. Lyle is 27 and I’ll pick his goal against franchise (as it was witnessed by Agent Ferdinand) as one example of his talent.

Darius is 29 and the wrong side of a bad injury. Big Tom has done tremendously well under Neal’s management but for me he’s reached his peak in League 1 and his best chance of appearing in the Championship would be to sign a long contract with us.

And on that subject I really hope he doesn’t have a crap agent. A wrong steer at this point to a club where he’s managed poorly (both his body and role in the side) and he’ll soon end up back at Cambridge.

So I’ve got Jake and Lyle potentially leaving us if any big bucks land on the table but who else might be occupying a seat in the departure lounge and why?

There are a few of our youngsters that will fall victim to the club’s progress to League 1, my guess is that Oakley, Fitz and Gallagher will all be released. Tom Beere may have survived the cull but then signed his own p45 at Gateshead.

From the first team squad I am only expecting 3 departures.

We haven’t seen Robertson since the infamous handball and I suspect that was his last contribution in a Dons shirt.

We haven’t seen Whelpdale since long before that and however good he might be when fit we can’t risk another season of him permanently crocked. I understand he’s on a 2-year deal but it wouldn’t surprise me if he does a Ryan Clarke style departure and ends up at some non-league club with more money than sense.

Last of my 3 is Wimbledon’s number 4. I posed the question some weeks back could we find a way of offering Bully a deal, pay-as-you-play or similar. But there comes a time when it’s best for both parties to move on and on reflection I think that time is now.

You’re wondering if I’ve left anyone out aren’t you?

Yes throughout the season questions have been asked about a few others – Barry Fuller, Sean Kelly, George Francomb, Dom Poleon and of course Tyrone “better than Zidane” Barnett**
(** – did I really hear that song yesterday?).

[SW19 note to STTA : yes you did…]

Bazzer has a contract to the end of next season and hopefully will be back to his best when he returns fully fit. Sean Kelly has earned another season with his improved performances and there’s no reason to ditch a very adequate back up to Jon Meades.

If you think George Francomb is leaving you’ve misunderstood his relationship with Neal, love him or loathe him he’s here to stay. Also staying on will be Dom Poleon, a close call I think but his tally of 13 goals will earn him another year in yellow & blue.

And last but not least the lumbering man mountain that is Tyrone Barnett. Yes he’s on a 2-year deal and at the moment part of our plans. Would we be persuaded to let him go under any the right circumstances? I’ll let you answer that….. watch this space.

Was it worth it? nice day out

In a nutshell: 3 to go

Luckily for everyone, the season ends in weeks and not months. There’s only so much you can say about upcoming dead rubbers…

Like STTA, I think we’re going into the last 270 minutes of football effectively paying for the shortened pre-season. Not to mention the monumental effort the 14th March was. Our cup final, and all that.

Therefore, you can’t really blame anyone for suffering a lack of intensity now. Certainly not players, or management, or even supporters. Though close to 900 turning up to the County Ground is pretty impressive.

They weren’t that bored on Good Friday, were they?

Still they got to see youngster and dissident Irish republican Joe McDonnell take the field. He seemed to do well on crosses (insert Jesus Christ/crucifix gag here), and in fact he seemed to play quite well generally – NA gave him praise, certainly.

The rest of it sounded pretty much as you would have expected, even before the game. Our ability (lack thereof) to score away from home is back with a vengeance again, though at least it reminds us our forward line may need looking at.

Maybe a decent youngster from a Prem club on a season long loan, for the close season? We haven’t had any loanees this campaign, and while I think we should be wary of stuffing our squad with them, one next season won’t hurt.

Lest we forget, we went from late October until the last day in February without scoring an away goal in the League. Although it remains to be seen whether L1 next year is stronger (and I think if anything it will be more or less the same), we have to sort that out one way or t’other.

Yes, some will now say “budgets”. To which I would reply “decent scouting” and “getting some players off the wage bill”. Besides, if the rumours about certain wages are correct, we’re not quite such the poor payers many think we are…

That is something for the long period after the Oldham game. One would suspect we’re already looking at it right now. But as we sit here over this Easter weekend, we have time to think about the moves we need to make next.

And yes, time is a luxury we haven’t had in a couple of years. It’s a rather nice feeling…