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Pompey Crimes

When I say that’s not supposed to happen – I mean that’s not supposed to happen…

So, another defeat. And another game without even much of a shot on target. STTA was there to witness the latest shitstorm of a weekend.

I remember writing about a relegation candidate towards the end of last season, might have been Swindon – I wrote ‘a team needs an identity and they don’t have one’.

Well those words returned to me as I sat in the rain watching us limp to another defeat against Pompey yesterday afternoon, that team without an identity is us.

We’re supposed to be Wimbledon, we lump it to a big man, we score the majority of our goals from set pieces, we don’t take shit from anyone.

But we’ve abandoned the long ball game, or at least the version of it that includes a striker capable of winning a header. We don’t look remotely like scoring from a set piece and we get bullied to the point of spilling blood without a hint of retribution.

And it’s our lack of bottle that Wimbledon fans find most unpalatable. After the assaults that took place on Robbo and Callum I expected us to come out with bared teeth and elbows primed, I expected challenges flying in to even things up a bit.

Not a bit of it. And maybe this gives us a clue as to what’s wrong, what’s missing.

The team came out and played how Neal Ardley would have played in that situation (don’t get involved, focus on your game etc), rather than how someone like Vinny Jones or Wally Downes (let’s fucking break the bastards) might have dealt with it.

I’m not longing for a return to days gone by, the game has changed, but as Pompey proved you can still mix it without ending games a man down. My worry is that if we have a team shaped in the character of the manager do we lose some of those important traits that make us Wimbledon.

Teams should hate coming to Kingsmeadow, they should know that a tough afternoon is in store and the only guarantee is that bruises will outnumber points they take away.

But yesterday’s visitors barely suffered a scratch. The Pompey defence won’t have an easier afternoon all season.

So rightly or wrongly we are less Wimbledon-like under Ardley. But the big risk he’s taken this season is to also abandon the traditional Wimbledon style of football, the problem 6 games in is nobody is sure what he’s replaced it with.

We now have 3 of the same striker in Taylor, MacDonald and Appiah. We have 2 left wingers and more midfielders than you could shake a stick at.

Without a lump we can’t hit it long and on the odd occasion we get a decent cross over there’s nobody to get on the end of it. The only creativity we have in the middle of the pitch is Parrett and he only gets game-time when Neal has no other choice.

So how are we going to score a goal? From what I’ve seen so far our plan is to wait for the shit or knackered teams to come along so that we can play through the middle of them.

Which brings me to my first positive point – I don’t think we’ll go down. I think there are 4 clubs worse than us and we have sufficient quality in the squad to finish above them.

In fact if we can get the first XI fit and find an effective system to play them in we could put a decent run together. We do have quality, in my opinion the strongest squad we’ve ever had as AFCW (if not the most balanced).

Before the season got underway I thought injuries would be crucial in how we performed, always the case with a small squad but more so when many of your key personnel have serious injuries on their CV.

That injury crisis arrived before we even got underway. Charles and Meades are 2 of the first names on the teamsheet, but more importantly 2 of our stronger characters, we can’t get them back soon enough.

Neal has proved in the past that given time he can find an effective way for us to play. He lost a couple of key players in the Summer but recruited high calibre replacements. I think he has earned the time to find a system that gets the best out of them.

My only advice would be to remember that we are Wimbledon football club, not Brazil. We have been successful for many decades playing a direct style of football with appropriate personnel. By all means evolve but let’s not completely forget who we are.

So in the longer term I think we’ll be okay but for now it’s going to be painful. There will be gnashing of teeth after the inevitable 0-0 draw against Gills on Tuesday and I suspect the discontent will become vociferous after we get hammered at Ewood Park.

The only real concern I have for Neal is the game on the 22nd, if we are as clueless and gutless as we were yesterday against the arch enemy the gaffer is in for one seriously difficult time.

Plus points: None

Minus points: No character, no heart, no bottle. No chances, no excitement, no atmosphere.

The referee’s a…: convenient excuse. Correctly awarded the penalty against us, just because you get away with those little shoves most of the time it doesn’t make it any less of a foul. Probably could have got his red card out for one of the elbows but we should be reciprocating rather than ball aching about that.

Them: bang average, eventually I expect to finish above them. What they did have was a plan and the personnel to execute it.

Point to ponder: do we have a bit of a problem with motivation?

I remember after that Stevenage game the players needed reminding what the fans had done to get the club back to where it was and if they put half that effort in we’d be okay with whatever result came along.

We hear of the players getting together to sort things out or we have to bring in the shrink. So why can’t our team of recent years motivate themselves?

I’ve heard a lot about players respecting Neal’s career and buying into his vision for how he wants to play but I’ve not heard one say how they go out and give everything they’ve got on that pitch for him. Not in the way that players put themselves on the line in the days of Harry or Bobby Gould.

And he needs them performing for him now more than ever because if he’s heading down an unfamiliar road with our style of play he can’t afford players who are not motivated to make it work.

Was it worth it? nope

In a nutshell: tough times ahead

Tough times indeed. And worse of all, it’s a slow motion car crash that right now we can’t seem to pull away from.

The mood has definitely changed now, or at the very least the patience is starting to run thin. I can’t recall NA himself being subjected to as much criticism for a good while, as he has been since 5pm yesterday.

Not just from the usual moaners, but plenty of others who I wouldn’t have expected.

Things didn’t come to a head yesterday, at least in the way they did after Torquay in the embers of TB’s career with us. Nor have they quite reached THAT St. Evenage stage. But if the warning signs weren’t there by Friday, they certainly are now.

The question is, how do we get out of this slump? I note STTA said in his piece that we need Meades and Darius back ASAP. The latter, I definitely agree that we’ve missed his leadership and his personality.

His return may make a bit of a difference. He won’t be the silver bullet, as our issues are deeper than that, but he will help. But Meades? He seems to be sponsored by BUPA, and I don’t think we can rely on him because of his injury record.

Yes, we could – and definitely should – employ a more effective game plan. But isn’t that like praising a criminal for doing something that helps him avoid prison? As Chris Rock put it, you’re not supposed to go to jail to begin with.

There are two good things right now (yes, really). The first is that it’s still early September. If major changes have to be made, then providing they’re not left to fester then they can be remedied even before the January window opens.

The second, and not unrelated to the first, is that at least our issues are now plain to see for everyone. Questions are getting asked now, and they have to be answered in one way, shape or form.

Apparently, we’re now the joint bottom scorers in the entire Football League. I haven’t checked that stat out myself, but I can well believe it. And considering that all you need to do in L1 is to score goals from time to time, it’s no longer the elephant in the room.

And yes, it is going to put pressure on both squad and management, as well it should. After all, it’s their mess that they have to sort out, and sooner rather than later.

NA has in the past managed to get out of holes, some of them pretty deep ones, although if you keep doing that then eventually your Timberlands stop gripping the soil. For that reason alone I don’t expect a club statement if we lose to Gillingham/Franchise.

But he’s under a big burden now, and he knows it. At the very least, his approach of trying to win games late on just doesn’t work any more, and he has to remedy that – and quick.

A few picked up on body language yesterday, not in a good way, and again – that has to be faced down head on. Fans aren’t stupid, they can sense when something is badly wrong…

I said just now that things haven’t come to a head yet. I don’t think they will for Tuesday either (though that’s practically a six-pointer already), and already we’ve more or less written off the trip to Ewood Park.

But the Franchise game on the 22nd is when things might genuinely turn.

Your editor remembers the reaction when we shit the bed at the Wankiedome last season, and that was during a so-so run of form. With that in mind, it’s no exaggeration to state that this is a game you simply do not play badly in.

A loss? OK, it will hurt like fuck, but you can get over it if you know you played well and just didn’t get the breaks. But another awful performance in front of our own fans? You can draw your own conclusions to that one…

I’m glad we’ve got Gills in Tuesday, even if I’m not really looking forward to the game right now. At least we will know where we stand – whether we’ve reacted like we should (in which case it will buy some time), or it simply pushes that point of reckoning ever closer.

Remember that Gillingham are in an even worse mental state than we are right now, by all accounts. Though if they get the first goal…