AKA we might be getting our Wimbledon back after all…
I have to admit, I thought before Elvis Costello 0 Abbott and Costello 2 our run of nine games would have ended in deepest Birkenhead.
For a little while in the second half, I was yet to be convinced otherwise.
But in the words of one of the media team on Twatter last night – maybe we’re getting better and better?
Yesterday though was the game where you went away from it thinking we’re finally turning into the team we’ve long wanted to be.
Going to a potential banana skin and coming away with all three points. Being “professional”. Winding the opposition up in the process.
And being not too shabby on the football side of things in the process.
I don’t care if it’s “dark arts” or not, because I’d much rather this version of Wimbledon than the ooh-mustn’t-grumble-here-is-three-points-for-you-sir one we’ve had too long.
Sure, we have our weaknesses – we’re still lacking up top. We still have that inability to properly wake up after half time.
At some point, our attempt to wind up the opposition will backfire on us. And I think we’re still a way (and transfer windows) away from being the real deal.
But it’s no accident that we’re suddenly just five points off the playoffs. Imagine saying that after the Slutton debacle.
I’ve hated plenty of previous incarnations in recent years. I don’t hate this current one.
The game? Well, it was the perfect start, really. Chislett’s finish was a good one, I and it set the scene for the first half.
If we had got the second goal, then nobody would have complained. The trouble was, we didn’t get it.
There were a couple of things that didn’t come off, a bounce of the ball that didn’t go our way, that type of thing.
But I just couldn’t help think that we were going to pay for it.
Actually, the other major first half incident was Pell getting their man sent off – and avoiding a booking himself in the process.
I couldn’t see whether their player punched him or grabbed him round the neck (and the cameraman missed it), but either way, it’s a red card.
So, a goal up, playing well and against ten men to boot. Should be a piece of piss from then on, right?
Firstly, it’s AFC Wimbledon we’re talking about here. I genuinely don’t know why we start second halves like we’re hungover, and yesterday was no exception.
Secondly, it’s one of those strange unwritten rules in football that playing against ten men is often a lot harder than you would think.
Certainly Tranmere made us forget they were a player light. We were just, well, laboured.
I suppose we could be thankful that like most of L2, they weren’t all that, otherwise it would have been a different story this morning.
But there was always that sense they would get an opening, and the Bulgarian Kiwi obliged by giving away a penalty.
For anyone wondering why he wasn’t sent off, apparently keepers don’t if they’re genuinely trying to play the ball. Mind you, he wasn’t even booked.
Not that it ultimately mattered. I don’t want to sound a smart arse here, but I did wonder at the time whether Tzanev would actually end up saving it.
It was quite a long time to wait for the penalty taker to make his kick, and that possibly had an effect on the outcome.
When Tzanev saved with his feet though, and we cleared it and managed to concentrate immediately afterwards** – I think the game turned there and then.
** – I didn’t spot this at the time, but watching the highlights our keeper was giving it the whole “switch on” hand gesture after we cleared the rebound.
I wonder how many goals are scored directly after a penalty is saved? Probably more than you think.
Not that I’m saying it won us the game, because it didn’t. We still looked vulnerable to a point.
But the game was sealed thanks to the other pleasing bit of watching AFCW right now – a bit of skill at the right time.
A long hoof that eventually fell to Davison, who laid it off to Assal, who got in the box and curled it into the top corner.
Majestic. Beautiful. Scintillating. And that was just the sight of the home fans responding to the silent fire drill in the ground.
OK, a late goal for Tranmere might have tested the nerves a bit, and I though there would be more than four minutes injury time.
It certainly wasn’t the complete performance. But we are genuinely stepping in the right direction now.
JJ himself looked as pumped up as I’ve seen him post game, and his interview afterwards was as much as expected.
To think Harrogate at Plough Lane was a mere three weeks ago.
I’m in no doubt that we’ll have a setback or two now, and teams will use the dark arts against us too.
But we’ve waited a good while for the team to be like this, and I’d like to enjoy that a tad longer…
Plus points: We won. Clean sheet. The goals. Finally learning how to be professional. Biler. Feeling we’re moving forward.
Minus points: Second half until our second goal.
The referee’s a…: It was nice to have an official who gave us the rub of the green for a change, even down to dismissing their player.
He was a bit more pro-Tranmere in the second half, needless to say, but as ever with a well-refereed game – you didn’t notice him much.
Thankfully decided that Tzanev tried to play the ball for their penalty. Which to be fair to our keeper, he did.
Them: Reminded me of us at times this season, which is why it’s no surprise they’re now seven games without a win.
The penalty save is often what happens to sides on a poor run, and I’m glad it’s us who are on the other side of that right now.
Prenton Park hasn’t changed much from the first time I went in the 1990s to a WFC-era (Sunday?) FA Cup game.
If they ever want to redevelop it, there’s this massive car park behind it that could fit half of the Wirral housing stock on it too.
The locals seemed OK, although they were pretty quiet for most of it. Just don’t call them Scousers or Wools…
Point to ponder: Have we finally got our mojo back?
There’s a definite sense right now that we’re more of a team than we have been in – let’s be honest – a few years.
It might take us to the playoffs after all, though I suspect with our lack of strength in depth, it probably won’t.
Even if it doesn’t, we’re more settled now as a squad, and it’s starting to show.
Harry Pell has helped on that score, and he’s going to be the first ex-Wimbledon returnee to actually be any good since Neil Sullivan and Marcus Gayle.
Special mention has to go to the likes of Kalambayi, and Biler who made his first start (?) yesterday and didn’t look out of place.
It’s going to be hard for the experienced bods like Gunter, Pearce and Lee Brown to force their way back into the team. That’s a good thing.
We’re in a good place right now, and you could see that when we scored the second goal on the bench.
Your editor noted the coaching staff were celebrating as much as the fans were, and that might be as telling as any post-match interview.
It’s been a slow start to life back in League Two, to put it mildly, and I don’t doubt there’s been some very harsh words on the training ground this season.
Changing the style of play has helped, it’s much more effective for a start, and kudos to JJ and company for being flexible.
But we were never a bad team to begin with, we just needed to find the right way to handle them.
Which we’re doing. And you can’t fluke an unbeaten run of nine games.
Truth is stranger than fiction: 1) Nice bakery outside the away end, even if not especially cheap. 2) Coach with Wrexham badge outside before and after the game, presumably used by us. Surprised to hear it hasn’t been bricked. 3) “This machine is bang out of order” – sign on condom machine at Knutsford services. I’ll leave you to guess which word was hand-written.
Anything else? Before the game, a few Tranmere fans were looking to get “revenge” on us for the Covid relegation they suffered.
Obviously, they must be even more fewmin this morning, although to be fair most others are more pissed off with their team and manager.
To this day though, I can’t understand why we continue to bear the brunt of it.
For those who have short memories, when Covid hit in March 2020 and the games got suspended, Tranmere were on course to leapfrog us out of relegation.
It took ages to come to a decision, in which time they devised a convoluted proposal that basically ensured they stayed up.
Unsurprisingly, everyone else told them to piss off, we stayed up and they’ve never forgiven us since.
OK, I don’t blame them for being pissed off at going down in matters settled off the pitch.
But we were never going to voluntarily relegate ourselves, especially as from memory we had never been in the drop zone at all that season.
No team would. Not AFCW. Not Rochdale. And certainly not Tranmere if they were in our position.
You can read back SW19 from March 2020 to about June yourself, which I’ve just done as an aide-memoire.
Looking back, there were so many reasons why the outcome of 2019/20 panned out the way it did.
Contracts expiring at the end of June was a big one, ditto the logistics of playing the rest of the season out safely in a time of moral panic.
Around the time, there were many predictions (which were more wishful thinking) that many teams would collapse into oblivion.
Funnily enough, every club survived, but simply put L1/L2 sides were in legitimate financial peril if they restarted the League.
What was decided was the least worst option, and the majority took it.
For some reason, Tranmere fans seem to think that everyone else was going to accept their proposals to stay up, yet AFCW had the ultimate power to doom them.
Sadly, we’re not that influential. If we were, Franchise would be playing in the CCL.
But they never accept that the vast majority in L1 voted to curtail that season, not just ourselves.
I suppose we still get the blame because we were the team directly above them when the shit hit the fan, and some other poor sod would be getting it if it wasn’t us.
What’s done is done though, and after yesterday they’ll move on. Maybe.
The only two things I need to say are these: firstly, Tranmere were somehow even more shit than us in 2019/20, and if they weren’t we wouldn’t be having this discussion.
And secondly – if they truly wanted “revenge” on us, they should have got promoted last season when we went down…
So, was it worth it? I would say so.
In a nutshell: Five points off the playoffs.