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Dark Times

Gloom in SW19

By: Andrew Doherty
Date: 03/12/2022

FOR £25 or £27 if you were to pay on the day, you can get to visit the new home of AFC Wimbledon. Impressive as the stadium may be in this affluent part of London which most people know for its annual tennis event than its EFL league 2 representation, this seems extortionate.

Wimbledon is one of those clubs who we are supposed to take to our hearts. I disagree. No team who once played on the mudheap of the old Plough Lane ground and had Vinnie Jones and John Fashanu in their side could ever be regarded as pink and cuddly. On the other hand, I wish no club the ownership problems that the and others have had, and it is to their credit that the club has reformed and risen back into the football league. And you can now pay £25 for the privilege of going to watch them. At least we don't have to go round being expected to condemn the way the new stadium was constructed, or question the ethics of SW19. That wouldn't be cricket, or should I say tennis.

Town's November was a success or failure, depending on whether you are talking about FA Cup exploits or league results. Personally, I think the fact that today's game is away from Blundell Park is a potential advantage, with less nervousness and pressure on the players from Town's expectant fans, who were 1,071 strong today. I can only think that the message to the players is different for one-off cup games from league games where we seem to outthink ourselves and take caution to the point where it becomes paralysis. Hopefully, this wasn't going to be the case here at the Cherry Red Records stadium.

Town's line-up today on this grey day was: Crocombe - Efete, Waterfall, Maher, Khouri - Green - Kiernan, Holohan, Khan, Clifton - McAtee. It's a shame Amos couldn't play but it was good to see Khouri in the side. Green and Holohan provided the power in midfield, and having McAtee in the side is always welcome, but the side seemed striker-free. Kiernan and Khan were the two I was looking to provide an impact that would make a difference along with our human dynamo Clifton. Town wore black and white today, eschewing the blues and pinks that sometimes feature at away games. Wimbledon had two players with Town connections: Ryley Towler, who was with us on loan last year, and the less-than-delightful Harry Pell.

In front of 7,962 spectators, Town started the game in enterprising fashion without having much impact. On 13 minutes a great move following a rare Wimbledon attack started with Efete. Town passed the ball upfield. Holohan spotted a gap. McAtee slipped through and rounded the keeper Tzanev and scored - disallowed debatably for offside. 8 minutes later another good passing move resulted in a low cross from Kiernan which evaded everyone. Khouri crossed from the left and Kiernan got good contact with his shot which went straight to Tzanev. Town had a scare on 28 minutes when Crocombe came out and made a mess of a clearance, but were able to counter. Wimbledon came back and Efete did well to block an Assal shot. Town had had the better of the play but Wimbledon were now starting to get into it. On 33 minutes Biler was booked for a robust tackle on Clifton in the Wimbledon half. Town scrapped and good work from Holohan and McAtee led to a corner. Another good attack on 36 minutes first involved Kiernan and Efete on the right, before play was switched with Khan ad Khouri linking up. Khan crossed, Holohan dummied cleverly but the ball was just behind McAtee who couldn't take advantage. Wimbledon broke out. Pell raced up the left, passed to Assal who crossed. Crocombe made a superb stop from Davison. Town then broke. Efete won a corner. Khan crossed, but Maher's overhead kick flew over the bar. Good defensive cover work by Kiernan then stopped a Wimbledon attack. Wimbledon had improved greatly after a slow start but Town were still playing with good energy. Assal turned and fired just over following a Wimbledon corner. Half-time approached. Efete went up for a challenge in the Wimbledon half and came down awkwardly, laying on the ground. Sadly the injury looked serious as 10 minutes were taken before Efete was stretchered off. The score at half time was 0 - 0, but the game was overshadowed by Efete's injury.

Smith replaced Efete with Maher switching to right back. On 48 minutes Clifton raced forward and was fouled by Kalambayi who was booked. There were a lot of fouls. Play lacked fluidity. The game threatened to be niggly after the earlier altercation during the stoppage for Efete's injury. Assal was put through for Wimbledon but shot wide from the left. On 54 minutes Waterfall conceded a foul following a high kick after himself being kicked in the face in the first half. The fouls continued. On 59 minutes Wimbledon won a throw. Pell, between two defenders, headed backwards to Chislett who was on hand at the far post to stab home. Wimbledon 1, Town 0. Maghoma almost followed this up moments later, dancing into the box between defenders and shooting just wide. On 63 minutes Pell pushed Crocombe as Town's keeper gathered the ball. Crocombe's head went forward. Pell went down as if he had been killed. The referee waited, and booked no-one's favourite villain Pell for play-acting. Crocombe laughed. Town had a break on 66 minutes but Kiernan was adjudged offside following a run and cross from Khan. Maher then won a corner. The game stopped momentarily for an argument between Currie and the referee. Wimbledon were doing their best to disrupt the game. Town had to concentrate. Town's attacks were sporadic and unsuccessful. Khan started a move, supplied Holohan who couldn't find space so passed out wide. Maher's cross was too close to Tzanev. On 71 minutes Simmonds replaced Kiernan, and four minutes later Pepple came on for Khan as Town looked to boost their attacking force. Simmonds's first contribution was to put in a crunching tackle on Biler and earn a booking. Wimbledon kept possession and ran down the clock as Town looked out of options. The game had no fluency. Wimbledon dictated the pace. In spite of the substitutions continued Town provided no threat up front. Simmonds received a long pass on 82 minutes and controlled it well, but the Wimbledon defender shielded the ball and was bowled over for a free kick, exemplifying the difference between the teams and Town's naivety. None of Town's attacks had any rhythm. In a rare nice move Holohan found space but the advancing Maher was tackled fairly as he entered the box and home in on goal from the right. But this was just scrappy, scrappier, scrappiest. Wimbledon were perfectly happy. A poor clearance gave Town an opportunity. A cross came in from the right. Pepple attacked. Pell collapsed in a heap, and the referee awarded a free kick to the home side. Four minutes were added. In the 93rd minute, a lovely cross from Simmonds earned Town a corner. Crocombe went up and got on the end of the cross with a header. It went wide. Desperate stuff. The agony ended soon after, with Town having been unable to gain any momentum throughout the second half. So it ended: Wimbledon 1, Town 0.

This was a bitty game with 27 fouls and little fluency. Ordinarily, we might say that it was just another typically tight EFL League 2 battle but felt we were outmanoeuvred here by a more streetwise Wimbledon side. We need to look at ourselves here. We were not set up to score. Bringing two strikers on in the 70th minutes in the cold and expecting them to be heroes is not realistic, and frankly an admission of tactical failure. A couple of good passing moves doesn't disguise the fact that we pose too little of a threat, and certainly have no options to cause defences confusion and problems. The energy was good for the first half but in the end we fell apart as the home side disrupted play. It was very poor. New balls, please.

The weather was wintry. The floodlights stayed off. Efete's injury cast a shadow on proceedings. The team tactics were suspect. Town lost. It was a gloomy day all round in SW19.

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