Saturday was the third loss in the three must-win games we’ve had since Russell Slade’s appointment as manager. Gradually over Slade’s reign, the requirement for survival has shifted from needing to make marginal improvements over a medium amount of time, to now, where we essentially need to produce title-winning form just to survive.
It’s not that every game left is must-win now, it’s that every game now is must-win to ensure that the game after that can even be considered must-win, instead of purely academic. You can question why we’ve added a 34 year-old Yakubu to the squad given he’ll need a few games to regain his fitness, but it at least demonstrates an awareness of how desperate this situation is that hadn’t seemed apparent from Slade’s approach over the past five or six league games.
Against Oldham on Saturday, Slade’s decision to revert to a more experienced defence, instead of rewarding the back four that did so well against Wycombe, backfired via three goals all stemming from individual errors. To make matters worse for Slade, his one move in deference to the Checkatrade Trophy win, playing Reice Charles-Cook in goal, made the error that arguably cost us the game at 1-1. It seems Slade can’t be right for being wrong at the moment.
There is a danger now that Slade reacts to the Oldham defeat by making wholesale changes, which carries the danger that there’ll be more errors from players learning to play together, leading to another bad result, leading to more changes, leading to a further bad result – much like the old lady who swallowed a fly. This is where you’d hope that Slade’s experience of having managed at eight different clubs would count for something. It’s easy to over-react after a bad result, it’s harder to stick to your guns and lead your way out of a bad situation.
Last Time We Met
Back in September, we were on an extended winless run with a manager at the end of his tether as we headed into a mid-week game against AFC Wimbledon. Marvin Sordell gave us the lead very early on in what was a positive start to a potentially difficult game. However, AFC Wimbledon demonstrated their superior physicality and experience in gradually turning the game in their favour to equalise before half-time and take the lead with seven minutes to go.
With everything looking grim, we found a late equaliser from an unlikely source, Andre Wright, in unlikely circumstances, given that the goal probably should have been disallowed for offside. Yet that late equaliser did little to sway Tony Mowbray’s decision to resign in the immediate aftermath of the game, and things haven’t improved much since.
How Are They Doing?
AFC Wimbledon grew into this season well after a slow start, and were on the fringes of the play-offs around December. However, some poor form around the turn of the year appears to have curtailed their outside hopes of a top six place and it feels like the Dons are in a state where they know they can neither go up or down this season and are content to let the season play out.
They are still a strong and competitive team under Neal Ardley, especially at home, and they are a team with several different types of goalscorers and providers in their ranks. Like everyone else in this division, you would imagine that they’ll view a home game against us as a perfect opportunity to go out and put on a show for their fans.
They will be without top scorer Tom Elliott who picked up a red card on Saturday in a fiery 1-1 draw against Charlton. Elliott had been perceived as a fairly one-dimensional target-man during his days in League Two and the Conference with various clubs, but he seems to have really benefitted from the step up in quality this season. Last season’s top-scorer Lyle Taylor, on the other hand, has had to play more of a supporting role this season, although he is someone who has scored in every game he has ever played against us.
The lightning fast Dominic Poleon is another AFC Wimbledon attacker we’ll have to keep a close eye on. Having flattered to deceive during a few seasons with Oldham, Poleon has come into his own since joining Wimbledon in the summer and has combined being quite possibly the fastest player in the division with a genuine end product. Manager Neal Ardley can also call on the pace of Andy Barcham from the bench to provide further threat on the counter.
Dean Parrett and Jake Reeves in midfield offer both industry and quality from set-pieces. In particular, Dean Parrett has enjoyed a productive season after joining in the summer from Stevenage, he is currently the joint-third leading provider of assists in the division, mainly from set-pieces.
At the back, AFC Wimbledon have two classic dominant, experienced centre-backs to call upon in the form of Paul Robinson (the former Millwall one) and Chris Robertson. Given AFC Wimbledon’s prowess from set-pieces, Robinson and Robertson not only offer a presence at the back, but will pose a significant goal-threat as well.
AFC Wimbledon should be comfortable favourites for this game, they’re one of a number of teams in this division that Russell Slade would like us to be, but we’re not – i.e. experienced, hard-working and effective. One of these days, we are going to win a game – an opponent might take us lightly, the ball might go in off someone’s backside, or may even play in the league like we do in the cups.
Because I’m not a soothsayer, I can’t in good conscience predict us to win a game at the moment. So I’m calling this a 2-1 loss.