While it was an encouraging performance, in parts, last week against Scunthorpe, it is a game we came out of with zero points after taking the lead. Until we start picking up points, there has to be a certain level of anxiety about our ability to establish ourselves back in League One.
It could well be that the pace in this side will make us more comfortable away from home, where we can spring on the counter-attack, than at the Ricoh, where we may have to be a little more precise in our build-up play. Although it’s very early in the season to gauge just what this side is all about, we need to make sure that we at least can pick up points while we discover our identity as a team.
This trip to AFC Wimbledon will provide an early indicator of our ability to produce performances away from home. AFC Wimbledon’s physicality will be a throwback to League Two football, although they have added pace and technical ability in attack and wide areas to provide themselves with another dimension than your quotidian fourth-tier side.
There wasn’t too much wrong with the performance against Scunthorpe last week, but there could still be a reasonable number of changes, especially in defence. Tom Davies coming in at centre-back after his suspension looks nailed-on, especially given AFC Wimbledon’s physical threat. There are calls for Dujon Sterling to be taken out of the side after a mixed debut last week, there’s probably a case too to go for the more experienced Junior Brown at left-back despite Brandon Mason’s eye-catching opening performance last week. With Jordan Willis failing to make it through 90 minutes against Scunthorpe and Lee Burge possibly returning in goal, we’re possibly looking at a completely different back five to last week.
Whether Robins then tweaks the attacking line-up will be interesting to see. The signing of Amadou Bakayoko provides the manager with yet another attacking option, however, the temptation to chop and change threatens building fluidity as an attacking unit. Tony Andreu and Tom Bayliss seem like certain starters, there is then probably a choice between Jordy Hiwula or Jordan Shipley – pace or defensive cover – on the left while the lone striker – presuming Robins goes for a 4-2-3-1 – could be easily one of three or four players.
Last Time We Met
14 league games without a win, Russell Slade’s Coventry City had just taken the lead via Jodi Jones’ first league goal for the club. Russell Slade turns to the Coventry away fans and makes this gesture:
The third minute of stoppage time, AFC Wimbledon score a late equaliser. The winless run continues, Slade’s gesture lives forever in infamy.
Also, Yakubu played in this game.
How Are They Doing?
AFC Wimbledon are being tipped by many, myself included, to finish in one of the relegation places in League One this season. The chief reason is that they were the lowest scorers at this level last season of the teams that avoided relegation, and have lost their star striker Lyle Taylor to Charlton Athletic.
However, a positive performance in a 1-0 victory at Fleetwood Town last week suggests that the spirit that has taken the club from non-league into League One remains very much in place. Neal Ardley’s side inflicted a barrage of crosses, set-plays and long-throws into Fleetwood’s penalty area last week, which we’re going to have to deal with this week against a side that will now enjoy home advantage.
The front-pairing of Kwesi Appiah and Joe Pigott will be AFC Wimbledon’s primary attacking threat, although the pace and directness of wingers Mitch Pinnock – who has caught the eye in pre-season and on the opening day – and Andy Barcham will also provide a stern test of our defensive capabilities.
Appiah is a Ghana international who has endured a nomadic career between non-league and the Premier League, via a loan spell in Norway, which has been hampered by injuries, but is someone with the skill, power and pace to decide games on his own at this level when on top form. Pigott was a January signing from Maidstone United who has scored at a rate of around one in three since arriving and is an energetic presence in attack, standing at six foot two.
A central midfield axis of Tom Soares and Liam Trotter provides AFC Wimbledon with significant physical presence in the centre of the park. Of the two, Soares will have greater licence to play on the front foot. Both have experience of playing at a higher-level than League One, even if they have struggled for consistency in recent years.
Goalkeeper Tom King may well be remembered by Coventry City fans as the Stevenage keeper who, back in April, made a hash of a speculative Marc McNulty effort to hand us an early lead. However, King had been a strong presence in goal for Stevenage and is now a League One keeper on merit.
Deji Oshilaja and Will Nightingale in central defence are less experienced than previous AFC Wimbledon centre-back pairings but both possess reasonable promise. Oshilaja is very mobile and strong in the challenge – and was linked with a move to Ipswich on transfer deadline day – Nightingale has long been tipped as a big talent from the club’s academy but has struggled with injury in his attempts to establish himself in the first-team.
This is going to be a really difficult test for us and Mark Robins is going to have to make sure that the team are switched on from minute one here. While we can take encouragement from the overall performance last week against Scunthorpe, it’s not a good thing that we’re apparently short on fitness versus other teams at this level, especially as we saw just how clinical teams at this higher level can be. A clean sheet has to be the minimum target here, the question is whether Robins sacrifices attacking threat to make us more secure at the back.
A point from this game would be a good result while we await players to reach full fitness and develop cohesion as a team. AFC Wimbledon’s greater motivation to get off to a winning start in their first home game of the season makes them favourites for this game for me. A 2-1 loss.