|AFC Wimbledon 0 v 2 Ipswich Town|
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Tuesday, 25th January 2022 Kick-off 19:45
Performances Are Steadily Improving: Notes for AFC Wimbledon
Monday, 24th Jan 2022 17:15 by TomTheWriter
Having come from behind to beat a strong and direct Accrington Stanley side, Town visit AFC Wimbledon looking to make up more ground on the play-offs and TomTheWriter assesses the mood in the opposition camp.
After victory over Accrington Stanley at the weekend, Town head for London on Tuesday night with Kieran McKenna having become the first Ipswich Town boss in the post-war era to win three of his first four games in charge.
Their opponents, AFC Wimbledon, will be looking to halt McKenna’s progress in its tracks, they themselves having been on a three-game unbeaten spell which they will want to continue.
This season, Ollie Palmer has taken over the reins from Joe Pigott comfortably up front - or had until he was sold to Wrexham this afternoon - Ayoub Assal offers dynamism and skills out wide with Alex Woodyard being strong and resolute in the middle.
“I’m surprised [Mark] Robinson has become as tactically rigid as his predecessors”, “Woodyard is decent for us. Just thought that was one helluva bold claim by Robinson that he was basically the best in the league”, “I can see why Robinson resisted making subs as we were playing well. In the end he sort of fudged it with some token minutes but it didn’t really add anything.”
Appointed as manager just under a year ago, Robinson has seen his Wimbledon side settle in the bottom half of League One since his arrival. Working with one of the lowest budgets in the league, he has been impressive with his dealings in the transfer windows.
“Of course, Robinson is telling them to do the sideways and backwards thing. They are trying to work an opening”, “Not sure Robinson has got the balance right this season”, “Robinson on a matchday is still learning a lot. I am sure he is excellent on the training ground.”
Wimbledon fans will look at this season as being a replica of their 19th place finish in the 2020/21 campaign, but they have done so with a very young squad made up of talented loanees and hot prospects from around the country, all under the tutelage of Robinson.
The State of Play
“Seems performances are steadily improving and with [Ben] Heneghan back in the team another clean sheet is not beyond imagination”, “Our new-found defensive strength over the last two games is primarily down to Will [Nightingale] and [George] Marsh”, “I think when we have a fully-fit squad and they are on it, Robbo can get a tune out of them and they are really good playing some good football.”
As is stands, AFC Wimbledon find themselves in 19th place in League One with six wins, 10 draws and nine defeats from their 25 games.
“Injuries, Covid and postponements have disrupted things since Wycombe. We’d probably have beaten Pompey and Charlton so would have been sitting a bit more comfortable in the league places”, “Our striking options are ridiculous to be fair - not sure how the blame for that spreads out between Robbo and the club. One recognised striker - one recognised footballer even”, “If we're ever going to move away from being relegation fodder we do need to become comfortable playing the ball on the deck a lot more.”
The Wombles sit 10 places and 10 points behind Town heading into the fixture on Tuesday, with a victory over the hosts pushing the Blues within five points of the play-offs.
Currently in the Wimbledon squad, they have a strong selection of attacking midfielders to choose from, with new loan signings Terry Ablade and Tomas Kalinauskas adding strong depth to that position.
Their weakest area looks to be their holding midfielder options with Anthony Hartigan’s injury leaving them with only a handful of players to protect their defence.
Strength-wise, Wimbledon fans have found some aspects to be positive about this season, especially in the recent weeks.
However, on the other hand, they have found a few things to be negative about this season.
“As for the team we look very short on confidence”, “Our weakness is clearly the bench and strength in depth”, “Finishing needs to be more clinical.”
Burton Albion 1-1 AFC Wimbledon
“A game we would have won if we hadn’t just had a massive run of not scoring. It’s starting to click again and I get that feeling when it does we’re gonna surprise a team and rip them to shreds”, “Still no win but a goal and a point and up a place in the table, though we could have done without Morecambe winning”, “Can we stay up with draws only?”
“A draw was a fair result, both teams created a fair amount but lacked quality in the final third”, “Would have probably taken three draws if offered three games ago. Positives are we aren't conceding sloppy goals and we are still two places above the drop zone with two games in hand”, “We're too good to go down but not good enough to move far up the table.”
Wimbledon’s trip to Burton Albion saw them pick up their third draw in three games, and score their first competitive goal since the 2-2 draw at Wycombe on the 11th of December.
AFC Wimbledon 0-0 Portsmouth FC
“Lack of quality in final third - service - is our downfall. Too many wrong options (we seem to want to walk it in, which betrays a lack of confidence) and too much poor execution”, “Great effort from every one of the lads last night, even though some efforts did not translate into great performances”, “We've struggled for goals from open play all season. Currently only Doncaster and Gillingham have fewer open play goals than us.”
“Good to see some positive comments about the performance last night. Best thing for me is that we appear to, for now at least, cut out the self-inflicted defensive errors giving away easy goals”, “Enjoyed last night, wasn't too much negative play, although a couple of times we should of whipped crosses in rather than the ball ending back at [Nikola] Tzanev”, “Is January’s goal of the month being replaced by miss of the month?”
A week ago, Wimbledon performed admirably at home against play-off-chasing Portsmouth, holding them to a 0-0 draw in their favoured 4-2-3-1 formation.
“Tzanev's save last night from a bullet header off one of their corners late in the second half undoubtedly saved the point for us”, “[Portsmouth keeper Gavin] Bazunu is a bit better than Tzanev but not that much, I can see our biggest loss this summer potentially being the big Kiwi”, “The Tzanev thing is like a slow-motion car crash. He's going to miss, what, three or four games?”
Wimbledon’s outright number one goalkeeper this season, Tzanev has had another impressive campaign between the sticks for the club, keeping seven clean sheets for the season and is one of the main reasons why they are not in the relegation zone.
“I know he was injured tonight but how [Henry] Lawrence doesn't get in at full-back in front of any of those three is beyond me”, “It's unfortunate that both Lawrence and Heneghan are out but does the raise the point about why we didn't get in an additional loanee that could fill in at the back”, “Lawrence has vanished off the face of planet earth with no explanation.”
On loan from Chelsea, Lawrence was consistently in the first team for the majority of the season, before an injury saw his game-time fall away over the last few months. Has not featured in the last four games.
“There's a lot to like about him but he's not really good enough for this level”, “[Cheye] Alexander did well with his defensive work, but was poor in the final third”, “Alexander awful.”
A versatile defender who can cover both full-back positions, Alexander returned a month ago after an eight-game absence and has started the last four games at right-back. Likely to continue there on Tuesday.
“He attacks set pieces with intent, even if he knows he's not gonna get the ball he gives it everything and that causes defences confusion and problems”, “Nightingale being out for a couple of months had a big impact as he tends to attack the ball better than anyone”, “Our defence are a lot more solid now Nightingale is back.”
Having started the first 11 league games of the season, Nightingale has recently returned from a long injury absence to start the last five matches for the club and shore up their defensive frailties.
“Mind you saying that I thought [Daniel] Csoka played very well the other night”, “That was the best I’ve seen Csoka play for us”, “Have to say well done to Dan Csoka. I thought he did everything asked of him and that goal-saving clearance in the first half was great.”
Has played the role of covering centre-back for the season and was pushed into the first team after Nightingale’s injury. The Hungarian is likely to be pushing for a start on Tuesday.
“If we've lost [Paul] Kalambayi for a period though it is going to be a struggle”, “Kalambayi looks so awkward and uncomfortable”, “I prefer Kalambayi to Nightingale but I’m one of those dinosaurs who believes the primary job of a centre-back is to be a stopper. Kalambayi’s distribution is clearly poor compared to Nightingale but then again he seems less inclined to drop a horrendous mistake.”
After not featuring for the first team since the middle of October, Kalambayi recently signed a new long-term deal with the club. His return to action will be big for their survival hopes.
“[Paul] Osew put in another belting shift last night as always but too often his touch and distribution were poor”, “Osew did well, but I always feel that he drifts in a bit much and leaves the opposition with an outlet ball too easily”, “Osew impressed again yesterday in tracking back and nicking the ball off players. Just needs to work on his delivery into the box slightly after he’s made one of his rapid runs forward on the counter.”
The battle between Osew and Nesta Guinness-Walker for the left-back spot has been well-documented among Wimbledon fans. It looks like Osew has that position for now having been involved in the last 12 games at left-back.
“Pompey bossed the second half so much we had to bring on Nesta Guinness-Walker to shore up the defence”, “It's true, Guinness-Walker didn't play a ball straight at the opposition at all during the second half last night”, “Can someone take Guinness-Walker off our hands please!”
Statistically Wimbledon’s strongest full-back this season, Guinness-Walker hasn’t started the last three games for the club. Had been playing alongside Osew when injuries affected the defence, but finds himself on the outside looking in.
“I tend to notice it most with Nesta Guinness-Walker, he often tries a threaded pass to someone in a good position but seems to miss that there's an opposition player right between him and the destination”, “Guinness-Walker has put in some very good performances in the last few games”, “Just need to send Guinness-Walker on an intensive course on how not to get caught on the wrong side of the attacker.”
Has one goal to his name this season, in the 2-2 draw with Sheffield Wednesday. Likely to be on the bench for Tuesday unless Robinson decides to rotate for the visit of Ipswich.
“At least Heneghan is fit to return at Burton”, “Heneghan does like doing a last-gasp sliding tackle, doesn't he?”, “We’ve got one of the best centre-backs in League One in Heneghan but we’re fifth from bottom (with games in hand on everyone). It’s the little things like the randomness of when we score goals that are holding us back.”
The scorer of the first Wimbledon goal at Portman Road back in August, Heneghan has been imperious at the back for the Wombles this season, but with that his only goal of the season.
“It was Heneghan's fault for the last two goals. The move started from their box and it was his man that he didn't mark properly”, “Thank heavens the own goal was Heneghan, we'd have had an evening of defender bashing if it had been any of the others”, “Heneghan must be near a ban for yellows.”
A fan favourite at Plough Lane, Heneghan’s suspension for the Portsmouth match was only the second league game he had missed all season. He will be key to the Dons nullifying Ipswich’s attacking ability midweek.
“Hartigan is clearly superior to [Luke] McCormick on free-kicks”, “A no from me for Hartigan returning with the pedestrian negative sideway backwards stuff!”, “Hartigan seems to be Robbo’s favourite, you can see the way Robbo gushes when speaking about him. So, expect Hartigan straight back in.”
An ever-present in the midfield, Hartigan has missed the last three games through injury. Was heavily linked with a move to Bolton at the beginning of the window, but an injury may scupper that.
“McCormick had one of his best games for us today. Won a lot of tackles/turnovers and made stuff happen. He made good runs too”, “McCormick has created more goals from assists than Hartigan so far. Give him more chances from set pieces to get some consistency and I’m sure he’ll setup more goals”, “McCormick is looking quality.”
One of the more impressive summer transfers in League One, McCormick switched Chelsea for Wimbledon permanently after a strong campaign on loan with Bristol Rovers last year. Has repaid the club with four goals and six assists for the season.
“[George] Marsh doing well is good as it creates healthy competition”, “He is a solid midfielder playing the ball forward rather than sideways or back”, “To me, Marsh has been a revelation. He's in a different universe defensively from Hartigan as reads the game so well.”
Coming in from the cold to replace Hartigan, Marsh has been impressive in his last three games. Solid in the middle of the park, he will be a tough player to for the midfield to open up on Tuesday.
“[Ethan] Chislett seems not to try to push quite as far forward”, “[Jack] Rudoni was absolutely terrible today, he could do with being on the bench for a couple of games, Chislett could easily step up”, “Got to be Chislett, he should have been starting anyway given Assal’s recent poor form.”
Usually seen on the bench, Chislett has struggled to displace the attacking options ahead of him this season, but a slight knock to Woodyard in the last game could see him come into contention for one of the deeper-lying roles.
“Rudoni needs a break as it was like we had 10 players out there which did not help our cause”, “Personally I think Rudoni is so far off form at the moment we should have subbed him off and gambled on the two quick guys to give them trouble down both flanks”, “Rudoni needs weeks off.”
Wimbledon’s second-top goalscorer this season, Rudoni has been impressive of the left wing for the majority of the season with seven goals and three assists to his name, including the one against Burton on Saturday.
“We've now got [Egil] Kaja who's physically a bit more mature”, “Kaja looking every inch the player who was released by us and the Northampton”, “Glad Kaja got that assist yesterday. When people were talking about youngsters not getting a proper chance he was one that for me we should have spent more time on.”
Albanian midfielder Kaja was with Wimbledon a few years ago before being released by the club and has returned to support their attacking options. Has already picked up an assist after his return, but unlikely to start on Tuesday.
“We brought on Assal and you could see how much it changed their approach”, “Loved the fact that we had Assal on the bench - for once a proper impact sub”, “When Assal came on their centre-backs were worried and their left-back, who'd been having a cosy night playing from his own penalty area a lot, suddenly decides that getting the ball off the park in our half is his best option.”
Dynamic midfielder Assal, likely to have interest from higher up the pyramid in the summer, has both flair and tenacity in his game. Sometimes that can be detrimental with eight yellow cards and one red card to his name already this season.
“Oh yes, Assal should not go back to the penalty area. He should stay around the halfway line to give us an outlet for hoofed clearances and possibly a run on goal”, “It often seems that if Assal plays well the team play well”, “Lack of affirmative info on Assal's match readiness perhaps a concern, but hopefully if it was a mild bout of Covid a week or two ago.”
However, away from his disciplinary record, he is one of Wimbledon’s most potent creators, with six goals and two assists for the season. Came off the bench to play a pivotal role in the goal versus Burton Albion.
“Woodyard was getting heavily criticised early last season by some”, “Woodyard has been the best midfielder we’ve signed since [Dannie] Bulman. Imagine those two in midfield”, “Woodyard is definitely the one there to sit and protect the defenders.”
Ranked number one in League One in tackles won by quite a distance, Woodyard has hasn’t missed a single league game this season for the Wombles. However, was substituted on Saturday with a slight knock.
“If Woodyard and Palmer are both contracted to at least the end of next season, then we should not sell either of them this month...”, “Woodyard has the same problem, they're having to spend too much time coming back, facing our goal to collect the ball”, “A welcome contract extension to keep Woodyard at the club.”
If he is fit for the game, then he will add the experience and brute force that Wimbledon will need in the middle of the park. His fitness with determine the Dons’ ability to control the ball on Tuesday.
“If [Dapo] Mebude comes back into some form we will have some depth in attacking midfield”, “Haven't seen anyone else mention but also thought Mebude did alright for his 65-odd minutes. Didn't see that flash of quality from the beginning of the season but his work-rate and attitude were excellent”, “I hope Robbo and the committee are all trying to find us another striker for before the end of the window, sending back Mebude and to free-up space.”
One of four attackers on loan with Wimbledon this season, Mebude has seen most of his action come from the bench this year. On loan from Watford, he will be hoping for more chances to impress.
“[Aaron] Pressley impressed without a finishing touch, but needed an experienced striker to help him”, “I think Pressley has been developing into a decent back up for Palmer”, “Pressley has worked hard but yet to set the world alight.”
Having been heavily involved with the first team for the majority of the early months, Brentford loanee Pressley hasn’t been on the pitch for six games due to a hamstring injury.
“Has to be said that while [Terry] Ablade's quality is very much unproven he's definitely cutting it physically”, “Thought Ablade did well when he came on. Thankfully we are not conceding, now that we can’t score”, “Get Palmer and Ablade into regular starting places and let them work out how to play together.”
One of two players to be signed by Robinson in this window, Fulham loanee Ablade adds a new body to the Wimbledon frontline this season. Prolific at youth level, he will be hoping to take the next step in his career with the Wombles.
“Barnsley have confirmed Tomas Kalinauskas is joining us. Club shop might want to pre-order some curly wigs”, “That Kalinauskas was listed as a midfielder in the last Lithuanian U21 squad and has yet to make an appearance for Barnsley.”
The second player joining Wimbledon is Barnsley’s Kalinauskas on loan for the rest of the season, but he hasn’t featured for the club since his arrival a few weeks ago.
“When I've seen Palmer play it's always seemed like teams have worked out he's the key to us breaking down defences”, “Agree with their views on Ollie Palmer, he’s been poor of late, looks unfit and is being beaten up by defenders”, “Immediately that makes Palmer worth nearer £1 million to us than £300,000 or whatever the latest rumour is.”
Leading the line for Wimbledon, Palmer has been impressive in front of goal this season with eight goals to his name already, including the goal against Burton Albion. However, he won't face the Blues following his sale to Wrexham this afternoon for a fee of around £300,000 and looks likely to be a big miss.
“Maybe I was being a harsh on Palmer as he was taking a battering from the Pompey defence. Frustrating as it seemed we had no outlet and didn’t really create any chances”, “I'm talking reality, we are not going to get enough to be able to buy a like-for-like player for Palmer in the January window”, “We've lucked-out with Palmer. He's come out of non-league, played his entire career there and League Two. Yet he's got way more ability than he should have from that level.”
AFC Wimbledon Fans on ITFC
“I had to go in the Ipswich end once at Portman Road and two guys in the row behind us talked about tractors all game”, “Ipswich fans kicked off at their own players at Charlton last night”, “Ipswich were firing blanks last season, we all (mostly) said before the season started Joe Pigott wouldn't solve that on his own.”
Last Time Out – Ipswich Town 2-2 AFC Wimbledon
“How nice that our performances, whilst still some way from being 100 per cent, are good enough that the post-match post-mortems are short. This squad is faring better than I thought it would, so congratulations to the management and players”, “We are slow off the mark which makes what's ahead exciting. When our confidence grows we'll produce earlier in games”, “Thought it was an entertaining game today and Ipswich deserved a point but showed their frailty. 2-0 up at home and chose to do everything other than just play the game. That fear cost them.”
“Nowhere near our best today yet we had enough about us to turn it around. Ipswich stopped playing and went into time-wasting mode in the last 20 and it cost them”, “Thought we were pretty sloppy until we were 2-0 down and then seemed to wake up. Ipswich looked a good side (apart from their crossing was absolutely awful the whole game), so a draw is a good result. Still, I think we can play a lot better than that”, “Great spirit shown again. Important point for morale.”
In a game that signified the frailties of the Ipswich side earlier in the season, Wimbledon snatched a 96th minute equaliser after the Blues took a 2-0 lead on the hour mark.
There is only one forum for a die-hard Wimbledon fan, and that is the Womble Underground Press. A detailed account of all things AFC Wimbledon.
Photo: Matchday Images
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