Dons 0-2 Torquay
Woeful. That's how I would sum up this Wimbledon performance most succinctly and accurately. Entirely woeful from start to finish. For those who thought that the win away to Wycombe marked the turning of a corner and an end to a poor run of form that has seen the Dons pick up just 4pts in the 7 games since the mid-November Portsmouth victory, this performance should have put them right.
Just as in the Dons' first season in the League under Terry Brown, an impressive start to the season with the club flying high come late October has given way to nervous points counting in the New Year. Yes, we sit 8 points behind Oxford in the final playoff place but notions of a comfortable mid-table finish with an outside shot at a playoff place should now be well and truly set aside after this defeat. The Dons are just 5pts above Torquay, down in the drop zone, and with 23 points required to hit the 54 point 'safety mark', on current form, we`ll be lucky to make it. Of particular concern, in this context, are the performances we have turned in this season against struggling teams, gifting points to sides we really should be taking them off. Torquay have taken 4 pts from us this season, while Northampton & Accrington have both come away from Kingsmeadow unbeaten. We have made struggling sides look good. This should give us a truer reflection of which direction we should be looking.
There's not much to be said about the game itself. The Dons were dead and buried by half-time having been cut (or rather falling) apart twice, failing to defend an obvious overlap down the right flank and with a sliced Antwi clearance causing mayhem at the back. The Dons were incoherent and inept going forward. Luke Moore was guilty of skying the Dons only real chance of note, an absolute sitter with which he really should have hit the target, but the team rarely managed to string together a series of passes otherwise. George Francomb, in particular, stood out as one of the worst performers. The marauding on-loan Premiership wing-back, who was the Dons' top crosser last season despite his short stay, has somehow been converted into a profligate midfielder, seemingly incapable of finding a blue shirt with any of his passes. Harry Pell's last minute withdrawal due to injury was costly as, with Sammy Moore's deep lying role, the Dons were very obviously lacking an advanced midfield presence. The Dons were too often bullied off the ball all over the pitch by a Torquay side buoyed by the 'new manager bounce'.
Ardley labelled the performance 'drivel' but one wonders whether the manager was as much at fault as the players for this. Ardley is becoming the 'Tinker Man' of League 2, without one worries a strong idea about his preferred formation or style. For a third consecutive game the Dons were sent out in a 5-3-2, with three centre-backs and pushed on wing-backs. The wisdom of playing such a defence laden formation at home against a team struggling bottom of the league was missed on many particularly given that, with all due respect to both, neither Kennedy nor Fuller are out-and-out wing-backs. Ardley abandoned the formation at half-time, sacrificing Bennett and Luke Moore for Arthur and Saint-Luce to return to a 4-4-2, but, while the formation was remedied, the Dons` tactics remained awful. Despite the manager's rhetoric about playing passing football from the back the Dons' repertoire was limited solely to long balls aimed at Wyke or for Midson to run onto but which rarely landed anywhere near either and simply amounted to gifting back possession. Although Saint-Luce caused problems for Torquay following his arrival, the Dons looked like they could have played all week without creating further chances.
With apparently uncertainty over the preferred formation and style of play, the loaning of Smith and marginalisation of Midson at the start of the season, suggests that the club`s recruitment is dictating the team setup, rather than the club pursuing targets to fit with the manager's intended tactics. Wyke it has been suggested has been brought in to play along side Midson but starting to develop a strike partnership now mid-way through the season when points and performances are at a premium will be difficult. Smith, by the way, is rumoured to be a loan target for a number of League 2 sides including Northampton.
Wimbledon supporters expressed their frustration with the team's performance with boos at both half-time and full-time. Next up for the Dons are Scunthorpe who are unbeaten in 9, having picked up 23 points. An away win does not look likely. Neal Ardley will need to work some more transfer window magic if the Dons' form is to improve.
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