Hylton's Goal For Doubters
Danny Hylton went some way to assuage unease over his loan signing with the winning goal on debut over Hartlepool United to spurt the Dons closer to League 2 safety and with it a dose of some much-needed confidence.
Hylton, brought in on Monday from Rotherham United for the rest of the season, came off the bench at halftime to score the clinching goal in a come-from-behind 2-1 home win over the Pools.
Back-to-back home victories along with the point at (then) leaders Scunthorpe United have hoisted Wimbledon to 38 points and ninth place and some four wins above the relegation trapdoor.
Neal Ardley's acquisition of Hylton was not generally well received by the Dons fan base, partly due to his reputation as a diver, but more significantly, for his racial abuse of an opponent while playing for Aldershot Town against Barnet, for which he was found guilty and earned him an eight-match ban and a £1,000 fine from the Football Association in 2012.
Hylton admitted swearing at the player Clovis Kamdjo on the two occasions he was fouled by him, but denies the abuse was racist. Barnet player Steve Kabba was said to be 'going mental and had to be led away from him [Hylton] at the final whistle.'
The Aldershot perspective was to accept the FA decision, say Hylton was 'grossly foolish,' and hope he would learn from the experience. But a racism charge carries such emotive connotations that it is difficult to cleanse without genuine contrition. That is where a sizeable number of Dons' fans have a problem with Hylton.
WDSA contacted a number of long-time Dons fans just after the Club announced his signing for their immediate reaction. Here are some edited responses...
"Must admit signing a player with a previous 'conviction' for racist abuse doesn't please me one bit. It's a difficult issue, we've signed players before with unsavoury pasts but I've felt that if they've served their time then people deserve another chance etc; however I've seen nothing to suggest that Hylton no longer holds those values. I wonder if anyone from the Club
Others said: "The ban for racially abusing an opponent is a concern to me (if maybe not others) as I feel that we should be upholding the good values of our name. Let's hope Erik [Samuelson] and Neal have discussed it with him," ........ "Narky, petulant and happy to go to ground. Almost the antithesis of what I look for in a player. That`s without the whole racism thing!" ......
"I have mixed feelings about him. Probably 60/40 negative."
So it was no surprise when Hylton popped up with the winner after Will Antwi's looped headed equaliser to launch his Wimbledon sojourn with what he was brought in to do: score goals.
Obviously, there is a bit of water to flow under the bridge in the remaining months of this season and Hylton's most apt response will be to score goals. And nothing warms supporters more than a goalscorer.
A case in point was Kevin Sainte-Luce's conviction of assaulting two women at a Cardiff nightclub prior to joining his old Cardiff City Academy boss Ardley at Wimbledon.
You could sense a thaw of sorts among some supporters after Hylton's goal went in ... "Hylton is making it very hard for me to strongly dislike him," gritted one.
But for many Hylton's past won't be easily forgotten, and that is something he alone will have to deal with, especially if he doesn't hit the back of the net frequently during however long he spends at Kingsmeadow.
For the record it was a quicksilver finish by Hylton to underline his quality as one fan commented: "DH's was a classic centre-forward's goal. Edge of the box, on his chest, turned his man, shot right into the bottom corner."
As far as mea culpas go, Ardley gave a good heartfelt one post-match, blaming himself for the Dons' disjointed first half and going in 1-0 down at halftime.
"I tactically got it wrong and I have apologised to the players in there," the gaffer said. "I know that we lost battles in the first-half and to the fans it would probably have seemed like the players were not playing with any passion, but tactically Hartlepool were better than us.
"They had a diamond formation and I thought that we could cope with that, but it played into their hands. It meant that Charlie Sheringham, Kevin Sainte-Luce and Jack Midson got very limited service and there was no space for them to work in."
Sheringham (yet to play a full league match this season) and Midson paid the price as they were hauled off for Charlie Wyke and Hylton at the interval, while KSL was moved out of a unfamiliar striker's role and into a more comfortable slot on the right, and Wimbledon turned it around.
"We went for a 4-4-2 at half-time, I know there was a change in personnel but it was the system. The players took that on board and really went for it," Ardley said.
"The whole team stepped up and did their jobs better, but I take responsibility for the first half.
"I thought that Hartlepool were excellent. I know that`s easy to say when you win, but the football that they played and their intricacy around the box was really good at times. It was the sort of stuff I`d like us to play, but I know we have not got that at the moment."
An indication of how much better Hartlepool played for long periods was that goalkeeper Ross Worner was named the Dons man-of-the-match.
Pools manager Colin Cooper made no bones who he thought was the difference: "Their goalkeeper made three or four excellent saves - when needed he was called upon and kept them in the game.
"It was a bombardment and their manager and assistant manager admitted they were looking to do that and put us under pressure. As the pressure mounts, you make decisions that aren`t the right ones."
While Worner continues to perform heroics, it seems on a weekly basis, another to catch the eye was Worner's former Shots teammate Aaron Morris, playing his first full 90 minutes since his signing this month. He looked comfortable on the ball in defence and will only get better as he attains full match fitness after missing 10 months with a serious knee injury suffered while at Aldershot.
And there is a growing Aldershot influence at Wimbledon these days with Darren Jones joining Morris, Worner, Antwi and Hylton in the Dons team for the second half against Hartlepool.
So hopefully, Ardley and his squad will have got enough out of the Hartlepool game to prepare them for their testing trip this weekend to their nemesis, Oxford United, at the Kassam Stadium. It's 7-0 to the dominant U's and the Dons have scored just two goals against them. We'll know more about Wimbledon's 'mini' revival then.
"It`s moved us up to 38 points, which is great, but we still have loads to work on," Ardley said. "There are things not quite right with how we`re functioning at the moment.
"Ultimately, that`s my job and I will not be able to do much work on that this week. But next week we will work on patterns of play to try and get us playing better."
Finally, a big well done to the diehard 239 Pools supporters who made the long midweek trip to London on a cold January night. A victory, of sorts, Pools, as you brought four more fans than the Dons did for their 10-11 hour round trip to deepest Durham on a Tuesday night in October.
Written by Onyadon aka Rob Smith.
Rob writes the Wimbledon Downunder Supporters' Association (WDSA) blog and lets us use this blog with his permission.
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