League form: AFC Wimbledon LLDLL | Wycombe WDWDW
League head-to-head: P 10 | AFC Wimbledon W 6 | Wycombe W 1 | D 3
The last time: AFC Wimbledon 2-1 Wycombe (27th April 2019, League One)
That meeting four months ago was the last time AFC Wimbledon won, and the last time Wycombe lost. Mathematically, both sides were only safe after the final whistle on the final day, but Plymouth’s capitulation at Accrington had more or less taken care of things. Since that, let’s face it, rubbish game in April, the Dons have drawn two and lost four, while we’ve not really looked back. Then again, with the exception of Coventry, I don’t think there’s an opponent in this division who we could more accurately describe as our bogey team. The overall record above makes for miserable reading and we’ve lost our last three against them, all 2-1. For what it’s worth, our only win over Wimbledon at Kingsmeadow came back in November 2008 – a 4-1 FA Cup win versus the then-Conference South outfit.
In Their Dugout: Wally Downes
A founder member of the Crazy Gang, Wally Downes is a Wimbledon legend. When he took over from Neil Ardley in December, the 58-year-old was stepping into only his second ever manager’s job – his first since a stint at Brentford came to an end in 2004. Obviously that meant nothing. Six points from safety at the time of Downes’ appointment, the Dons had slipped to nine adrift by March, but an unprecedented 21-point haul from the final 12 games steered them to their great escape.
The Danger Man for Them: Luke O’Neill
O’Neill joined the Dons last month after leaving Gillingham. The 28-year-old has already assisted two goals and bagged two of his own – including a 94th minute equaliser against MK in the Carabao Cup, a tie which ultimately ended in defeat on penalties. A right-back might not be most teams’ principle creator, but that’s proved to be the case for Wimbledon so far, with their new man really making his mark already. A real attacking threat with the ball at his feet and an excellent crosser, O’Neill is also reasonably strong in the air. His League One aerial success rate stands at 71.9% so far this campaign, Dave Wheeler‘s at 56.5%. Considering that, their respective ground duel win rates of 51.2% and 83.3%, and the fact that O’Neill effectively owns the Wimbledon right (more on that below), there’s potentially an intriguing match-up in the offing.
The Opposition View with Matt Rickard (@mat_rickard)
One point from the opening five games amidst slashed budgets, bizarre formations, odd substitutions and questionable tactics. That’s the headline and beneath that, things are not that much better.
Following rumours of an overspend in the last days of Ardley, it is clear our budget for this season is significantly lower than in previous years. This can be seen in the transfer activity, which amounts to two players out of non-League, two players from Gillingham and two loanees. Of those, the best has been ex-Gills right-back Luke O’Neill, who is currently our main creative outlet. On the other flank, left-back Nesta Guinness-Walker [the best name in the Football League], signed from Met Police, scored away at Ipswich and has been playing more advanced on the left of a lopsided 4-4-2.
This misshapen 4-4-2 is a relatively new invention and replaced the 3-5-2 Downes has consistently played since saving the club from relegation. Unfortunately, with Scott Wagstaff as the right-sided midfielder, this has yet to really catch fire, albeit in tough away fixtures at Ipswich and Sunderland.
The other issue is the amount of aimless, channel balls we are playing to a strike force better suited to balls on the ground. Wimbledon have hit the third-most long balls in the league and subsequently have the worst pass accuracy in the division. This would be understandable if we still had Akinfenwa or Tom Elliot, but when the strike force is currently 5’11 Appiah and 5’8 Folivi, it’s not such an effective tactic. Play is focused down the flanks and, as such, the midfield struggles to see much of the ball.
On the plus side, Wimbledon have scored in every game this season and have been missing two of their most important players, creative midfielder Anthony Wordsworth and captain Will Nightingale. Both might feature against Wycombe* and fans remain hopeful they could be the catalyst for a more cohesive performance.
*Wordsworth seems unlikely to play
A Deeper Look
Five months before preventing us from absolutely fending off relegation with a game to spare, Wimbledon ended our record-breaking six-match home League winning streak. We were poor in both games and deserved nothing, but as I’ve already bemoaned, they are a bogey team. It’s rather annoying.
“Gareth Ainsworth, your teams always cheat” was one of the more, um, direct chants/jibes from the away end at Adams Park. Presumably it was making reference to our dark arts, which would be rather ironic coming from the pioneers of such tactics. I think it’s fair to expect another physical encounter; we’ll certainly bring our shithouse A-game.
Anyway, hopefully that’s more of a sub-plot. Onto the important stuff… The “lopsided 4-4-2” mentioned above is an intriguing one. See it as a standard back four and front two but a midfield with the right winger tucked in. Having coped fairly well with MK’s overlapping centre-backs system the other week, Jack Grimmer will find himself up against a more orthodox kind of wide overload. The aforementioned Guinness-Walker (seriously, what a name) is naturally attack-minded, so don’t expect to see him ease off too much even if he returns to left-back – as may be the case with Rod McDonald out injured.
While the dangerous O’Neill lines up at right-back, he makes that right wing his home away from home, so Joe Jacobson might be in for a busy afternoon. Right-sided centre-back Paul Kalambayi and partner Terell Thomas are both imposing presences, and while containing Adebayo Akinfenwa is a conundrum that few have truly solved, we’re probably likely to have more luck with pace and trickery. Besides, skipper Will Nightingale is in line for a return at centre-back – and yes, he’s also a solid unit.
One of the two loanees is ‘keeper Nathan Trott. The 20-year-old made his professional debut in the Dons’ last home league clash – a 1-1 draw with Accrington – and follows in the footsteps of Aaron Ramsdale and George Long – now first choice ‘keepers at Bournemouth and Hull respectively – in moving to Kingsmeadow on loan. An England U20 international, Trott has taken an interesting path to this point, having begun his youth career with Valencia, returned to his birthplace of Bermuda, then joined West Ham on the recommendation of former Irons striker Clyde Best.
Fellow loanee Michael Folivi, who’s returned from Watford after spending the second half of last season with the Dons, a spell in which he struck twice in 11 appearances. He’s yet to get off the mark this time but has started four league games, partnering Kwesi Appiah up top in the last two. While both are threats in terms of getting in behind the defence, the long-ball tactics thus far employed by Downes haven’t been conducive to bringing out their best. Of course, that might not matter, as Piggott will no doubt start and stick one in the Wycombe net again.
Wimbledon have registered in every game so far. Appiah and Piggott have accounted for 3/5 of the league goals, all from inside or just outside the six-yard box – just like the latter’s brace in this fixture last season. We’re not going to completely stop the crosses coming in, and Ryan Allsop‘s initial glimpses of command have vanished in the last couple of matches, so the hosts could do worse than look to exploit that.
Back to that peculiar-sounding midfield then, and the last three games have seen Scott Wagstaff (who’s been captaining the side in Nightingale’s absence), Anthony Hartigan and Callum Reilly alongside Guinness-Walker. Reilly could start this one on the left, as could the pacey Dylan Connolly – Downes’ first signing as manager back in January – or versatile Mitch Pinnock. Nightingale, while a centre-half first and foremost, also serves as a midfield-bolstering option.
I think we’ve established that we don’t have or need a strongest starting 11, per se – not that I’m used to Wycombe being in such a position yet. We’ve not named the same side in consecutive games so far in 2019/20 – through a combination of injury, fatigue and what I’m going to pompously call situational adaptability – and it’ll be a surprise if that changes yet.
For starters, there’s the question of who will play alongside Anthony Stewart in the heart of defence. After a commanding, inspirational comeback appearance up at Fleetwood, Darius Charles appeared fatigued against Southend. Although a full week off should make a difference, his injury must be managed and Ainsworth may not want to risk him for a third straight start so soon. Giles Phillips or, if he’s fit again, Adam El-Abd seem like the more likely choices.
I’m not going to re-address the Nick Freeman debate – I’ve made my feelings on that issue abundantly clear – but there is perhaps a question mark above Alex Pattison‘s role. Having played deeper against Fleetwood and Southend, will we see another tweak or a reversion? This one comes too soon for Curtis Thompson, so it’s two of Freeman, Pattison and Matt Bloomfield with Dom Gape once more.
Up front, it would be somewhat harsh to leave out Scott Kashket after his fine showing in our latest classic. He’s surely even more likely to start if Fred Onyedinma and Paul Smyth remain out with knocks; we’ll need that kind of star, defence-unlocking quality. Might we see a front three of Wheeler, Alex Samuel and Kashket, with Bayo in the back pocket and ready to rip through it for a cameo against his old club if required? If indeed we are depleted in the wide areas, Josh Parker could also have meaningful league involvement for the first time since signing.
The Man in the Middle: Alan Young
This will be the second time Young has taken charge of Wycombe, having also done so in the famous 3-2 win over Scunthorpe last October, in which he sent off Ryan Allsop – only for it to be rescinded. He’s already refereed in Leagues One and Two, the Carabao Cup and EFL Trophy in this, his second season as an EFL official. He’s dished out 16 yellows and a red in his four games, the last of which was Peterborough’s 2-0 League One win at Southend last Tuesday. He refereed three Wimbledon fixtures in 2018/19; they didn’t score in any of them.
Whether you’re making the trip to Kingsmeadow or following from elsewhere, spare a thought for Bury’s fans, who, to all intents and purposes, no longer have a team to support. On Tuesday morning, they started buying tickets and preparing the ground for what they hoped would be the start of their season. By Tuesday afternoon, the proposed takeover had collapsed. At 11:05 on Tuesday night, their club was expelled from the EFL. The fallout from this whole tragic, sorry sequence of events will go on for months, probably years – our game has been neglected for a long, long time, and now it’s finally broken – but for this weekend, let’s put on a show of solidarity. The FSA have already called for such a display.