Dons get set for the Neal Ardley era
When Wimbledon step out for their first game of the new season at Torquay on Saturday (3 August), in some respects it will be the start of a new era: for the first time since his arrival in late 2012, manager Neal Ardley will be fielding a team that can genuinely be described as his own creation.
When he arrived at the Dons, Ardley inherited a squad that was struggling for confidence, results and, he felt, basic fitness. But after adopting a ‘back to basics’ approach and dipping relentlessly into the loan market, Ardley managed to haul the Dons to safety with a nerve-wracking final-day win against Fleetwood Town that secured their Football League status.
So this summer was a hectic one as Ardley attempted to reshape his squad into one more befitting League Two status, all the while juggling with the constraints of one of the smallest wage budgets in the League.
Out have gone a bevy of inherited players, including Mat Mitchel-King, Rashid Yussuff, Curtis Osano, Jason Prior, Stacy Long, Pim Balkestein and Louis Harris, as well as ‘stop gap’ signings like Chris Hussey and Kelly Youga.
To bolster what at times last season was an extremely porous defence have come experienced stalwarts Barry Fuller (from Barnet) and Andy Frampton (from Gillingham), with left-back Callum Kennedy also arriving from Scunthorpe.
Possibly the best signing was that of Alan Bennett, who signed a new contract to stay with the club after making a huge impression as the Dons strove for safety last season. Will Antwi and versatile youngster Jim Fenlon remain from last season, although Antwi may also be used to provide cover in midfield.
In that department, the big news was the arrival of George Francomb, who impressed during his loan spell from Norwich last season. The Dons beat off attention from League One clubs to sign the wide midfielder. Chris Arthur, who makes the step up from non-league Havant & Waterlooville, has also impressed during pre-season with his ability to go past his man and deliver a telling cross.
They join Harry Pell and Sammy Moore, with Peter Sweeney also returning from long-term injury to add to the midfield options.
Up front, Jack Midson will be hoping to retain his goalscoring form, while Kevin Sainte-Luce, Charlie Strutton and the ever-industrious Luke Moore have all also been retained. So far, the only new forward to arrive has been Charlie Sheringham, from Bournemouth, but Ardley has made no secret of his desire to sign a traditional ‘number 9’ to act as the fulcrum of the Dons attack.
In goal, Ardley clinched a ‘two for the price of one’ deal by snapping up the experienced Ashley Bayes, who will provide cover as well as full-time coaching. Another new signing, Ross Worner from Aldershot Town, is expected to be the regular choice between the sticks, although Seb Brown is still on the books.
It promises to be an intriguing season for Dons fans as they wait to see how the squad adapts to Ardley’s desire to implement a more fluid-passing style that sees them pressing from the front. Either way, they’ll be hoping to avoid the last-game anxieties of 2012–13.
Wimbledon's first fixtures are as follows:
Saturday 3 August - League Two
By Rob Crane
July 28, 2013