Formation Change Fails To Boost Dons' Result

Port Vale 3 v Wimbledon 0

Wimbledon boss Neal Ardley blamed himself after seeing his side crash to an emphatic 3-0 defeat at top-of-the-table Port Vale on Tuesday (5 February).

The Dons lost their unbeaten record in 2013 as Ardley decided to change formation and play with three centre-backs in a bid to counteract the Vale attack, widely perceived as the strongest in the division.

But the Dons found themselves a goal behind after just nine minutes and, when a deflected effort put them 2-0 down, any chance of a comeback looked remote.

And a second-half switch back to their more usual formation failed to reverse the trend.

Ardley told the club’s official website: ‘I am going to take the rap for tonight. I played with five at the back as I felt that we were playing against the best front four in the league.

‘But we switched off early from a set-piece and conceded a sloppy goal. It was never going to be easy after that.

‘I asked the players to play a different system and we practised it in training, but it did not work out for us.’

The change in formation saw the introduction of recent signing Alan Bennett, the former Republic of Ireland international slotting in between Pim Balkestein and Mat Mitchel-King.

But the extra presence in defence failed to prevent Lee Hughes being left totally unmarked following a 13th minute Ryan Burge free kick, and the prolific marksman was left with the simplest of tasks to head the home side into the lead.

The Dons did respond and pressed forward as they sought to get back on even terms. First Gary Alexander forced a save from Chris Neal, then Toby Ajala shot just wide after Rashid Yussuff also saw his effort blocked by the Vale keeper.

But any realistic hope of a comeback evaporated after 35 minutes as Wimbledon had the stuffing knocked out of them by a freak goal. Ashley Vincent’s effort was heading towards Neil Sullivan’s bottom right-hand corner and the veteran keeper had already dived when the ball took a huge deflection that saw it divert into the opposite corner to give the hosts a 2-0 lead.

Ardley rang the changes after 58 minutes, reverting to the Dons’ more usual formation by bringing on Jack Midson and Paul McCallum up front, and the two combined with McCallum’s flick-on giving Midson a one-on-one effort with Neal that the Vale keeper was equal to.

But it was the home side who finished strongly. Tom Pope saw a headed effort deflect off the top of the bar, and then it was 3-0 when Jennison Myrie-Williams’ crossed from the left and Vincent got his second of the game with an emphatic half-volley that gave Sullivan no hope.

Any hopes that the Dons might have had of a consolation proved false, although Yussuff did force a smart save from Neal.

This result means that, while Port Vale remain top of the table, the Dons remain bottom, albeit with a game in hand over most of their relegation rivals.

And you can bet that Ardley doesn’t try changing formation quite so radically when the Dons travel to Chesterfield on Saturday (9 February).

Attendance: 5,567

Port Vale: Neal, Duffy, Purse, Chilvers, Jones, Myrie-Williams (Birchall 79), Burge, Loft, Vincent (Andrew 79), Hughes (Williamson 62), Pope. Subs not used: Johnson, Yates, Shuker, Morsy.

Goalscorers: Hughes 13, Vincent 35, 75.

Wimbledon: Sullivan, Fenlon, Balkestein (Long 66), Bennett, Mitchel-King, Ajala, Yussuff, Sweeney (Midson 58), S. Moore, Hussey, Alexander (McCallum 58). Subs not used: Jaimez-Ruiz, Osano, Cummings, L. Moore.

By Rob Crane

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February 9, 2013