Revitalised AFC Wimbledon Take The Positives From Gillingham Draw

AFC Wimbledon 1 v Gillingham 1

AFC Wimbledon failed to beat ten-man Gillingham on Tuesday night (12 September) as the teams drew 1-1 – but perhaps the most important moment for Dons fans came off the pitch with Neal Ardley’s annual moment of revelation.

The Wimbledon boss has earned a reputation for starting each season with a new tactical ‘masterplan’, most notoriously a few seasons ago when his 3-4-3 formation left his defenders more exposed than a nudist at the South Pole.

And this season followed tack as he spent the summer assembling a squad to play a 4-3-3 formation, only for the limitations of combining that system with a ‘tippy tappy’ passing style being almost instantly exposed by rigorous League 1 opponents.

After this match, a reflective Ardley told the club’s iFollow Dons channel: ‘Maybe I have tried to put too much into the process of playing a bit of football; drawing people into holes and getting quality into good players in the right areas.

‘There has been too much information and today I just said that I would pick a system that allowed them to run hard and play high-intensity football. I did not want them to think about what pass they were making, I just wanted to get that intensity back and ask the opposition to deal with it.

‘I had not enjoyed watching us play at times this season and I have to take responsibility for that. We started the season well, but we lost confidence with the slower that we got in our play. We tried to get back to our roots today and it was good.’

Although the ‘back to basics’ approach yielded just a solitary point, the official statistics show that the Dons mustered 23 shots with no fewer than nine on target – a staggering turnaround compared with the paltry totals of previous games.

And those chances came right from the start as the Dons shot out of the blocks. Dean Parrett forced a save from Thomas Holy in the first minute, before Kwesi Appiah had a shot cleared off the line and and impressive youngster Anthony Hartigan had one saved.

Lyle Taylor – restored to the starting line-up at the expense of Cody McDonald – forced two more Holy saves in the first quarter of an hour as the Dons dominated.

Gillingham came into the match more as the half progressed, with Mark Byrne firing wide when well placed, but with a slice of luck Wimbledon took the lead.

There seemed little threat when Andy Barcham crossed from the left corner of the penalty box but, whether aided by the gusting wind or not, it took one bounce and left Holy flat footed as it continued its progress into the far corner.

Holy made amends soon afterwards when he tipped Appiah’s effort around the post, before a barmy couple of minutes in first-half stoppage time.

First Taylor got involved in a melee after being on the receiving end of a robust Gillingham challenge. The end product was a booking apiece for Taylor and Gillingham’s Scott Wagstaff, while the visitors’ Lee Martin was shown a straight red.

But there was still time for Gillingham to sneak an equaliser. A throw found its way through to Sean Clare in the middle of the penalty box and he scuffed a shot that bobbled home through a forest of legs.

The second half featured more Wimbledon pressure, with Appiah heading off target and Barry Fuller also having an effort thwarted, but as the Dons failed to regain the lead the tension increased.

It needed a good save from George Long to keep out a Gabriel Zakuani header but the match progressed with the Dons seeking the winner, with substitute Harry Forrester twice going close, including one effort that hit the bar, and Will Nightingale’s header failing to be converted by Liam Trotter and Deji Oshilaja.

While disappointed not to take three points from this encounter, the Dons will aim to keep momentum going as they face a difficult looking trip to Blackburn on Saturday (16 September) before hosting Milton Keynes on Friday 22 September in an all-ticket match.

Wimbledon: Long, Fuller, Nightingale, Oshilaja, Francomb, Hartigan, Trotter, Parrett (Kaja 82), Barcham (Forrester 70), Taylor, Appiah (McDonald 70). Subs not used: Sibbick, McDonnell, Egan, Kalambayi.

Goalscorer: Barcham 35.

Booked: Oshilaja 42, Taylor 45(+3), Nightingale 65.

Gillingham: Holy, O’Neill, Zakuani, Lacey, Ogilvie, Wagstaff, Clare, Byrne, Martin, Wilkinson (Parker 66), Eaves. Subs not used: Ehmer, Hessenthaler, Nugent, Oldaker, Cundle, Arnold.

Goalscorer: Care 45(+4).

Booked: Wagstaff 45(+3), Eaves 81, Byrne 82.

Sent off: Martin 45(+3).

Att: 3,819.

By Rob Crane

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September 15, 2017