Neal Ardley Left Despondent As AFC Wimbledon Suffer Northampton Defeat

AFC Wimbledon 1 v Northampton Town 3

AFC Wimbledon manager Neal Ardley was left a despondent figure after seeing his side slip closer to the relegation trapdoor with a terrible 3-1 home defeat against Northampton Town on Saturday (10 February). The Dons were never really in contention against their fellow relegation strugglers and now sit just one point above the drop.

After the match Ardley kept the players locked in the changing room for a protracted post-mortem. ‘It wasn’t ranting and raving,’ he told BBC London. ‘We’ve got two games this week, we don’t need to do that. But the boys need to stop having conversations and start actioning them, and the boys need to come together now and stand up.

‘Me and the staff can’t go on the pitch. We can pick a team, we can get the tactics, we can do our homework on the opposition – just like we did in January when we were brilliant and everyone was patting us on the back. Ultimately it will be our fault but the players have to step up alongside us, we have to work together.

‘We’ve got to find a way. I’ve been in tough situations before and dogfights at this club, and I’ll continue to lead from the front and continue to take whatever criticism comes my way, because I’m sure it will.’

Certainly Ardley’s reputation for poor tactical decisions was further enhanced in this match as he again got caught out by an opposition side and was forced into mid-match tinkering. Admittedly the Dons started the brighter and could have taken the lead when Joe Pigott skied an effort that he should at least have got on target.

And Ardley’s men were desperately unfortunate to fall behind after eight minutes when John-Joe O’Toole hurled himself theatrically to the floor as Dons keeper George Long palmed the ball behind at his feet, referee Carl Boyeson falling for the con job and Matt Grimes converting the spot kick.

But after that, apart from a brief period after the interval during which they got an unlikely equaliser when Deji Oshilaja converted following a corner, Wimbledon were never in the contest. As has often been the case in recent months, it was a meek, low-tempo performance with a sense of the inevitable as they mustered just three shots on target, exposing once again the team’s inability to fashion goalscoring chances.

Two second-half goals were the least that Northampton deserved. The first came after the visitors won possession in midfield and O’Toole pulled the ball back for a completely unmarked Matt Crooks to convert, while the second followed a quick throw by goalkeeper Richard O’Donnell that prompted a swift counterattack that caught the Dons defence at sixes and sevens, culminating with Daniel Powell firing home.

In contrast, as Ardley switched to three up front, the Dons lost whatever minimal attacking impetus they might have had as Pigott was left isolated, with leading goalscorer Lyle Taylor again reduced to hugging the right touchline ineffectively.

Dons fans will again be wondering which Wimbledon side will turn up when they travel to Plymouth on Tuesday (13 February): the occasionally glimpsed high-tempo side that has the potential to beat any team in this division, or the more-often sighted pedestrian side that seems to struggle to implement the tactics handed to them. The Plymouth trip is followed up with a tricky home encounter against Bristol Rovers (Saturday 17 February).

Wimbledon: Long, Fuller, Oshilaja, Charles, Francomb, Forrester (Kaja 76), Trotter, Soares (Abdou 75), Pigott, Taylor, Barcham. Subs not used: Meades, Robinson, McDonald, Parrett, McDonnell.

Goalscorer: Oshilaja 47.

Booked: Taylor 10.

Northampton: O’Donnell, Moloney, Taylor, Turnbull, Bunney, Crooks (Foley 84), Grimes, Powell (Pereira 89), O’Toole, Hoskins, van Veen (Long 78). Subs not used: Cornell, Barnett, McWilliams, Ariyibi.

Goalscorers: Grimes 8 (pen), Crooks 62, Powell 72.

Booked: Crooks 37, Hoskins 66, Turnbull 83, Long 94.

Att: 4,485.

By Rob Crane

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February 12, 2018