Stand easy Dons, the job is done, League Two safety is assured after the 2-1 Easter Monday win at Plymouth and in this constantly evolving world of football thoughts turn to next season and how can we keep Kwesi Appiah at Kingsmeadow?
Wimbledon are primed for their best finish in L2 with 56 points already bettering the ‘high-water mark’ set by Terry Brown’s promoted team in 2011-12. Two games remaining and Neal Ardley with his ‘periodisation’ training methods is targeting 60 points as a platform to build on for next season.
Whether the Dons can climb higher next season and possibly mount a playoff challenge depends on boosting the team’s attack: that’s where Appiah comes in.
Since coming in on loan in late March Appiah has scored twice in four starts and has worked up a productive partnership with Jack Midson, who has two goals, both off Appiah assists.
The hitch is that Appiah is contracted with Crystal Palace until the end of next season and given his eye for goal, he could be in demand elsewhere at a higher level. Ardley will do well to work out a long-term loan deal with Palace to keep the 23-year-old at AFC Wimbledon next season.
At least now Ardley has a two-week head start on planning for next season after securing a fourth season in League Two over Easter. He told a club fund-raising group last week that in the current squad there are 10 contracted players for next season, options on three others, and maybe three more to think about.
Ardley is keen on using loan players — he brought in a total of nine loan players this season — and it’s largely to do with finances.
“We’re trying to build the best team we can with the budget we have,” the gaffer said recently. “I could buy a player on £1,000 a week from a lower level club and he might turn out to be standard, or I can get a loan player from a higher level club on £500 a week, and he proves much better. Of course we’ll go with the latter.
“At our level, there are players loaned to us from clubs in the Championship who need competitive football to develop their skills, or players coming up a level looking to make that breakthrough.
“They come to us hungry to show what they can do, they have that competitive edge that makes the guys on contracts sit up and take notice. So it not only helps the team as a whole, it also helps individuals and we get something from them at the same time.”
Michael Smith was a case in point. He will likely end up the club’s leading scorer this season with nine league goals all in the five months he was on loan at the Dons.
Expect a phone call put in to Crystal Palace imminently to check whether they would be interested in an extended loan deal with Appiah next season, unless a League 1 or Championship club nip in first.
Appiah has made an immediate impression at Wimbledon. “If we achieve one thing in the close season, it should be to try and get Appiah either on season-long loan or permanently,” Secret Agent said after watching him at Plymouth. “He is quick, strong and knows where the goal is. Also had the presence of mind to pull the ball back for Midson’s goal.”
Word is that Wimbledon came mighty close to snaring Adebayo Akinfenwa in the lead up to this season, before he opted for Gillingham in League One.
The larger-than-life strongman has netted 10 times in 16 starts and 16 sub appearances for the Gills this season. His one-year deal runs out in the summer: would he also be a player of interest for the Dons at 32?
Then there is Jack Midson. He divides opinion among Wimbledon supporters, but he is mounting a late case for his retention with his sixth league goal of the season against the Pilgrims.
His ardent admirers contend that Midson has not been given enough chances under Ardley this season. It will be a big talking point as we head into the close season and whether he is part of the 2014-15 squad. Midson has 37 league goals over three seasons and will turn 31 over the summer months.
Hopes were high that the Dons would come away from the long trip to Devon — about 190 miles (310 km) south-west of London — with a win. In fact, Wimbledon have yet to lose in three trips to Home Park.
Yet again the Dons fell behind early, this time in the sixth minute when Plymouth captain Conor Hourihane let fly 25 yards out, beating Ross Worner into the top corner.
Wimbledon mounted a strong response with Appiah’s pace and energy, causing problems for the home side. Appiah was too strong for Plymouth defender Paul Wotton and laid on a pass into the path of Midson, who made no mistake with an emphatic low finish just before half-time.
Appiah sealed all three points with a lovely goal in the 59th minute. After beating the offside trap from a long Tom Richards through ball, the on-loan Palace striker cut inside and beat Jake Cole with a low finish.
Worner protected the win in stoppage-time with a superb save to tip Max Blanchard’s strike onto the bar.
“Given the importance of the game, to put in a performance like that after going one goal behind made it one of our better performances of the season,” Ardley said.
“I thought we started really well and then you find yourself 1-0 down which we have done very much this season. I think we have probably got the record for coming back, but that shows character.
“We changed shape three times in that game, we started 4-3-3, went 4-3-1-2 in the second half and started to dominate the game and then they went 4-4-2 and so we went three at the back to match up to the big strikers they brought on.
“We saw it out, Ross makes a great save at the end, but it would have been an injustice if we had lost.”
And going back to ‘periodisation’ training, Ardley explains: “From day one of pre-season I’ve kept telling the boys that we expected them to be fitter at the end of the campaign that ever before.
“We’ve given the players the right recovery and time away from the place, but we train them hard and right on the clock every time that they`re in training.
“The players have trusted us on this and a lot of the boys have said that it’s the freshest they have felt at this stage of the season. In the second-half of games we’ve been finishing stronger than the opposition.”
The Dons have certainly finished the season strongly with just two defeats in their last 12 games to stand 14th. At this stage last season they were seven points inferior and in 21st position, heading into that fateful final day match against Fleetwood Town to stay up.
Written by Onyadon aka Rob Smith.
Rob writes the Wimbledon Downunder Supporters’ Association (WDSA) blog and lets us use this blog with his permission. To view WDSA – Click Here.
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