Date: 3rd March 2014 at 12:51pm
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It makes a welcome change when Wimbledon are referred to as “our bogey” team, and in this season of hard knocks it’s somewhat reassuring to have the wood over any rival team, even if you don’t win!

The scoreless draw on the Wyre Lancashire coast on Saturday means the Dons have not lost to Fleetwood Town in eight games in the league and Conference and makes it four points in two away trips over the last week to teams above the Dons on the table.

We make plenty out of our wretched record against Northampton Town, Oxford United, Southend United and Accrington Stanley, but the Cod Army aren’t probably that keen to play us either, given their record, even though cashed-up Fleetwood are sixth and challenging for the playoff positions.

Maybe Neal Ardley is not far off the mark when he describes Wimbledon as a “decent League Two team.” Of course, it can be hair-pulling at times and we could certainly do with more goals, but the Dons are grinding along in the middle of the road, still nine points above the drop zone and the number of remaining games are dwindling.

There have been precious few high-water marks this season; it’s a goal a game and the team has been constructed to be hard to beat rather than audacious, but Ardley’s remit ahead of the much-anticipated and crucial Greyhound Stadium verdict is to keep the Dons in the League. There are increasing indications that he is achieving that.

This time last season Wimbledon were six points worse off in second-last spot with only Plymouth Argyle below them, but the Dons defence had cascaded 59 goals. Roll on a year and the defence have conceded 20 goals less and are proving tougher to beat.

“There have not been too many times this season when we’ve been at sixes and sevens in defence,” Ardley said. “When I first took over we were being opened up for fun. Now, it has only been set-pieces and switching off at times when we’ve conceded.

“As a unit we’re defending really well, the defence was excellent today. We looked like a decent League 2 team today.”

Now that won’t be universally acknowledged by all Dons fans. They point to the safety-first nature of Ardley’s tactics that work against the pursuit of goals, particularly at home, and the Club has not adequately replaced the goalscoring talents of Michael Smith with newcomers Charlie Wyke and Danny Hylton netting three goals between them.

No doubt the fan forums will go into meltdown again next weekend if the Dons do not put a couple past York City at home and pick up three points to leapfrog the Minstermen.

“Results have been up and down a bit, we know that, but by and large, since the turn of the year, we`ve been a very good team,” Ardley said.

“We were all devastated last week when we lost to Bury. Home form has been tough. We get the chance to put that right next week.”

After the late fireworks at Newport County to grab all the points, it was going to be a test of the team’s character and daresay consistency four days later to come up with a disciplined performance against a team, hurting and seeking a reaction to a 4-0 thrashing at home by Plymouth (by the way, the Pilgrims put five past Morecambe on Saturday).

So to finish with a point after a 2-1 win at Newport is not to be sneezed at to lie bang in mid-table with 12 games left. If the Dons are struggling, so too, by definition are the 12 teams below them.

“It is not an easy place to come because Fleetwood are in the top-six for a reason,” the gaffer said. “They had a defeat on Tuesday and they were looking for a reaction, but I thought we played well and there was nothing between the two teams. We did not just come here for a point and we tried to win the game.”

And while Dons’ fans bemoan the paucity of goals, it is also a topic of debate among the Cod Army supporters if their forum is any guide.

A sample of views …. “Thought that we struggled to make things today. We are okay at the back but at home, we won’t make things happen. We need a creator in midfield” … “One thing that has surprised me about League 2 is the amount of physicality involved in games compared to say the Conference. We don’t have a lot of players who can mix it up and scrap against the opposition. We are too nice at times. Despite, having spent considerable amount of cash, we still don’t have a consistent strike force” ….. “Was like watching paint dry, plus on defence and major minus on creativity.”

Change the club identities and it could be something you regularly read on Wimbledon fan forums.

Ardley praised the work of Will Antwi and Darren Jones in defence in the absence of injured skipper Alan Bennett, while mentioning the contribution of on-loan 19-year-old Fulham left-back Tom Richards on debut.

“Tom probably thought that he would be galloping down the left side playing wing-back,” Ardley said. “But 20 minutes in he was covering for the centre-backs in a back four [after Aaron Morris injured] and he did really well.

“He learned on Thursday that AFC Wimbledon wanted him and then he’s in training with us for the first time on Friday. Last night he had to sing his initiation song for the lads in the hotel.

“He has a wonderful left foot and loves galloping down the left wing. I thought he was steady today and he’ll get better as time goes on.”

Ardley moved for Richards with regular left-back Callum Kennedy still sidelined by an ankle injury, his stand-in Jim Fenlon more suited on the right side and a spell of seven games coming up in March.

Once again a lack of cutting edge prevented the Dons from coming home with all three points. Charlie Sheringham, whose equaliser at Newport was his first League 2 goal, was given his first start since January 28 for Jack Midson, and had a clear shooting chance near the end, but he blazed over the crossbar.

A plus was the growing influence of on-loan Michael Collins in midfield. He created a couple of chances and dictated matters in the second-half, while Morris limped off late in the first half after being rested against Newport.

Windlesham Don, said tongue-in-cheek on the WDSA forum before Saturday’s match: ‘And talking of good records being a telling statistic, we travel to our ultimate ‘bunnies’ on Saturday!

“With our formidable record against Fleetwood, and on the back of a morale-boosting win at Newport, and with Fleetwood having suffered a humiliating defeat on Tuesday, there can only be one result on Saturday – an ignominious defeat…”

So given Wimbledon’s glorious ‘inconsistent consistency’ this season a scoreless draw after the Newport win wasn’t such a bad result after all.

And have your say on the WDSA poll about Neal Ardley …. Click Here.

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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