It all started promisingly with our pre-season friendly against Watford. Our new goalkeeper George Long (on a season long loan from Sheffield United) looked like he was an excellent shot stopper and also had a prodigious boot on him. Cody McDonald our new striker scored two cracking goals and there were signs that some of our home grown players, notably Anthony Hartigan, Alfie Egan, Toby Sibbick and Egli Kaja could be pushing for first team places. Some of my predictions/hopes worked out – mainly concerning George Long, the rest well ……
As I have mentioned in other posts I started following AFC Wimbledon again last year following a four year break while Grace was being treated for Ovarian Cancer. I found that I was going to almost every match. The only ones I didn’t go to we’re the ones that I couldn’t get tickets for. So I decided to get a season ticket for this year. £340 well spent .. Possibly.
During the close season we had lost a couple of players who were fairly integral to the team. Tom Elliot (last years Player of the Year) was out of contract and although we offered him a new one, Millwall, who had just been promoted, offered him a better one. So our big lump with No. 9 on his back was gone. So to was our Duracell Bunny midfielder Jake Reeves. He wasn’t out of contract, but it turned out that there was a release clause in his contract and Bradford triggered it. Neither of them was properly replaced.
My first match proper of the season was our League Cup round 1 game against Brentford. No one expected too much from it. We have never got beyond the first round since we became a League club in 2011 (and thus eligible to enter). We did better than expected, holding then to a 1-1 draw at full time. Extra time proved our undoing with Brentford running out 3-1 winners.
We had started our league campaign the weekend before with a creditable 1-1 draw away to Scunthorpe. The following Saturday saw us back in League action again, against Shrewsbury, the other team in League One who play in Blue and Yellow. We lost 0-1 which at the time felt extremely disappointing. In retrospect I don’t think it was quite as bad a result as I thought at the time. Shrewsbury turned out to be this year’s overachievers and have made it all the way to the playoff final. I would describe them as an efficient team. Very sound defensively, and able to nick a goal when the opportunity presents. However it was an indication of where we were going to be for much of the season. Difficult to break down, but finding it almost impossible to score. If we went behind there was the feeling that that was it, game over.
Our next game against Fleetwood was my first ever away match. John and Stevie, friends I had made on one of our volunteers work weekends, go to most away games and told me that I should at least do one or two. So I decided that Fleetwood would be my introduction. The game was memorable for a couple of things. Not the football, we weren’t completely abject, but we were not very good. Fleetwood were not much better, but managed to bag a couple of goals thanks to mistakes (unfortunately becoming increasingly common) on the right side of our defence. No the two things that made it memorable were meeting a Canadian football studies researcher – I had no idea that such people existed – on Preston station while we changed trains. The other thing that made it memorable was the fish and chip shop outside the away end. They served some of the best fish and chips I have ever eaten.
That seemed to establish the pattern for the early part of the season, basically a series of disappointing losses and draws, interspersed with the occasional win to give us a bit of hope. But as every footy fan knows it is the hope that kills you.
Probably the most disappointing loss was the game I missed because of a family funeral back in Scotland. We played “The Team Who Shall Not be Named” on the evening of Friday (it probably should have been the 13th) 22nd of September. I tried to watch it on a very dodgy pirate feed whilst traveling back to London. The only two points that the feed stopped freezing were when Kwesi Appiah pulled up in their penalty area with the hamstring injury that would keep him out for most of the season, and when Lyle Taylor missed the penalty that might have gotten us back into the game. The train was stopped in Stevenage as the game ended, my thoughts were that we may well be back here next season.
Relegation was staring us in the face. I was having difficulty seeing where the next goal was coming from, let alone the next win. Our strikers were either out of form or injured, the midfield were reasonably enough defensively but we’re adding nothing going forward. On top of that I was becoming obvious that Paul Robinson, our right centre-back was playing one season to many.
To be continued……..