Tag Archives: Away Days

Away Day No 3 – Reality Check?

So far (two games in) this season, we (AFC Wimbledon) have looked decent. We were the better side against both Fleetwood and Coventry. All we needed to do was be a bit sharper in front of goal. The football we are playing is attractive to watch, and the intent seems to be to try and win games, where as last season the idea too often appeared to be not to lose.

We were all reasonably happy as we set off on another long trip up t’ north, to Barnsley this time. Barnsley had also made a good start to the season and were sitting on top of the league with a 100% record. They are one of the favourites for automatic promotion. So would today be a bit of a reality check?

Barnsley, is a surprisingly awkward, and expensive place to get to on the train, so we took the supporters coach . It was another early start. The coach was leaving the stadium at eight in the morning. So I was up at six to drive myself over and meet Stevie at Fat Boy’s for breakfast at seven. The consensus over breakfast was that if we carried on playing the way we had been then we should come away with a draw at least.

We had our normal toilet and coffee stop for at Watford Gap services. While we were stopped at Watford Gap this thing pulled in beside our coach.
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It was the official Watford FC team coach, with no one on it except the driver. His job was to drive the coach up to Manchester, pick the team up from the airport and take them to their hotel. Then presumably drive them to their game against Burnley tomorrow. How the other half live.

The Opposition

Last year Barnsley finished 22nd in the Championship and were relegated to League One. They kept most of their Championship team together, including Keifer Moore, who caused us all sorts of problems last year when he was playing for Rotherham. They also have new owners.  Barnsley’s long term Chairman Patrick Cryne died of cancer earlier this year. In the lead up to his death , the Cryne family agreed to sell 80% of their stake in the club to an American consortium. So far they do not appear to have gone daft by trying to bring in big name players on silly money. Perhaps they feel that what they have should be enough to get them back to the Championship, then they can start to build to see if they can make the Premiership.

The Ground

After a bit of a mystery tour we found a place to park the coach just outside the away end. Someone, I’m not sure who, suggested the local leisure centre The MetroDome as a good place to get a drink and something to eat before the match. It was all right, but the selection of beers was a bit limited. The burger I had was OK, better than McDonalds at least.
The ground (capacity about 24,000) itself has three fairly modern stands on the South, East and North sides, but the West stand looks as if it might have been there since the 19th century. I am guessing that the uncovered seats were until fairly recently uncovered terracing.
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We were accommodated in the North Stand. The sight lines were fine and there was enough leg room to sit comfortably. The attendance was about 12,000 with about 500 Wombles.

The Game

We made five changes from the team that won at Portsmouth on Tuesday. Will Nightingale replaced Rod McDonald, Liam Trotter replaced Anthony Wordsworth, Ben Purrington, replaced Tyler Garratt, Andy Barcham had recovered from his toe injury and took Mitch Pinnock’s place, and finally we started Kwesi Appiah instead of Joe Piggot. I think most of the changes were due to squad rotation rather than anything else. We have a lot of football to play in the next fortnight.
The game started with Barnsley pressing. They had a reasonable chance about five minutes in but put it high and wide. Shortly after that their keeper did well to keep a shot from Tom Soares out. For the rest of the first half it was fairly even. Our defence was solid against a lot of Barnsley pressure. We had another good chance about the thirty minute mark. Scott Wagstaff won a free kick on the edge of their area, unfortunately Kwesi Appiah’s kick was just over the bar.
The second half was similar. Our defence with, Deji Oshilaja and Will Nightingale outstanding, was still holding firm, but we were creating more chances. I was convinced that we had a goal half way through the half. Tom Soares played a lovely ball through to Kwesi Appiah who finished brilliantly, unfortunately the linesman thought it was offside. It must have been marginal. I thought he was level with their last man when the ball was played. Kwesi also should have had a penalty a few minutes later when he was held back after he had flicked the ball on for himself. Joe Pigott had a shot saved after he came on for Kwesi. We saw the game out comfortably. Tom King only had one save to make all match, and to be honest it was a catch rather than save.
There was an unusual occurrence for a League One match, no one on either side was booked. Possibly the referee, who I was not overly impressed by, left them in his car.

The Highlights

On the way back the consensus was that if Barnsley are one of the best teams in the league, then we probably don’t have too much to worry about this season. We matched them in all areas, and with a bit of luck could have won it.

Reality still hasn’t bitten.

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Away Day No 2 -Searching for Unicorns

The EFL Cup, or the League Cup as it is usually known, has had many names in its time, The Milk Cup, The Rumbelow’s Cup, The Capital One Cup to name a few. It is currently known as the Carabao Cup. All these incarnations have had one thing in common. In the eight years that AFC Wimbledon have been a member of the Football League, AFC Wimbledon have never made it beyond the first round of the competition. One year we didn’t even make it to the first round. We had to play a preliminary round against Crawley and lost.
This year our search for a place in the Second Round (something that most Wombles are convinced is entirely mythical) took place at Fratton Park – home of Portsmouth FC.

I don’t normally go to mid-week away games. I usually have to work on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Unless I take the Tuesday off it would not normally be possible to get to the game, and even if I did, I would probably arrive back home about three in the morning and have to get up again for work at six, so thanks but no thanks. I am on holiday this week and Portsmouth isn’t too far away, so I decided that I would join in the quest for this mythical beast.

As the coach left at four in the afternoon there was no pre-coach breakfast at Fat Boys, and I don’t think they do afternoon teas. (I’ll check when I’m in before the Barnsley game).  Two hours down the A3 and we were at Portsmouth.

The opposition

20180814_182938Back in 2013 Portsmouth were on the brink of liquidation. The club was saved by their fans who through the Pompey Supporters Trust  raised the money required to buy the club. On the way from the coach to our entrance to the ground we passed a mural dedicated to all the people who contributed to the rescue. I was pleased to see my friend (and dedicated Pompey fan) John Elgie’s name amongst them. The Pompey Supporters Trust has since decided that the fan owned model won’t work for them and the sold the club to former Disney executive Michael Eisner. As an owner of AFC Wimbledon (we are a fan owned club) I was a bit saddened by the news, but I assume that the PST did what they thought was best for the club. To be fair he does seem to be a “Fit and Proper Person” which is more than can be said for some of Portsmouth’s previous owners.

The Ground

Fratton Park looks like a Premiership ground from the 1980’s, I think there have been a few improvements since then, but it still looks a bit dated. There are rumours of a new ground or a complete revamp of Fratton Park, but for the time being I think they are just rumours.

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Only two of the stands, The Fratton End and the South Stand were open for the game. The early rounds of the League Cup rarely sell out. The official attendance was given as 6588 including about 500 unicorn hunting Wombles. So just about one-third full.

The food at the ground was football ground food, not brilliant, but not actively harmful to health. The sausage roll filled a hole. and created a small one in my wallet.

The game.

The Pompey fans – or at least My friend John – were confident:

We are ready. Won’t be there but they can probably see the opposition off without our support.

We made five changes to the team that drew against Coventry on Saturday. Tyler Garrat replaced Ben Purrington at Left Back, Rod McDonald replaced Will Nightingale at Centre Back, in the midfield Anthony Wordsworth and Scott Wagstaff were in for Liam Trotter and Andy Barcham. Up front James Hanson got his first start, with Kwesi Appiah replacing him on the bench. Portsmouth apparently also made five changes.

The first half was a bit cagey. I thought we had the best of it. We had a few decent chances, which possibly we could have made more of. Scot Wagstaff had a lovely lob over their keeper cleared off the line at the last moment. Though to be fair Portsmouth had a couple of chances of their own. But neither of the keepers had too much to do. The team looked sound at the back, with Rod McDonald looking very solid, Tom Soares was breaking things up and linking very effectively with the attacking midfield players. Mitch Pinnock’s crosses and set piece plays were causing the Portsmouth defence all sorts of problems, with Hanson and Piggott getting on the end of them. Despite all that we went in at half-time 0-0.

Four minutes into the second half it looked as if our unicorn hunt was over. They won a corner and delivered a good ball into the back post area. No one picked up their centre-half’s run into the box, he had a free header and we were one – nil down. Last year that might have been it. We didn’t (generally) do comebacks last year. This years team is made of different stuff. Going a goal down seemed to galvanise them. I was essentially all Wimbledon from then on. There were three or four shots well saved by their keeper, a couple of reasonable shouts for penalties turned down, by that I mean that I thought they were reasonable, the referee obviously thought differently, but what do League 1 referee’s know about football.

With about 25 minutes to go Neil Ardley decided it was time to change things about and took Mitch Pinnock, who was beginning to tire, off and brought Kwesi Appiah on, changing from 4-4-2 to 4-3-3, albeit with Appiah playing as a No 10 rather than 9 as he normally does. This caused Portsmouth even more problems. In addition to having to deal with the height and strength of Hanson and Piggott they now had to cope with Kwesi’s speed and skill. There was a goal coming. In the 75th minute Scot Wagstaff floated a sublime cross into the 6 yard area, Joe Piggott lost his marker and headed in the equalizer. What happened next, I think is indicative of the mindset of this team. Instead of celebrating, his first reaction was to wrestle the ball off their keeper to get it back to the half way line and get the game underway again.

The unicorn hunt was back on. Portsmouth did have one chance on the break, but I felt that if anyone was going to score it would be Wimbledon. In the 88th minute we did. Tom Soares put a floated ball into the area and Portsmouth’s right back, under pressure from Joe Piggott tried to clear the ball, but only succeed in clearing it into the back of his own net. You could say it was fortunate but it was the sort of own goal that is brought about by putting a player under pressure. I thought we overall we deserved the win. We were the better and more positive team on the night.

Highlights

 

The aftermath

So unicorns do exist, we are in the draw for the second round of the League Cup.

And “It only took eight years.”

Here is the proof.

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I wouldn’t mind Fulham, QPR, Brentford or West Ham either home or away, but we all know what is going to happen, we are going to be drawn against Newport away.

Away Day No 1 -First Game of the Season

Before a ball is kicked in anger anything is possible, we could win the league, and the F.A cup as well, we’ll be in Europe next season, we can dream. Reality normally sets in a few minutes after kick off, but on the journey up to Fleetwood the dreams were still alive.

Our dreams this season are fairly limited, mid-table mediocrity is the limit of most of our ambitions. Last season was a bit traumatic, we only secured our League One  status on the second last game of the season. Over the summer our squad was given a major refreshing. Nine players, including last years captain, were let go. A couple of players who we might have preferred to keep, including last years leading goal scorer,  were out of contract and decided not to renew, presumably because other clubs offered them wages that we couldn’t afford. Our second striker, who always carried a bit more weight than he should, apparently turned up for pre-season training looking as if he was planning to change sports to sumo wrestling. His contract was terminated “by mutual agreement”.

Against that the players that we brought in looked decent in the pre-season games.

So with high hopes I was up at six o’clock to set off for Fleetwood and our first game of our third season in EFL League one. I was up but not particularly awake as I discovered later. We were getting the train, because Fleetwood is a long way up ‘t North. Stevie and I decided to meet at Morden Tube and have breakfast there. The Café isn’t quite up to Fat Boy’s standard, but it isn’t bad. There was only problem, it wasn’t open. We decided that we would get something when we got up to Euston. This was a mistake. Possibly we chose the wrong place to get a bacon and egg roll. However we do not recommend Leon’s at Euston as a suitable venue for a pre-away trip breakfast.

The train left on time, wasn’t too crowded, had a few fellow Wombles on board but I guess that most of them would have caught the later train. We did meet a guy from Kuwait and his son. They were on their way up to Preston to watch the Preston North End – Queens Park Rangers game. I don’t think he supported any team in particular (in the UK at least) but enjoyed football and liked to go to new grounds. I think it is his ambition to watch a game at every league ground in Scotland and England. He seemed genuinely pleased to bump into a pair of AFC Wimbledon fans. We had a good chat with him and told him that he needed to be sure to come to New Plough Lane when it opened.

After the local train from Preston to Blackpool and the tram to Fleetwood, we arrived about 12:30. Around this point I was fully awake, that was when I discovered that I had left my ticket at home. I wasn’t a disaster, because I knew that the game was far from sold out and I would be able to buy a replacement, but it was still an extra £22.00. I tried for the sympathy vote from the girl in the ticket booth, but she wasn’t having it, so I had to pay up.

If you are in Fleetwood for the football there is only one place to go for lunch. The Highbury Chippy. It is directly opposite the away turnstiles, and serves some of the best fish and chips that I have ever eaten.

Highbury ChippyWe had our fish and chips and decided that a beer or two before the match was in order. The clubhouse , known as Jim’s Sports Bar is behind the home end. Fleetwood are happy to allow away fans in. It is modern, comfortable and serves a decent selection of beers including a couple of real ales from the local Bowland Brewery. There were loads of screens showing Salford v Leyton Orient. After the end of the game we wandered round to the away end and went in.

I like Fleetwood’s ground.  It is called Highbury and the team play in red with white sleeves, so I assume that at some point in the past, they thought of themselves as a sort of Arsenal of the north. There is standing at both ends with the main stand down one side and some additional seating for about half the other side. The capacity is just over 5000, today it was probably about three-quarters full.20180804_143243

So to the match. Despite all the ins and outs of the close season, seven out of the eleven starters were with us last season, though Kwesi Appiah spent most of last season injured, so he was like a new signing.

Before the match it had been the Joey Barton show. He was announced as Fleetwood’s new manager towards the end of last season, and took up his post when his ban from football ran out. How he will do I have no idea. I got the impression that the Fleetwood fans are sceptical. He has no managerial experience, I don’t think he has done his coaching badges. He had no experience of playing at this level, so we will have to wait and see. I will be surprised if he is still there at the end of the season.

Last season there was a phase of opposition managers being sacked after they had either lost or drawn against us. Wimbledon being rightly known as party-poopers, we wondered if this might happen again.

We started off 4-4-2. Two new full-backs a new goalkeeper and a new right midfielder. I was slightly surprised that Neil Ardley decided to start Tom Soares in central midfield alongside Liam Trotter, because Anthony Hartigan and Trotter had looked pretty effective together in pre-season. Against that Soares on form and up for it (which he was today) is about as effective a holding midfielder as you will find in League 1. Last season he was apparently playing with an injury, which didn’t always help.

We started positively, looking to get the ball forward, taking the game to Fleetwood. Our new full backs looked solid in defence, and promising going forward. in fact the whole back four looked good, especially as they had never played together before, possibly not even on the training pitch. Mitch Pinnock our close season signing from Dover carried on as he had during the pre-season friendlies. He was taking players on, beating them and firing in accurate crosses. In addition to that is probably the best striker of a dead ball that I have seen at the club. Our strikers, Kwesi Appiah and Joe Piggott were a were bit profligate during the first half, at times it looked as if they had never played together before. That might actually have been the case. Kwesi was out injured most of last season. He was injured before Joe joined in January and towards the end of the season, when he was coming on for 20 minutes at the end of the game, it was normally The Pig who made way for him.

The first half ended 0-0 with us having had the best of the game. Fleetwood looked fine but never really threatened.

Second half was much the same, except that we scored. A cross from Ben Purrington, our new left back nodded on by Andy Barcham for the Pig to poke home. We could have had two or three more, but their ‘keeper was having an excellent game, he made one brilliant save to prevent Scott Wagstaff scoring, and we were a wee bit wasteful. When they hit the post and it spun out for a goal kick, we kind of felt that it was going to be our day.

We left Joey Barton with a chorus of “Your getting sacked in the morning”.

It felt much more positive than our visit to Fleetwood last season. The team looked as if they wanted to play together, they looked as if the system we were playing suited them and they looked as if they wanted to take the game to Fleetwood. It is too early to get (over) excited. If it is still looking like this ten games in, then maybe.

We shared the train back to London with the team (they were in First Class) and quite a few Queens Park Rangers fans, some of whom may have over hydrated due to the high temperature. They had been playing Preston, and the racket they were making you would have thought they had won. I mentioned that the team looked as if they wanted to play together, seeing them on the platform waiting for the train, I got the impression that they liked being together as well.

We met them again when we were waiting for the tube. I think they were going back to the training ground to pick up their cars. As Stevie said “You can’t really imagine bumping into Chelsea or Arsenal on the tube can you?”

 

Away Day No.3 (The League Leaders)

This was my last Away Day for the season. I have been to more than three away games (ten in fact) but I only started writing about them a month ago. We (AFC Wimbledon)still have one more away match on Tuesday the first of May against Doncaster (the match that should have been played on Easter Monday) but I can’t make it due to work.

It was an early start, Wigan is a long way up the M6. We met up at Fat Boy’s for our normal pre-coach trip breakfast. Breakfast was fine but there was definitely a sense of foreboding in the air. Even Stevie our eternal glass overflowing optimist was saying things like ” If we can come away with a draw I’ll be happy.” the rest of us were more along the lines of “If we can avoid another 4-0 defeat we’ll be happy.” (They beat us 4-0 in the game at Kingsmeadow before Christmas). Wigan, who knocked Manchester City out of the cup, and are top of the league and already promoted could have tied up the title if they beat us and other results went their way. We on the other hand still needed at least two points from our last three games to be mathematically safe from relegation.

On to the coach for the five-hour trek up north. In retrospect I think we should have taken the train, and will do next time, but that won’t be for at least a couple of seasons.
We had a stop at a service station on the M6. As well as ourselves there were fans from quite a few other clubs grabbing a coffee. Brighton were traveling up to play Burnley, Portsmouth were off to Bury, and going in the opposite direction Rochdale were off to Oxford No hassle, but a bit of banter because Portsmouth and Rochdale are in the same league as ourselves. Brighton being a Premier League club just ignored us.

We arrived at the ground about one o’clock and got off the bus about one thirty because a jobsworth steward insisted that we couldn’t park in the place marked “Coaches” in big white letters. So we had another tour of the suburbs of Wigan to get to the place where we were allowed to park. Fred and Barry, who had come up by train saw the coach on its mystery tour and called us to say they were in a pub about five minutes walk from the ground so we wandered along to join them for a pre-match pint.

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The ground, The DW Stadium, was the smartest (photo above) we’ve been to this season (apart from Wembley), but then it’s not all that long ago that Wigan were a Premier League side. The ground feels a bit big for them. It was their last home game of the season and they had the chance of clinching the title, but it was still only half full. They do share the ground with the local Rugby League team the Wigan Warriors who I think tend to draw bigger crowds.

Our team selection seemed to be dictated by the players we had fit. No Wardrobes*. Three attacking midfielders and our right-footed left back to provide a bit of muscle. As Stevie said “When Harry Forrester and Dean Parratt seem to be the defensive midfield we could have problems” I’m not sure either of them can spell the word “defend”. We lined up 4-4-2 or possibly 4-1-3-2. With Callum Kennedy (who is left footed) slotting in at left back.

The game started pretty evenly. They were trying to pressure us at every opportunity, but we seemed to contain their attack reasonably comfortably and we always looked dangerous on the break. Twenty four minutes in LTB** latched on to a slight mistake by their centre back, fed The Pig*** and The Pig did score. 1-0 to the Wombles.  To be honest I had not expected that. A few minutes later we could have gone two up, but their keeper produced a brilliant finger tip save to push Dean Parratt’s shot over the bar.  They came back at us, but we were fairly comfortable in defence, and George Long was having a magnificent game in goal. The first half ended with us 1-0 up.

At the start of the second half Wigan threw everything they had at us but our defence was holding, even if there were a few heart in the mouth moments. We could have gone 2-0 up at about the 60 minute mark. Harry Forrester made a good interception just inside our half, and had a clear run to the edge of the penalty box. He had Lyle Taylor unmarked to his right and Joe Piggot unmarked to his left, but chose to try a shot instead and put it over the bar.

They equalised shortly afterwards. I thought at the time our centre back Deji Oshilaja was fouled in the build up, and having seen the video replay a few times I am even more convinced that he was, but neither the referee nor his assistants seemed to see it. I’ll embed the video, see if you agree with me.  From my point of view (admittedly biased) the referee seemed to ignore a lot of Wigan’s fouls, but gave everything against us.

There was another twenty minutes of almost constant Wigan pressure to endure, but we held out for a hard-earned draw. Possibly we could have won, but given the pressure that Wigan put us under for almost all the second half a draw was a fair result. As Stevie said at Fat Boys we came a way with a draw and we were happy. Even happier when we discovered that The Franchise (AKA Milton Keynes)**** had been relegated.

It all made for a contented trip back to South West London


*Our three defensive midfield players Tom Soares, Liam Trotter and Jimmy Abdou are collectively known as The Wardrobes, due to the perception of a certain lack of mobility among a section of our fans.
**Lyle Taylor (Baby) from the song we sing for him:
Lyle Taylor Baby, Lyle Taylor Woa oh o ( to the tune of “Don’t You Love Me Baby”).
*** Joe Piggot is (affectionately) referred to as The Pig.
**** The history of Wimbledon FC being uprooted and moved to Milton Keynes and the subsequent formation of AFC Wimbledon is well told in this Wikipedia article

Away Day

I haven’t written very much on the blog for the past year. Possibly a good sign, in that I am beginning to get my life into some sort of order after losing Grace almost two years ago. Don’t get me wrong, I still miss her intensely and if I could I would do almost anything to have her back with me. But my life is moving on and I am learning to find my own way of living it. With that in mind I had decided to try a slightly new slant to the blog.

Football and AFC Wimbledon in particular have taken on an importance in my life that is probably greater than it really should be. However with that in mind I thought that I would start writing about the games that I attend. Starting with today’s (April 2nd) game away to Doncaster.

The day started out well. Stevie suggested that we get a train up to Doncaster about 10:30 so that we would have time to get lunch before the game. I thought that was a reasonable idea and agreed. We met as we usually do before away games at a café for breakfast this time at Rosy Lee’s in Morden, because we were getting the train. Usually we get the Club Coach and we meet at Fat Boy’s just outside Kingsmeadow. With a pretty good (but not up to Fat Boy’s standard) full English inside us we got the Tube up to Kings Cross.

We met John at the station, decided that the Leeds train looked less crowded than the Edinburgh train, so we hopped on that instead. We had decided to pay the extra £10 to get open tickets so it didn’t matter what train we caught. This turned out to be a very good decision.

There were a fair few fellow Wombles on the train, so the conversation was mainly about our prospects for today. I thought that we could come away with a point. Stevie, who is an eternal optimist, was predicting a 5-0 win for us. The others weren’t quite so confident. To be fair we haven’t had a great season and we are seriously flirting with relegation to League 2 so I fully understood where they were coming from.

It all turned out to be academic though. John got a text message from a mate saying that the game was off. He sent one back saying that he was a day late for April Fool’s day. Unfortunately after a bit of searching the BBC, Doncaster and Wimbledon web sites, we found out that it was true. The game was off due to a waterlogged pitch. After Friday’s game which resembled water polo rather than football, we wondered how bad it really was. All the other games in the area had been called off as well, so it probably was the correct decision. It left us with a decision to make as well,  what to do with the rest of the day.

Our first thought was Plan “B”.  Peterborough were playing at home so we could get off the train at Peterborough and we would at least get to see some football. This was squashed by the man in the seat in front of us who pointed out that this train did not stop in Peterborough. OK plan “C” then. We couldn’t think of a plan “C” at least  not one that suited us all. We eventually settled on plan “Z”  and caught the next train back to London.