Nombe 10 Healey 26
AFC WIMBLEDON 1
Forss 83BY RICHARD CAWLEY AT STADIUM MK
These are tough times for AFC Wimbledon – and one thing they are going to need to do is use the Forss.
Marcus Forss, to be precise. Because the Brentford loanee’s neat finish on Saturday was about the only moment to cheer up Dons fans.
The young Finnish striker is clearly highly-rated by his parent club, who tied him down to a new four-year contract before sanctioning his move to Wimbledon. And he showed a glimpse of what he could add to Wally Downes’ side in the 83rd minute at Stadium MK.
Callum Reilly whipped in a cross and the striker had plenty left to do from a difficult angle, but steered his header back across Lee Nicholls.
Forss had only been on the pitch for five minutes and he had made his mark. It seems a certainty that he will be in from the start for this weekend’s home fixture against Shrewsbury Town.
Other changes look on the cards too. For example, playing Will Nightingale in his favoured central defensive role. The captain looked so much more comfortable when he was pushed back there at the start of the second half – Downes changing shape from a malfunctioning 3-5-2 to a more balanced 3-4-3.
A by-product of that switch was that Nightingale coped far better with the strong running of Sam Nombe than any of the three centre-halves fared in a really poor opening 45 minutes.
Wimbledon were booed off at half-time by the 560 fans who did make the journey – there are plenty more who choose to ignore this fixture even exists.
What hurt most was that the Dons lacked the edge and urgency of their opponents in that first period.
Nombe’s pace and power had an unsettling effect and he held off the challenge of Paul Kalambayi to beat Joe McDonnell, the ball pinballing off both posts before ending up in the net.
The second goal on 26 minutes underlined the lack of urgency in the Wimbledon ranks. When Rhys Healey breezed past Nightingale there was no one charging out to close down and he speared a right-footed drive into the bottom left corner of the net. Yeah, he finished it sweetly but the attempts to shut down the shot could be described as half-hearted at best.
The Dons had chances to reduce the deficit before the interval but Kwesi Appiah and Joe Pigott both directed headers straight at Nicholls.
Wimbledon had one more effort on target – five – than their opponents. And there were two other opportunities that stood out too. Appiah miscued over with his weaker left foot from 10 yards out while Kalambayi headed wide from a stoppage-time corner.
Downes’ lengthy pause when asked about the young defender’s miss in the post-match press conference spoke volumes.
Would Wimbledon have deserved a point? Yes. Could they feel a sense of real injustice? No.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing and I’m sure that Downes, if he could rewind a section of the match, would have brought on Forss instead of Folivi when the second half resumed.
Folivi had one sighting of goal but Nicholls was quickly off his line to block the attempt. Aside from that the Watford loanee did not find the little pockets of space he likes to operate in. Paul Tisdale’s side were bright and busy in the opening quarter of this contest, but after that seemed content to sit deep and protect their lead.
If Wimbledon had reduced the deficit earlier, it certainly felt like they could have walked away with more. Instead it is the Dons’ worst start to a season since they were promoted into the EFL.
There was an expectation that this season would not be such a struggle yet they are six points worse off than this stage of last season. But was major improvement a realistic proposition when Downes has talked about an overspend on the budget last season and that expenditure had to be trimmed back for this campaign?
The signings in the latest transfer window pointed to the fact that the budget was a challenge – with Nesta Guinness-Walker and Adam Roscrow both low-cost gambles as they arrived from Met Police and Cardiff Met Uni.
Wimbledon enquired about Tom Elliott but could get nowhere near the finances needed to bring the striker back.
It’s not a hard and fast rule but you do tend to find, with the odd exception here and there each season, that spending equates to league position.
Ipswich and Sunderland should be aiming for automatic promotion. Bigger wagebill or money spent on transfer fees should reflect the expectation at a club.
Wimbledon will not be anywhere near the top of that particular table.
Supporters on social media seem keen for Downes to be more adventurous and not so defensive focused. But then again, that tightening up at the back was vital in them getting across the finish line in April.
You would imagine that the Dons hierarchy will give their former midfielder time. And so they should.
Neal Ardley had lost seven straight – and taken three points from a possible 30 – when he was dispensed with in November. They were in a far tighter spot going into the closing months of that 2018-19 season but Downes found a way for them to achieve their objective. It is too early to make judgements as his new-look squad beds in.
It wasn’t always pretty last season and it probably isn’t going to be this time around too.
Downes spoke about his squad being stronger if they came through this lean spell and a win this weekend can help in terms of belief and confidence.
Forss certainly looks as if he can be a handful for opposition defences in his promising but brief cameo at the weekend.
Finding more potency in front of goal will go a long way to changing Wimbledon’s fortunes.
Photos by Sean Gosling