BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Neal Ardley feels his AFC Wimbledon squad have the strength in depth to handle the demands of their three remaining competitions – as they prevailed on penalties last night in the EFL Trophy.
The Dons drew 2-2 with Charlton at The Valley to take the contest to a spot-kick shootout.
All four of their efforts were converted with James Hanson dispatching the fourth to seal a 4-2 win.
Joe McDonnell made two saves – from Nicky Ajose and George Lapslie.
Ardley said: “Two or three years ago it [the EFL Trophy] was a pain. They have tried to relax the rules because they realise they need to give flexibility. We’ve got a 21-man squad here and we want that squad to try and go through all the competitions.
“As you’ve seen today they are all first-team players out there. There were no U21 players out there. They are ones hopefully with get us through this, the FA Cup and the league.”
“I’m disappointed it went to penalties. I was disappointed with the second goal [scored by Jamie Mascoll]. I thought it was a shot that shouldn’t have gone in. The penalties were spot on. Macca has redeemed himself with the penalty saves and our penalties were excellent.”
Goal of the night was Tom Soares 25-yard right-footed strike which soared past Jed Steer to put Wimbledon 2-1 ahead early in the second half.
Ardley said: “Coxy [Neil Cox, assistant manager] was saying ‘no, no, no, no’ just as he was about to do it, because he thought he should have played the man on the outside on the overload.
“Soaresy has come into himself this season. He’s gone away and got fitter and strong, come back a different player. Hopefully he’s come through today okay and is right back in the reckoning for us.
“There’s probably a number of reasons why a player can change. Soaresy has benefitted from the culture we’ve tried to set at the ground. We’ve changed little bits around and he’s put his shoulders back even more and become the person we thought he would be.”
Wimbledon had lost their four previous matches in all competitions before their derby success.
Ardley said: “It was a massive improvement on Saturday [a 3-0 defeat at Burton], that’s to start off with. We spent 20 minutes trying to solve the system they started with. With the team they put out, we couldn’t really predict they were going to start with three at the back – we took 20 minutes to work out how to play against it.
“It felt like they had an extra player but then we came right back into the game. The energy was good in the game.
“I think Lee [Bowyer] will be quite pleased with some of his youngsters because they played a great game. At the end when we’re 2-1 up I’m saying ‘we’ve got a young team – it is that key word game management’. We’re all over the shop, bombing on and all over the place, it’s a bit of a tennis match at the end.
“Things to learn but loads of positives.”