HARINGEY BOROUGH 0
AFC WIMBLEDON 1
BY SAM SMITH AT THE COLES PARK STADIUM
It may have only included two cup victories against teams from divisions below, but last week was significant for AFC Wimbledon. Eight consecutive defeats and just two victories.
Twelve defeats in 17. There is no positive angle of viewing the Dons’ abysmal League One form. So cruising into the EFL Trophy knockout stage after a 4-0 victory over Stevenage last Tuesday, and this – albeit narrow – FA Cup win against Haringey Borough on Friday, should be used as a springboard for the South Londoners to arrest their poor league displays.
But they will have to do it without boss Neal Ardley, who was sacked yesterday afternoon, along with his assistant Neil Cox. The two successes met to conclude Wimbledon’s most uplifting five days of the season.
There was a sense of relief when the excellent Mitch Pinnock sealed their route into the second round with a deflected strike as the clock ticked into the final minute.
However, the scoreline should perhaps have been slightly more comfortable, and certainly would have been had Borough goalkeeper Valery Pajetat not made several fantastic stops.
Regardless, this was a professional performance from Ardley’s side in a situation which has caused many others – some far better and more experienced than Wimbledon – to slip up against similarly inferior opposition.
Any negative result against the Isthmian Premier Division strugglers would have caused a new, embarrassing low. There were plenty of factors which could have tripped the Dons had they underperformed.
The skiddy and wet 3G pitch, the result of the heavy rain which poured down throughout the game, at times made the ball impossible to control.
A record 2,710 crowd piled into Coles Park to back the side that plays in the shadow of Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium – despite financially seeming a world away.
Wimbledon swatted away any outside pressure and, eventually, finished the job. Two clean sheets and five goals in a week represent the antithesis of Wimbledon’s season. So many times have the Dons squandered chances and been left to rue them.
There was the slightest evidence of that at Haringey, Joe Pigott and Terell Thomas each missed good opportunities with headers either side of half-time.
The hosts’ Joe Staunton almost made them pay when he had the ball in the net, although his celebrations were cut short by the assistant referee’s flag. But at least Wimbledon eventually got the job done.
That cannot be said for most of their season. This may have been against a side four divisions below the Dons, but the very minimum it should do is provide some positive momentum to a side scraping the barrel for positivity.
Ardley had heavily criticised his players after their latest League One defeat at home to Shrewsbury Town. The 46-year-old claimed they lacked desire in both boxes and especially at set-pieces.
Training had consisted of around 20 hours defending and attacking dead-ball situations in the weeks before that loss, and yet the Shrews’ Luke Waterfall was allowed free at a corner and then a last-minute free-kick to complete an otherwise wholly undeserved comeback. This was a good enough answer from Wimbledon’s players to that criticism.
While far from perfect, they defended each corner and free-kick very well and also threatened at the other end. The cliché is that you can only beat what is in front of you and the Dons men just about passed that test.
But any positivity will be scrunched up and thrown away if the Dons do not learn their lessons. Tough fixtures against Doncaster, Southend and Peterborough follow. The South London derby against Charlton is in early December.
If on Saturday Rovers edge a narrow victory courtesy of a set-piece and Wimbledon miss a plethora of chances, these two wins and all the positivity taken from them will be completely void.
First team coach Simon Bassey is taking over as interim manager while the search for permanent successors to Ardley and Cox is made.
Wimbledon (4-4-2): McDonnell 5, Sibbick 5, Thomas 5, Oshilaja 6, Purrington 6, Wagstaff 7 (Jervis 68 5), Hartigan 6 (Wordsworth 59 5), Soares 6, Pinnock 7, Pigott 6, Appiah 5. Not used: King, Watson, Garratt, Trotter, Burey.