BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Max Sanders is loving life in AFC Wimbledon’s midfield – as he looks to make a playing statement to Brighton and Hove Albion.
The 20-year-old is out of contract with the South Coast club in June and joined the Dons on a season-long loan at the start of September.
Sanders has started the last three League One matches and was one of their most impressive performers in Saturday’s 4-1 victory at Southend United. He had a 78 per cent pass completion at the weekend, an assist for Ryan Delaney’s goal and had two shots inside the box – one of those leading to Marcus Forss netting.
Sanders had been part of Wimbledon’s youth set-up for three years until being signed by the Seagulls at the age of nine.
He has been sharing a flat in Worthing with Republic of Ireland U21 international Jayson Molumby, who is also out on loan at Millwall.
“We’ve been in similar situations really,” said Sanders, capped four times by England U19s. “We both want to be playing football.
“Sometimes you have got to be patient for you chance and we have both certainly done that. He has played the last few and done well and I’ve played the last three and I’m bedding in well now. I’m ready to push on from here.
“I speak to Jayson a lot. We give each other advice. He’s a good lad and a good player, I’m sure he’ll do well.”
Wimbledon’s form has turned sharply since Glyn Hodges was placed in caretaker charge with manager Wally Downes suspended by the club following FA charges for alleged betting breaches.
“He’s been playing me in a deep role and I’ve really enjoyed it,” said Sanders. “I’ve got to terms with it and in the last few games I can also get forward.
“I’m not an out-and-out holding midfielder. I’ve got the attributes to score goals, get forward and make things happen.
“I can play anywhere in central midfield but prefer to get the ball a bit deeper and dictate play.”
The Dons climbed out of the relegation zone on Saturday evening only to drop back in following Tranmere’s win at Coventry City a day later.
But back-to-back league wins – along with an easy victory over Leyton Orient in the EFL Trophy – have boosted spirits.
“We had a hard start to the season,” said Sanders. “I came in after five games and the boys had a few draws but had played top teams. They were a bit unlucky to go to Ipswich and Coventry and lose in the last minutes.
“We just weren’t getting that luck. Maybe you earn your luck a bit in football but it is a bit harsh where we are in the league. We are playing better football, a bit more free.
“We’ve beaten Rochdale, we were 3-0 up after half an hour and we scored four at the weekend. You can see the whole vibe has been a lot better, when you are winning games it is going to be. We’re scoring goals and that’s what wins you matches. We’ve got that confidence now.
“We know we can comfortably win games in this league. I don’t think we need to look too much into the table. We don’t want to be in the bottom three but it’s about taking every game as it comes and we’ll definitely get out of there. We’ll put everything again into the Portsmouth match this weekend.”
Sanders, who also qualifies to play for New Zealand, only has a deal with Albion until the end of June.
He trained with Graham Potter’s first-team squad in pre-season and was on the bench in the last campaign against Manchester United at Old Trafford in the FA Cup as well as a Premier League fixture against Liverpool.
“I’ve also travelled quite a bit but not managed to get on the bench,” said Sanders. “It was still a good experience to be in and around the first team.
“The new staff at Brighton are really good and have really developed my game in a short space of time.
“I want to play for Brighton’s first team and I’m just trying to do everything I can to put myself in a position to do that.
“If I can go out on loan and show what I can do then I hope it will be good enough to put me back in and around the first team there.
“I haven’t spoken about contracts at Brighton. I’ll see what happens, it’s not really on my mind. I’m just thinking about playing as well as I can and helping the team [AFC Wimbledon] to progress.”
Sanders’ dad, who played for Sutton United, had a contact at Wimbledon which helped lead to him joining the club at the age of six.
“I don’t think at the time that Wimbledon had an academy – they were just in a Saturday league,” said Sanders, who captained Brighton’s U23 side to promotion into the Premier League 2 Division 1 in 2018.
“Brighton were in League One and had a Centre of Excellence. It was closer to home and it also meant I could play for my school on a Saturday because Brighton played on a Sunday. I had no hesitation in joing them.”
Sanders is an Arsenal fan and his idol as a youngster was Cesc Fabregas.
“There have been quite a few coaches who have helped me since I’ve been at Brighton,” he said. “Vic Bragg is only in part-time at the moment but he has been my U18 coach and U23 assistant as well.
“Simon Rusk, who is in charge of the U23s now, and Shannon Ruth [assistant coach] have been a big help in the last two years. There are a lot that I’ve probably missed out.
“They are a very good club for development and you can see that with some good players coming into the first team, like Aaron Connolly and Steve Alzate.”
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