BY MAX HALL
AFC Wimbledon manager Wally Downes was in no mood to mince his words in the wake of Saturday’s limp defeat at home to mid-table Burton Albion, and told the club’s fans his side would not carry passengers any longer.
Ahead of Tuesday’s trip to Walsall, the Dons boss said: “All I can tell them is that I’ve told [the players] in no uncertain terms that that sort of performance is unacceptable.
“Going forward, nothing less than maximum effort, maximum physical challenges, maximum desire is going to be acceptable. If I don’t see that, then they’ll be out and I’ll put players in who will.”
While the Wimbledon manager described the task of making up what is effectively an 11-point gap on the safety mark as “doable”, Downes was prepared to talk about relegation and life back in League Two.
“If we’re going to go down, we’re going to go down fighting,” he said at the weekend. “And going down the way we went down today is not what this club is all about. This club was born out of a fight and it’s fought its way to this position. I demand that they fight for this club.”
On the prospects of survival, the former Crazy Gang member said: “It’s a gargantuan task and it’s going to need men, and it’s going to need fight, and it’s going to need better play than today.
“That’s the sort of performance… it’s a relegation performance, and if the team are happy to do that and to go down like that, they’re signing their own death warrant, because we can’t keep players at the club if they play like this.
“If you go down without any fight, it spells trouble for next season as well.”
Downes pointed out Saturday’s no-show was similar to the lacklustre defeat against Fleetwood Town last month and said his players would no longer get the benefit of the doubt.
“I’ve got to work out what’s wrong with these players at home, it can’t be nerves,” he said. “It was very, very close to the Fleetwood performance and there’s obviously… I can’t put my finger on it at the moment but there’s obviously some character flaw among the players and we need leaders, and we need people that are going to battle, who are going to work, who are going to grind results out. Today we didn’t have any.”
Asked if there was enough quality in his squad to stave off the club’s first relegation in 19 years, Downes replied: “On today’s performance, no, you’d have to say. I’ve seen, previously, enough to show me that we know that they can play well as a team and get results but if they turn up like that again, today, then no.
“There’s a big squad but there’s a lot of youngsters in there. This is the time it needs men to come in and roll their sleeves up.”
The performance against Burton, said Downes, “has given me a picture in my head about what we can’t do”. He added: “It’s awful to have that picture in your mind, to know that that sort of performance is within the squad. Any more of this and the result of performances like this is the worst-case scenario.”