Best Blog or Account to Follow: The irreverent SW19’s Army, whilst deliberately not attempting to represent the ‘real Dons’ fanbase, is a… very un-PC alternative point of view in these straight-laced ‘official club account’ times on supporting AFC Wimbledon, whose die-hard supporters have experienced the highs and lows of football like few other sides in the English game.
Record Last Season + Quick Summary:
League One - 15th; W 13 / D 18 / L 15 / F 52 / A 55 / Pts 57
After their fourth tier play-off triumph at Wembley, the Dons were on a high. Proceedings threatened to derail a little when their first five league games after promotion yielded only two points, but they turned things around in some style in the autumn, losing just twice in a 16-game stretch, with impressive victories gained against Oxford United, Bury (twice) and Charlton Athletic to name but a few. The long winter months were much bleaker and in truth, 2017 has been a very poor year on the pitch; the final half-dozen encounters saw them draw blanks in on every single occasion and stumble to a comfortable lower mid-table finish (although that itself was no small feat). Off it, several major hurdles have been overcome in order for them to return to Plough Lane in just two years’ time, which is a great boost for everyone concerned.
Top Goalscorer: Lyle Taylor (10 goals in 36 starts/3,098 minutes)
Top Creator: Dean Parrett (7 assists in 20 starts/1,915 minutes)
Manager/Head Coach: Neal Ardley; in situ for almost half a decade, the former long-serving fan favourite returned to the club in a management capacity in October 2012 and since then, has done brilliantly to get the ‘current’ incarnation of the Dons into the third tier. He has the confidence of both the board and management and in such a position, he can plan for the long-term in stark contrast to most of his peers. Tending to favour function over form, he will need to call upon his renowned organisational skills once more in 2017/2018 with a much-changed squad at his disposal, particularly given who has left the Cherry Red Records Stadium (from AFC Wimbledon’s perspective).
Ins: Adedeji Oshilaja (Cardiff City), Kwesi Appiah (Crystal Palace), Liam Trotter (Bolton Wanderers), Cody McDonald (Gillingham), Nadjim Abdou (Millwall on loan) & George Long (Sheffield United on loan).
Outs: Jake Reeves (Bradford City), Tom Elliott (Millwall), James Shea (Luton Town), Tyrone Barnett (Port Vale), Dannie Bulman (Crawley Town), Chris Robertson (Swindon Town), George Oakley (Inverness Caledonian Thistle), Sean Kelly (Ross County), David Fitzpatrick (Barrow), Dominic Poleon (Bradford City) & Danny Gallagher (Leatherhead).
Predicted First XI & Shape:
Tactics: The back four shouldn’t be much changed from last season and that stable base will be key to Ardley’s desire to press the opposition more effectively and systematically than last season from the midfield three ahead of them, with the defensive line one of the more conservative in the division and unlikely to ever venture into the opposition’s half under normal circumstances.
That leaves the new-look midfield with a lot of ground to cover and recruitment has matched the need. Nadjim Abdou is very quick and his harrying will be the fulcrum of the Dons’ attempts to control the game. His physicality is equalled by Liam Trotter, who can comfortably play any role in the centre of the park – a useful card to have close to Ardley’s chest in the more tense encounters.
The creative spark will mostly come from Dean Parrett spraying balls forward to the front three to beat the offside trap. At least one of the places is up for grabs in the forward positions; Andy Barcham can be effective but is a bit more predictable for his marker to track than Dominic Poleon. The narrower right sided role could be taken by Lyle Taylor, who will add pace and power but moreover, support to Cody McDonald. The latter of two, a major summer recruit from Gillingham, is much more of a poacher than Taylor, so he will need ample support in the penalty area in order to thrive.
Predicted ‘Area’ of Finish: Circling the relegation drain. Despite what most suffering Shakers fans would believe, goals were actually at somewhat of a premium in 2016/2017 despite an exciting, interchangeable front three. The midfield area was the biggest headache for Ardley last season and whilst there is little doubt that it has been strengthened, it’s still hard to see who, if McDonald or Taylor have an off day, is going to step up to the plate from deeper positions. A stronger spine might not be sufficient in itself to stave off relegation trouble (going back to my slightly tired mantra of it being a more competitive division this time around). Time and patience will be afforded to the manager and his team if things aren’t going to plan. Expectations are realistic but it’s not hard to envisage that simply being harder to beat might just not cut the mustard.