Behind Enemy Lines: AFC Wimbledon

MILLWALL could be travelling to Wimbledon with a depleted squad on Saturday.

Tom Elliott and Lee Gregory are doubts, while Ben Marshall, Ben Thompson, Fred Onyedinma and Tom King are all cup-tied.

There could be places on the bench again for youngsters such as Jethro Hanson and George Alexander against League One’s bottom side.



The Lions take on the Dons for the first time since a 2-2 League One draw in January 2017, when Elliott netted for his former side.

Lucas Ball spoke to Pete Hotchkiss this week.

Twitter: @petehotchkiss



Why do you support AFC Wimbledon?

They are my local side. I have followed Wimbledon since the ‘80s, and while most of my peers were Chelsea, Spurs and Man United fans at school, I was more than happy following a less glamorous side.

The never-say-die, punching-above-our-weight ethos is also something I’ve always had a close affinity with. I love how as a club we’re told we can’t/shouldn’t do something – yet we’ll happily go and prove people wrong

What’s been your favourite season following the Dons?

Many of the early Premier League seasons are memorable, not least because we consistently punched above our weight.

But my own favourite was our promotion season in 2015-16 – even over the ‘88 FA Cup final when we defeated Liverpool 1-0.

On a personal level it was a tough time for me, and the football was a welcome escape from difficulties outside of football. The League Two play-off final win over Plymouth at Wembley was cathartic – and oddly didn’t surprise me at all. I’d woken on the morning of the game utterly convinced we would win 2-0. Turns out I was right.

And the worst?

2002 – for the obvious reasons around the previous incarnation’s absconding to Bucks. The less said about it all the better.

Do you think that this team have any hope of avoiding relegation, even after a slight pick-up under Wally Downes?

Honestly, no. I can’t see a way out, barring a complete miracle. We live in hope of course – but the eight-game losing streak back towards the tail-end of last year has killed us.

Downes seemed to be a bit of a left-field appointment, what did you make of it?

It was and it wasn’t. While he’s not someone with a huge track record in management, he gets the club and what we as fans hold dear. He’s what was needed to put some spirit back into both the on-field performances and in the stands.

He’s also got the spine to deal with some of the dead wood in the squad. The fact there’s three or four names who were regulars under the former regime that now hardly make the bench speaks volumes. These names are reportedly our high earners – but now very much look like they are surplus to requirements.

Wally saw they weren’t fit to wear the shirt and he’s dealt with them accordingly.

Neal Ardley did a huge amount for this club, but what is apparent is recruitment is not one of his strong points and we are in the position we are because he brought in players that are neither good enough, nor possess the backbone for a fight.

Like Millwall, the Dons managed to stage a huge upset in the fourth round. Millwall are the favourites for this one – how much of an impact do you think that will have?

It’s the FA cup, and that alone is a huge leveller. You guys have cemented your place in the Championship and had a great result in the last round.

But we’ve proven that we are a team prepared to go at anyone, and if we can get our noses in front aren’t going to roll over.

Throwing the fact it’s a London derby into the mix will mean the atmosphere will be bouncing. It’s anyone’s game.

If relegation were to happen, how much of a re-build would be needed to ensure a longer stay next time in League One?

As I mentioned above, from a team perspective we’ve got a turkey of a squad of which I expect more than half to be jettisoned come the end of the season. Whether we pull off a survival miracle or not.

This FA cup run is going to help finance the re-build and there are some players whose contracts will simply need to be bought out. Liam Trotter and Tom Soares for example still have time to run on their current deals, but I will be very surprised if they are still Wimbledon players come the start of next season.

We’ve got some hungry youngsters who have come up through our development ranks and I expect a team to be built around them. Will Nightingale in particular is young – but a born leader and he should be made club captain next year.

We also need a target man. We so miss Tom Elliott.

How much of an impact do you think moving back ‘home’ next season will have?

The reality is it’s going to be mid-season before we’re playing at Plough Lane. The sooner we can get in there though the better. It’s our spiritual home, and I think for many it will be the final piece of the puzzle that really means we can move on from the whole MK Debacle.

It will also be another chance to stick two fingers up to the FA over what they allowed to happen.

Lee Gregory against AFC Wimbledon in January 2017

 

Former Dons striker Tom Elliott could be back in the Lions’ squad after suffering with injury of late – what are your memories of him?

We miss him. His first season with us was somewhat uneventful but once we got into the groove of using him as a target man for Lyle Taylor to play off we had a solid front-line.

He deserved the chance to step up to the next level with you guys – and will be welcomed back by the home fans come Saturday afternoon.

How important is a cup run to the Dons?

We’re a small club. We don’t have a rich owner who can dig into personal coffers and bankroll us with large sums of cash.

Therefore good cup runs are a big earner for us, and regardless of the result Saturday we’ll make more money than we budgeted we would. This means that should we go down, we’ll have a nice sum of money to spend on a campaign to try and bounce right back up again.

The FA Cup is magic. What makes it special is still there in those early rounds and the fact giant-killing happens gives hope to footballs fans of smaller clubs.

Sure the final in May isn’t what it used to be – the whole 5pm kick-off really needs changing back – but that’s largely down to the greed of the “big” clubs and the FA who really only care about keeping the TV audience happy and to hell with real fans.

Which of Downes’ men will Neil Harris’ side have to look out for?

We’ve got a great new ‘keeper on loan. Aaron Ramsdale has barely been with us that long but he’s already a fan favourite.

Also keep an eye out for Dylan Connolly whom we signed during the January transfer window. He’s got a good engine on him and isn’t afraid to run with the ball.

Scott Wagstaff is also one to watch. He scored two goals against the Hammers and his renewed confidence means he’ll be looking to get forward as often as possible, too.

Likewise, which Millwall players are you most wary of?

Obviously we’ve got to keep an eye on Lee Gregory as he’s your top scorer, but from what I saw of the highlights of your fourth-round game we can’t ignore Murray Wallace either.

What are your thoughts on Harris?

Similar to us, you have a gaffer there that knows what it means to play for a club, has the relationship with the fans, and can instill the importance of what a club means to fans when players join.

It’s clear he loves the club, and I’ve got a lot of respect for that.

If you could sign any one of his players, who would it be and why?

I’d love Tom Elliot back. We’ve missed his aerial ability.

What’s your predicted Wombles starting XI and formation?

I think we’ll line up almost the same as against West Ham – the only change being enforced as Kwesi Appiah picked up a knock last week so might not be fit.

5-3-2

Ramsdale; Sibbick, Oshilaja, Nighingdale, McDonald, Seddon; Connolly, Hartigan, Wordsworth; Folivi, Pinnock.

Will you be at the game?

I will indeed. I’ll be in my usual spot behind the goal on the home terraces.

Finally, what’s your score prediction?

This one is going to be close. We both had high-scoring games last round, but I don’t think this will be the same.

I actually fancied that it might have gone to a replay at your place but they’ve been scrapped at this stage.

So I’m going to go 1-1 and into extra time.

Image: Millwall FC 

Staff

(@NewsAtDen)