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97/98: Friendlies:

Pre-season friendly, 2/8/97
Watford 1(0)
Scorers: Noel-Williams
Wimbledon 3(2)
Team: Chamberlain, Melvang, Kennedy, Page, Palmer, Mooney, Noel-Williams, Hyde, Lee, Easton, Slater
Subs: Johnson (for Easton), Talboys, Gibbs (for Melvang), Thomas (for Noel-Williams), Ward (for Page)
Scorers: Holdsworth 2, Earle
Snappy headline
Report by Ian Grant


Football is about passion and excitement and tension and disappointment and glory and genius and stupidity and moments of life-shattering ecstasy and moments of equally life-shattering failure. It is not about sitting quietly in the August sun while twenty-two players wander half-heartedly around playing a game that no-one cares about - that's cricket, obviously.

So you'll have to excuse me if I wasn't paying attention for the whole ninety minutes - during periods of an ear-flappingly tedious first half, Miles and I were reduced to counting the number of away fans in the Rookery (we made it 177, if you're interested). Of course, come next Saturday, when things actually start to matter and full-scale panic sets in, I'll fondly remember the relentless boredom of friendly games as 'relaxation'.

Anyway, it didn't take very long to spot one fatal flaw in our Dons-conquering masterplan - Wimbledon are one helluva good side, basically. Within the first few minutes, they'd forced Robert Page into a brilliant defensive header to prevent Dean Holdsworth from scoring. But the goal was always coming. When it did, it was pretty farcical - a long throw into the box was flicked on by Holdsworth (who, perhaps foolishly, was being marked by Tommy Mooney at the time) and trickled pathetically into the corner of the net. The Rookery end exploded into insane celebration...

They added a second a few minutes later - again, a long throw caused problems and Holdsworth finished clinically from one inch out. At that stage, it looked a matter of how many Wimbledon would score. Our attempts to clear the ball to the forwards were meeting with failure (if there's one team you don't want to play the long ball game against, it's Wimbledon) while the abundance of quality Dons strikers was causing us all manner of problems.

Having survived until half-time, however, we changed things around a little and emerged as a far more confident-looking side. The measure of control introduced into the midfield by Richard Johnson's presence saw Stuart Slater getting much more of the ball in dangerous areas, with the result that we looked likely to score for the first time in the game.

After an early save by Alec Chamberlain, the match finally came to life. There are no prizes for guessing that Slater was the instigator of it all - he was nothing short of sensational, running the Wimbledon defence ragged for much of the second half. The only concern is that, had this not been a friendly match, they probably would've kicked him out of the game - they would've had to catch him first, mind you.

A combination with Gifton Noel-Williams provided the first bit of excitement - Gifton won the ball as Wimbledon attempted to break and gave it to Slater for a run at the defence. After a typically penetrating dribble, Slater returned the ball to the young striker who scuffed a shot towards goal - it looked to be going harmlessly into the keeper's arms before Jason Lee stuck out a boot to divert it against the post. From the rebound, Slater crossed for Lee to slam a shot underneath the keeper but one of them, presumably Slater, was ruled offside.

We scored shortly afterwards - this time the attack came down the left with Tommy Mooney executing a dragback to beat a defender and wellying a fairly hopeless cross into the box. It happened to land at the feet of Noel-Williams, who turned to shoot into the bottom corner. Having looked a little over-powered by Premiership defenders in the first half, Gifton enjoyed a fine second period and put forward a persuasive case for selection alongside Lee.

Other than another strike by Gifton that was ruled offside (I'd tell you all about it but I've forgotten) and a stunning run by Slater that took him past several opposition players before he was stopped on the edge of the box (and on the verge of sealing the 'goal of the season' award before the campaign had even started), that was about it. Wimbledon added a third in the last few minutes, Earle leaving Chamberlain stranded with a sublime lob.

Conclusions? Well, the new signings showed promise. Jason Lee won enough headers to suggest that he ought to be a real threat against lesser opposition. Micah Hyde made some useful touches and demonstrated a surprising willingness to put in crunching tackles before being rather by-passed in the second half. Peter Kennedy looked useful, although so much of the possession was going through Slater on the right wing that he began to look a little stranded out on the left. Lars Melvang appears to be a pretty neat right back and offers more attacking impetus than Nigel Gibbs. And David Thomas looked spectacularly great in the ten seconds he was on the field (I can entirely understand GT's reluctance to take Gifton off, though).

There's little else worth saying, to be honest. Attempting to draw too many conclusions from friendly games is a bit like playing golf with a blindfold on so I'll leave the usual lengthy dissections of all and sundry until next Saturday...

Corny pun
Report by Dan Exeter

Although (like all friendlies) this game is ultimately rather meaningless, it was interesting to see this match simply to find out what formation and personnel changes GT could come up with. We played a 3-5-2 formation, with Chamberlain in goal; Page, Palmer and Mooney in the back three (yes, Tommy Mooney, the same player we originally signed as a striker and who spent most of last season in midfield); and Slater, Easton and new signing Micah Hyde in the centre of the park. New signing Peter Kennedy was left wing-back and triallist Lars Melvang was on the right. Newbie Jason Lee was partnered by oldie (seems a bit silly saying that about a seventeen year old) Gifton Noel-Williams.

Like I said, the game had no competitive value so it's just for the record that we were two down in half an hour thanks to headed goals by Dean Holdsworth from a combined total of about two yards out. We pulled one back in the second half from The Gift, side-footing home from the right-hand edge of the six yard box after some good work by Peter Kennedy, while The Gift and Jason Lee had a goal each ruled out for offside or somesuch triviality. Wimbledon sealed things late on with a lovely chip from Robbie Earle.

Although a 3-1 defeat sounds pretty heavy, the game was never that bad. Encouragingly, we showed promise going forward. Micah Hyde ran and ran, popping up with a vital tackle here and a crucial pass there, a sort of more attack-minded version of Johnno. It'll be interesting to see how Hyde fits in with Richard Flash, who seems to be a similar sort of midfielder. Flash himself was apparently rested after playing in all the other friendlies.

Jason Lee seems very much to be the player that we've missed since selling Paul Furlong. Even against Premiership opposition he was winning headers and flick-ons, holding the ball up and passing it intelligently, and physically he gave as good as he got. In many, many respects he's the player that we had all hoped Devon White would be. Partnering The Gift seemed a bit odd to me, if only because normally you'd expect to partner a Big Number Nine with some sort of short-arsed psychopath who never stops running which, for all The Gift's qualities, he is not. But it looked like it could work quite well.

Both the wing-backs were new and both, I thought, were excellent. Kennedy on the left is a young Irish lad we bought from Notts County - like Melvang, the triallist on the right, he seemed to run and run even in the heat, getting forward, providing options and delivering quality crosses. Sometimes he was a little out positionally - I suspect that is more to do with his origins as a winger than any major lack of ability. Hopefully Melvang will also be taken on - let's be honest, Gibbsy is never going to be an all-action right wing-back and, even if we only had Melvang for a short while before he was snapped up by some Big Club, he would still make (in my view) a telling contribution.

Attacking-wise, I haven't felt so optimistic in years and years; however, I'm not so sure defensively. Chamberlain does not impress me. He can stop shots but when it comes to dealing with crosses or organising the defence, I have grave reservations. Chris Day, on the other hand, I've heard only good about and it'll be interesting to see which of the two gets the nod for most of the season.

I also don't like Mooney in the back three, as I don't think he's tall enough or positionally aware enough. He's not the best tackler in the world either. However, everyone else who could play in a three-man defence, like Page, Millen, Palmer, Ward or Gibbs, is right-footed so perhaps it's Mooney's left foot that has given him a place in the starting eleven and not because GT necessarily thinks he's much good (remember, he did once pick Keith Curle to play at right-back for England).

Despite my defensive queries, I'm feeling optimistic about the season ahead, certainly more optimistic than last year and more optimistic than I have been for some years. We have new owners committed to the club; a re-shuffled management team already well-versed with the team and its weaknesses; and some new players who will hopefully be hungry and good enough to get us out of this division automatically.