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
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
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...
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
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
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
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.