Football supporters often place far too much importance on pre-season friendlies. From the doom and gloom of a barely deserved draw against a low-ranking non-league side to the elation of a victory against a Premiership club’s second string, fans up and down the country veer from wanting the manager sacked to placing bets on their side winning promotion in the space of a few days. Managers, on the other hand, have quite the opposite view of pre-season games, knowing that not too much emphasis is to be placed on the results of the summer encounters, and that match practice and fitness is what really matters.
But after today’s performance against what a Hornets fan informed this reporter was a “quite feasible starting XI for our first League game of the season”, it’s highly likely that Dons fans and management would have agreed that the club’s first season back in the Football League couldn’t come quickly enough.
Wimbledon were commanding in goal, resolute in defence, creative in midfield and sharp up front. Terry Brown really couldn’t have asked any more of his charges, who thoroughly deserved this win against Sean Dyche’s Championship side.
A strong start by the Dons, with Rashid Yussuff and Ricky Wellard particularly catching the eye and Christian Jolley looking dangerous on the left, was undone on 14 minutes. Seb Brown tipped over a fierce Marvin Sordell drive, and from the resulting half-cleared corner John Eustace’s 25-yard volley was deflected past the Dons’ keeper by, seemingly, Chris Iwelumo’s thigh.
Iwelumo didn’t last much longer: the Scottish international striker limped off shortly after with a hamstring injury. Jolley was now looking back to his best and getting the better of Lloyd Doyley, Watford’s left back with over 300 League games (and one Premiership campaign) under his belt. Luke Moore was looking equally impressive and fleet of foot on the left, and Jack Midson was putting the vastly experienced pairing of Martin Taylor and Adrian Mariappa under as much pressure as he had the Beckenham Town centre-halves four days earlier. With Jamie Stuart and Brett Johnson repelling Watford’s attacking manoeuvres with surprising ease, it seemed only a matter of time before the Dons would have their equaliser – and just after the half-hour mark it duly arrived.
The only surprise was the quality of the goal. Moore cut in from the left and hammered a 20-yard drive past Rene Gilmartin and into the far corner. The Hornets’ keeper got a hand to Moore’s effort, but the force of the shot was too much for the 6 ft 5 in Irishman.
With two weeks to go before the 2011/12 season starts, Luke Moore could have been forgiven for thinking that he’d scored a goal of such quality that it was highly unlikely he’d score another as good as that in the coming nine months. But 15 minutes into the second half, and with the increasingly influential Wellard now on the bench with an ice pack on his knee, the former Ebbsfleet man was celebrating an even better strike. Max Porter, Yussuff, Sam Hatton, Jolley, Midson and sub Lee Minshull all played a part in laying on a chance that Moore, after opening his body up, stroked past Gilmartin, Thierry Henry-style, from 15 yards.
Hatton then resumed his defensive duties with a beautifully timed tackle to deny Sordell an almost immediate equaliser and a deft header to tip Mark Yeates’s cross away from the lurking Troy Deeney, before Stuart cleared the danger with two diving headers that denied the Hornets’ second-half front pairing a sight of goal and preserved the Dons’ lead.
Charles Ademeno returned from injury and looked stronger than he had done at Sutton the previous week, and with Chris Bush putting in his usual mix of marauding forays down the left flank combined with robust rearguard action, the Dons looked strong, composed and creative in all areas of the pitch. If they can recreate performances like that against sides two divisions further down the Football League ladder, who knows what Terry Brown’s boys can achieve next season?
Yes, it was only a pre-season friendly – but we can all get carried away from time to time, can’t we?
AFC Wimbledon: Brown, Hatton, Stuart, Johnson, Gwillim, Porter, Yussuff (Moore S 79), Wellard (Minshull 55), Moore L, Midson (Kiernan 84), Jolley (Jackson 75)
Moore L 40, 55
Watford: Gilmartin, Hodson (Forsyth 62), Taylor, Mariappa, Doyley, Deeney, Eustace, Buaben (Jenkins 56), Yeates (Whichelow 68), Sordell, Iwelumo (Massey 27)