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AFC Wimbledon 2 Watford 2 (11/07/2015) 12/07/2015

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

1-  I’m tempted to say that all pre-season friendlies should be like this.  IMG_1282


Actually that’s not strictly true.  For those of us who enjoy these things, enjoy the gentle build up, however anodyne and irrelevant, to the resumption of the real stuff there will always be a place for a big curtain raiser against exotic opposition, whilst Paul on a couple of occasions during the day wistfully bemoans the disappearance of the traditional Northwood fixture.  Nonetheless, you don’t have to have any particular affinity for AFC Wimbledon to enjoy standing outside a supporters’ lounge where the first annual AFC Wimbledon beer festival is in full swing holding a pint of something profoundly flavoursome in the sunshine whilst fans of the two clubs intermingle affably, onion-slathered Bratwurst are available from vendors and a brass band runs through an eclectic catalogue which for some reason features the theme from “Fame” set in a minor key.  The only inconvenience is that it’s extraordinarily stuffy inside the lounge itself to the extent that by the time I work out the payment system I’m really rather desperate for anything wet at all and don’t even bother to feign interest in whatever it is that I end up drinking.  That aside, it’s all more than agreeable, and since some of us do have an affinity for Wimbledon and without wishing to wander dangerously off down that well trodden path you can’t help but hope that this becomes something of a regular fixture.

2- Quique Sanchez Flores, for whom a briefer moniker must surely be arrived at pretty damn quickly, looks relaxed and thoroughly Mediterranean in a pale blue shirt.  Actually he looks like a tanned Hugh Laurie, an image that I can’t shake and so will inflict upon you also.  His approach to pre-season friendlies, of which there are an unprecedented-feeling-but-no-I-haven’t-checked eight, this the second, is interesting and doesn’t follow the template that we’re used to.  For one thing, we’ve got competitive opposition four weeks before the start of the campaign;  for another, whilst plenty of players get a run-out this afternoon there’s no mass turnaround at half time as anticipated.  Three players – Troy, Capoue and Craig Cathcart – play the full ninety whilst the majority of changes occur in the last fifteen minutes despite the heat and the early stage of preparations.  Also evident is what appears to be Flores’ preferred formation… 4-2-3-1, as at St. Albans, and with a very similar starting line-up for all the utterly sensible post-match insistence on this being a time to experiment.  Most eye-catching pre-match is the presence of all four senior forwards in the starting eleven, Troy nominally the spearhead in front of Ighalo, Forestieri and Vydra.  This means that Almen Abdi is nominally one of the two “holding” midfielders, and with Ikechi again starting at right-back we’re hardly keeping it tight.

3-The thing with that sort of formation is that you kinda need to get the ball in order for all the attacking players to do their damage but the home side are much the more aggressive and effective in the opening twenty minutes.  Ade Akinfenwa is of course the headline act and if he’s not a Premier League striker then it’s not for lack of personality.  Or physique, obviously, at thirteen and a half stone whilst just under six foot.  Alongside him however it’s Tom Elliott, a former Leeds youngster newly recruited from Cambridge, who really catches the eye.  At 6ft 4 himself he had, Dons boss Neal Ardley observed during the week, traditionally been used, and perhaps wasted, as a target man – certainly his speed and nimbleness cause us problems.

The heavyweight contest however is between Akinfenwa and Prödl, who has exactly the brick-outhouse physique that you’d want  a centre-half charged with marking Akinfenwa to have.  Simultaneously, with his centre-parting, kind of sort of mullet and kind of sort of goatee he may be the most Austrian looking man I’ve ever seen.  After going down heavily early on – and later being seen to apply an ice pack to his leg on the bench – he doesn’t do badly against Akinfenwa but struggles more against Elliott’s pace, twice making optimistic looking offside calls having been caught for speed.  By that point the home side are already ahead, Elliott having isolated Ikechi Anya at right back and earned a penalty from a nervous challenge that shrieked of an offensive player not quite used to dealing with such problems.  Three years on, we’re no closer to quite knowing how to use Ikechi, and whilst one of the three roles behind the main striker might suit his ability to rattle into uncomfortable spaces, one wonders whether he’s quite disciplined enough a footballer to flourish there.

4- One shouldn’t overstate the home side’s early successes; this was a pre-season friendly and we were hardly under the cosh if deservedly behind.  Gradually we turned the screw and played ourselves back into control, and it was the hand of record signing Capoue doing the turning.  Always available, always in control, simultaneously powerful and elegant he very much looked the part and was a worthy winner of our man of the match award – even if Sports Interactive supremo Miles Jacobson confessed that he’d picked Capoue for the honours “as it was his birthday”.  Of the other new boys, Giedrius Arlauskis came on at half time and misjudged one right wing cross horribly, stretching forlornly for a ball he was never going to reach and leaving himself stranded, necessitating some urgent intervention on the goalline.  Otherwise he looked competent, but didn’t have an awful lot to do.  Jose Holebas meanwhile, German born to a Greek father and Spanish mother and therefore thoroughly suited to our cosmopolitan squad, came on for a cameo in shockingly scarlet boots that gave our kit some much needed redness but rather jarred otherwise.  He was cajoling and pointing and talking from the off, guarding the back door on one occasion as the home side broke on us.  He also gave possession away by standing on the ball at one point but such misdemeanours are best committed in pre-season friendlies after all.

5- By the time Arlauskis came floating out like a leaping ballerina in misjudging that cross we’d turned the game around.  Odion Ighalo, who looked perhaps the sharpest of our forwards, was rewarded for chasing down the home side’s keeper when a rushed clearance rebounded off him and spooned over the custodian to level the scores before the break.  Thereafter we threatened to throttle the home side creating a number of chances without converting… Fernando Forestieri, for all his “whatdoyoumeanfriendly?” enthusiasm culpable more than once of questionable decision making.  He nonetheless gave us the lead following perhaps our best move of the match, Almen Abdi’s glorious right wing cross finding Troy at the far post early in the second half;  his diving header bringing a fine stop from McDonnell in the Wimbledon goal but Fessi is sharper and more aggressive than the home side’s newly introduced defence whose tentativeness and nervousness should really have been punished by more than the one goal.  That it wasn’t led to Juan Carlos Paredes’ silly tackle late, late in the game proving more decisive than it could have been, George Francomb sending Arlauskis the wrong way much as Kennedy had Gomes in the first half.  Which was a bit irritating, but never threatened to spoil a splendid afternoon.

Two games into pre-season, then, and things are already beginning to take shape to a much greater extent than might have been expected at this stage.  With Valon Behrami in the stand, Benjamin Stambouli and others still mooted there’s more shape to be taken over the next month.  Thereafter… we will see.


1. petebradshaw - 12/07/2015

Thanks Matt. Gutted not too have been able to make this one. Pre season or not.

Playing four forwards seemed very rash and experimental but that’s fine. We have plenty of midfielders to play this formation but I’m not too comfortable with only one striker if that is how it pans out later. Delicate balance up top I think.

At the back desperately seeking full backs…

P.S. Wikipedia (I know) has Holebas’ Mum down as of Uruguayan descent. Even more exotic.

2. dadinatthedeepend - 12/07/2015

Think Holebas’ mother is Uruguayan. It makes for an exciting pedigree based solely on footballing stereotypes – the best defensive team in S America, one of the best defensive teams in Europe (notwithstanding current disastrous campaign) and the winner’s mentality of a German.

3. Wrighty - 12/07/2015

I feel that QSF has more of a Ben Stiller look myself

4. drdavewatford - 12/07/2015

For me QSF is a cross between High Lawrie and Novak Djokovic.

And as for Akinfenwa, when you said thirteen and a half stone didn’t you mean thirteen and a half tons?


5. Old Git - 12/07/2015

I thought the new strip looked OK.
From behind….

6. andymyall - 13/07/2015

Not sure when he last weighed 13 and a half stone, but in Jan BBC reckoned he was 16, which seems more in line with his stature – http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/30693977

I can’t really see Ikechi as a starting full back for this season…

Matt Rowson - 13/07/2015

Yes, I did a quick Google on Saturday night and that’s what came back. 16 looks much closer to the mark.

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