Opposition view: AFC Wimbledon feeling the strain ahead of six-pointer against Doncaster Rovers

Doncaster Rovers are preparing for a massive relegation six-pointer when they travel to AFC Wimbledon on Saturday.

By Paul Goodwin
Friday, 25th February 2022, 1:05 pm
Rovers played in the opening game at AFC Wimbledon’s new Plough Lane ground last season. The match ended 2-2. Photo: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images
Rovers played in the opening game at AFC Wimbledon’s new Plough Lane ground last season. The match ended 2-2. Photo: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

A Rovers win this weekend could potentially cut the gap to safety to just one point – or if things conspire against Gary McSheffrey’s men it could increase to seven.

AFC Wimbledon are perched precariously one place above the drop zone, four points better off than Rovers.

Mark Robinson’s side drew 0-0 at Gillingham on Tuesday night, extending their win-less run in the league to 14 games.

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We spoke to Edmund Brack, who covers AFC Wimbledon for South London Press, to get the lowdown on Rovers’ next opponents.

How do you assess where AFC Wimbledon are at the moment in the relegation dogfight and how do you gauge the mood at the club?

It is a strange time at AFC Wimbledon at the moment.

Of course, there is a realisation that the club are immersed in a relegation battle and have a cup final in every League One game heading into the final few months of the season, but at the same time, there is a longer-term process in play.

Players, which may have been cast aside by previous management, are now assets and key players to the club - Nik Tzanev, Paul Osew and Anthony Hartigan.

They were hamstrung by injuries and suspensions for Saturday’s 4-0 thrashing by Bolton, but fringe players failed to take their chances too.

There is a hope that Saturday’s loss will be the wake-up call the squad needs to pull away from the danger.

However, should they survive this season, the likes of Jack Rudoni and Ayoub Assal will have another year of League One football under their belt and will be better prepared to take their game to the next level the season after.

AFC Wimbledon made a fine start to this season and looked like being a surprise package in League One. What’s gone wrong?

They are a really young squad who continue to learn each game.

But I believe the lack of nous and expertise to hold on to a winning position in games or to find the clinical conviction to finish teams off has probably been the major factor behind their downfall.

Also, perhaps the young players feel the weight, history and expectation of playing for a club such as AFC Wimbledon.

It is evident all around the club what it has been through, and they’re reminded of that every time they come to Plough Lane, so maybe they have been trying too hard in games, which leads to panic and rushed moments.

The loss of Ollie Palmer was a huge blow too. The forward was key to Mark Robinson’s style of play - he knew how to bring the talented youngsters around him in to play and was a massive character and leader for the side.

What type of football has Mark Robinson got the Dons playing?

It was free-flowing and a joy to watch at the end of last season and at the beginning of this campaign.

However, in recent months, as he has had to combat with players missing through injury, a lack of consistency and losing Palmer, the football fluctuates during games. They have started games with a carefree attitude, such as the game against Sunderland last time out at home, but once they take the lead, they have been unable to get the second, which leaves them open for the taking.

Assal will be back from suspension, and if Rudoni is back from injury and Robinson has a recognised centre midfielder to select, the Dons will be a force on Saturday.”

What are AFC Wimbledon's strengths and weaknesses on the pitch?

In spite of Saturday’s loss, they have been relatively defensively sound in recent weeks.

They have shown against the likes of Sunderland, Rotherham, Wycombe and Portsmouth that they are a very competitive team in League One.

There is a vast amount of raw talent in this team. On their day, when it clicks, they really can put teams to the sword and take full control of games.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened often enough this season.

They are naive at times and allow moments in matches, which could be a substitution, failing to land on a second ball or a missed opportunity, to change the landscape of games.

They have a lot of injuries at the moment and are struggling to find consistency with the continual change in the team.

Who are the players to look out for on Saturday?

Ben Heneghan has been a rock at the back for Wimbledon this season. Jack Rudoni and Ayoub Assal are the obvious players to look out for, with sides in the Championship and Premier League said to be tracking the former.

But George Marsh has probably been Wimbledon’s best player in recent weeks, with his engine in the middle and short passing game becoming vital to Robinson.