AFC Wimbledon Season Preview: Oshilaja the key

With the 2018-19 League One season kicking off tomorrow, The Football Lab spoke to AFC Wimbledon fan Mat Rickard (@mat_rickard).

You secured a third consecutive season in League One by concluding 2017-18 with an impressive seven-game unbeaten run. You must be proud of how far the club has come?

To be established in League 1 while the team that bypassed the whole pyramid flail about in League 2 is a great way to look at it. But all of that fades into the background when compared to our return to Plough Lane in a year’s time. My son was born the year we had to reform and to see us back home by his 17th birthday is ridiculous when you think of it.

This summer has seen stalwarts Barry Fuller, Paul Robinson, George Francomb and Callum Kennedy depart Kingsmeadow after making a combined 584 appearances. Who in this squad do you expect to perhaps become more prominent figures in terms of leadership?

Neal has gone on record about the need to freshen things up and you wont hear too many fans complaining. Ten have been released and replaced, and realistically only two of last year’s most picked team will start tomorrow – Trotter and Oshilaja. The latter swept the board at the end of the season awards and has been named captain, not that he is the most vocal, just that he sets a standard few are able to match.

Many, myself included, would have liked Will Nightingale, who has been with the club since he was 11, to have been given the armband but first he needs to stay fit and cement his place in the team. He has the talent.

George Long started all bar one of your league games last season but isn’t staying. Are you happy with the addition of Tom King?

Long was good for us but even though Sheffield United released in the summer, his wages were never going to be in our reach. Instead he is off to Hull in the Championship. Tom King – on loan from Millwall will start – hopefully pushed by McDonnell, whose only appearance last year was a notable clean sheet versus Milton Keynes.

Deji Oshilaja was another regular starter. With League Two play-off finalists Robinson and Darius Charles departing, does Will Nightingale have an opportunity to become the established partner for Oshilaja?

Nightingale would have already pinned down a CB berth but for injuries but it looks like he is fit to start the season alongside Oshilaja. In the meantime we have signed two new centre backs, for fees, Terrell Thomas and Rod McDonald from Wigan and Coventry respectively, so we look stronger in this position than we were last time out.

Right-back Tennai Watson joins on loan from Reading. Are you hoping he’ll bring pace and youthful exuberance to the table?

Tenant Watson is quick and looks to offer much more going forward than Fuller, who was starting to creak. While most of the sentient world are tipping Wimbledon to finally get relegated the season, Watson is one of many positions where we look stronger. Importantly we now have a clear identity and though it wont be easy on the eye, Ardley has bought players to fit a system which was patently not the case in 2017.

Jonathan Meades always struck me as a willing competitor. Who do you see replacing him?

Now for the eulogy. sadly Meades had to retire in the week from a persistent ankle injury, so though he was in line to be our first choice left-back, we have had to move quickly to sign two new options. Meades was a technical operator, with great intelligence and heart. He often played through pain and quickly adapted to the full back position having previously been a midfielder of some repute. Personally I would have loved to have seen him play there more, as our midfield last year often showcased less inspiration than a Michael McIntyre set.

So with Meades out the picture, Ben Purrington, on loan from Rotherham, will start, with Tyler Garratt, signed from Doncaster, as back-up.

Dean Parrett has gone to Gillingham. Would a midfield containing at least two of Liam Trotter, Nadjim Abdou and Tom Soares give you enough creativity?

Nail. Head. The midfield thee of Abdou, Soares, Trotter was seen far too often last season as Ardley’s pragmatism got the better of him. Abdou has gone and it seems Soares is destined for the bench, so Trotter’s blend of languid strolling will now we supported by Wordsworth (signed from Southend) and hopefully the just 18, Hartigan, who is destined for much higher things.

Midfield last year was my biggest bugbear, so the fact that this area looks so much better balanced, gives me hope for some entertainment if nothing else.

There have been a few positive whispers about the development of midfielder Anthony Hartigan. Of the youngsters in the squad, is he the one who excites you the most?

Hartigan is the real deal. He made his debut at 17 and though injury limited hime to just 600 minutes, he looked a class apart in all of them. Of course this could be my eyes playing tricks on me, having only just come round from the Trotter, Soares, Abdou axis of evil, but Im hoping we managed to hold on to him for one more season before the bigger clubs swallow him up.

Mitch Pinnock won plaudits at Dover for his skill, but some questioned his willingness to track back. Are you hoping he can learn from Andy Barcham to develop the latter side of his game?

Pinnock has impressed many in pre-season though it is clear he still has a lot to learn, including tracking back, and knowing what option to choose at the right time. What he does offer is an old fashioned wing threat and promising delivery to a target man which was another thing absent last season.

James Hanson, who joins from Sheffield United, is notorious for his qualities as a target man at this level. Do you still need somebody however, to replace the pace and quality of Charlton-bound Lyle Taylor?

Yes. we look sure to play a 442 and 433 and Hanson has a huge role to play to bring others in to play. I watched Appiah scoring for Ghana at the AFCON so remain hopeful he can step up, as the talent is undoubtedly there even if the body is not so willing. While we have brought in ten players and paid over £100k in fees, I think we will look to bring in a pacy option up top before the transfer window closes.

Wimbledon aside, what are your thoughts ahead of the League One season as a whole? Any potential dark horses for you?

Where do you start? Since coming up from the non-league, I remain stunned at how average this league is. This is the place where the also- runs challenge the higher echelons, the financially-bereft flourish and the barely acceptable stay up with points to spare. Getting relegated from League 1 takes ineptitude of the highest order. It takes shocking management, basket-case owners and a desire for self harm. It takes club mismanagement on a scale only offered by the likes of Bury, Northampton and Milton Keynes.

On that basis, I wouldn’t put it past the likes of Charlton, Oxford, Bradford, Scunthorpe to mount a challenge for League 2. Looking up, I reckon Accrington Stanley will stay up with ease, while Rochdale and Bristol Rovers (striker permitting) will go better than expected.

Where will you finish?

Despite renowned experts such as yourself, Not The Top 20 pod (listen, it’s great) and We Love Betting’s Mark O’Haire, tipping us for relegation, I really cant see it so please feel free to match my generous odds on the exchanges. This is a new team and even if we are struggling in January, relegation the season before Plough Lane can’t and won’t happen.

12th

Thanks to Mat for his answers. The Football Lab’s verdict on Wimbledon can be found on We Love Betting.