Key player: Joe Pigott
Joe Pigott was a drifter. He was one of those players who constantly went from lower league club to lower league club without ever really leaving an impression on any of them. He wasn’t ever terrible but he never once got settled. In 2017, his career was headed for a premature end as he had to drop into non-league with Maidstone for the first time.
A year later, he’d earned himself a move to Wimbledon and it was there that he finally found his home in football. Pigott is a tall striker, very much in the Wimbledon mould. In their previous incarnation, the crazy gang were known for a brand of football more associated with boisterous directness than refined skill. The phoenix club is a chip off the old block.
Pigott’s is not an out-and-out target man, but he can play that role well – think Ryan Taylor – while bringing goals to the team.
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Manager: Glynn Hodges
AFC Wimbledon are a club who value their history and who like to appoint in house. Glynn Hodges is the latest former Don to step into the manager’s office, following in the footsteps of Neal Ardley and Wally Downes.
His career in football up to last year was nothing to write home about: an inauspicious spell at Barnsley in 2002/03 saw him replaced at the season’s end and he spent a decade as a regular fixture in the coaching set up of Mark Hughes, following the Welshman from club to club.
He finally got the chance to manage again, replacing Downes in October 2019, and their performances and results under him were solid enough given their lack of resources at that level. He’s made some astute signings and will be the first Dons manager to lead them out at their new stadium, set to open in October.
Captain: Will Nightingale
If Joe Piggot is the man who found his spiritual home at AFC Wimbledon, Will Nightingale is the man who could hardly be imagined to be anywhere else. He’s an emblem of the phoenix’s rise from the ashes, joining their youth academy in 2005 when the reformed club were in the depths of non league.
He progressed through the youth ranks as the Dons climbed up through the leagues and finally made his debut in 2014 towards the end of a mid table season.
He gradually began to integrate himself into the first team set up in the years to come, with his true breakthrough season coming as Wimbledon pulled off one of their many great escapes in 2018/19. He was named player of the season and was awarded with the captaincy.
He’s strong in the air and heavy in the tackle, in keeping with the Wimbledon way. What he offers on the pitch though is complimented by what he offers off it: a sense of leadership and belonging in a club that values ‘their own’ perhaps more than any other.
Last season: 20th in League One
Summer 2019. AFC Wimbledon went into the new season in a mood of cautious optimism, They’d just pulled off the greatest of great escapes, their new stadium was on the go and club legend Wally Downes was at the helm. A couple of months in, however, the Dons bubble had catastrophically burst. Downes was under investigation for misconduct and the Dons were rock bottom of League One following a winless first eleven games. They couldn’t pull off another great escape…could they?
They could and they did. After Hodges was appointed to the post of manager, they went on a fine run, only losing two games between mid November and the season’s premature end. They were draw specialists, with 10 of them in 35 games but they had enough about them to claw their way to safety again… just.
Key transfer: Ollie Palmer
We’ve established Joe Piggott is pivotal for Wimbledon’s agricultural style of football, winning headers and flicks-ons to create openings for them. So, what do Wimbledon really need alongside him (or as an alternative option if they go one up front). Surely, the big man/little man combination?
Alas, not. Wimbledon have gone for an even bigger, battering ram of a striker. Ollie Palmer had an immensely successful two seasons at Crawley (who have seen their team picked apart this summer). He’s got goals in his game and will suit their style well. Wimbledon were a low scoring side last season so surely a finisher is needed if they’re to break free of their relegation-fighting timeloop.
Target: Avoid relegation
It’s quite hard to set a target for the Dons this year. On one hand, they don’t seem to have been as affected by COVID-19 as some other clubs have. They’ve not made any major cutbacks in their playing staff or coaching staff, nor have they had any reports of financial difficulty. They’ve added players like Ollie Palmer and Alex Woodyard, both of whom could propel them to the next level. In theory, things look good.
That said, the new stadium has come at considerable expense and it will surely impact their ability to make additions during the season. Furthermore, there is a significant record of clubs tending to underperform in their first season at a new stadium. It feels so unusual to them, that home advantage tends to disappear.
That, combined with the fact that their first few games of the season will be played at Loftus Road, could pose problems. Ultimately, Wimbledon supporters will probably once again be happy if they’re still in League One in May.
(provided by Wimbledon podcast 9years)
If we can start utilising our strengths more and get less into our own heads when we concede a goal, I think we could be easily top-middle of the table come the end of the season. In recent seasons we have shown too much respect to the opposition and we need to become the Wimbledon of old: be that club that other teams hate to play against.
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