Key player: Alex Woodyard
Only 20-goal striker Joe Pigott, who moved to Ipswich in the summer, played more minutes than Woodyard last season. The central midfielder has been a journeyman so far in his career, never managing more than two seasons at one club. He might have found his long-term home in south-west London.
Woodyard was raised not far from Wimbledon and his dad was a Don. While he was a boyhood Charlton fan, his all-action displays in blue and yellow demonstrate his affection for the club he joined last summer.
A box-to-box midfielder, Woodyard’s stamina and energy allows him to affect the game at both ends of the pitch. No Wimbledon player made more tackles than his 63 last season. This placed him 15th in the entire league, showing his ability to press the opposition and win the ball back for his team.
Woodyard is also a capable, if safe, passer. He is not someone who will score a lot of goals or rack up assists (he only got one of each last season) but he can set a base to provide for others. His experience, along with the manager’s track record of developing young talent, will be vital in leading a young Wimbledon side this season.
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Manager: Mark Robinson
You’d be forgiven for not knowing who Mark Robinson is. The Dons’ manager, appointed in March, has almost no information on his Wikipedia page. It doesn’t know whether he’s 55 or 56 and just says that he served Wimbledon in “various coaching and academy roles” before taking the manager’s hot seat.
Robinson joined Wimbledon in 2004 and has mostly been involved with youth coaching since then. Wimbledon take pride in bringing players through from their academy – first-teamers Will Nightingale and Anthony Hartigan were both home-grown products. Robinson played a large role in their development.
Wimbledon were in trouble when he was appointed in February. They were in the relegation zone without a win in ten games, but Robinson won seven of his 21 games in charge to lead Wimbledon to 19th place in the table.
They didn’t play ugly football either. Robinson has spoken of how he chose not to sit ten men behind the ball. He wasn’t just a Red Adair, as he adopted a more long-term focus on a style of play he wanted to instil at the club.
Rock: Darius Charles
Experienced utility man Darius Charles re-signed for Wimbledon this summer, after three years with every Argyle fan’s second-favourite club Wycombe Wanderers. He has played at centre-back, left-back, in midfield and as a striker in his career, but it is in the former position he is likely to find himself this term.
By virtue of being a fan-run club with no external investment, Wimbledon have one of the smallest budgets in the division. Therefore, they have a small, young squad – few of their players have any sort of established track record in professional football. Charles’s experience will be vital.
The 33-year-old is well-versed in the dark arts of football. Having been managed by both Graham Westley and Gareth Ainsworth, he is someone who knows how to win football matches, even if it isn’t the best to watch. That quality will, Mark Robinson hopes, rub off on the rest of his young players.
On the pitch, Charles is a tall, left-footed centre-back who is likely to slot in next to Will Nightingale. He may not be the fastest anymore, but he can still read the game well and provide a physical presence in the middle of the defence.
Key departure: Joe Pigott
Joe Pigott became another soldier in the Paul Cook revolution at Portman Road this summer, joining on a free after his contract at Wimbledon expired this summer. He provided one thing that Wimbledon will miss this season – goals.
Pigott scored 20 for Wimbledon last season. Where most of the league’s top scorers were embedded in the division’s best teams, with midfielders offering them chances left, right and centre, Pigott banged them in for the lowly Dons.
Ryan Longman scored the second most goals for Wimbledon last season, but he could only manage eight. He won’t be there either next season – his parent club Brighton opting to send him to Hull in the division above. Ollie Palmer, the 6’5” nomadic striker, is still at Plough Lane – but he could only manage five last campaign.
Wimbledon employ a ‘director of football’ model, where the manager is left to coach the first team rather than oversee recruitment. Robinson has said he’s happy with this arrangement, but he hasn’t been given a replacement for Pigott yet.
Luke McCormick (not that one) scored a few from midfield for Bristol Rovers last season, and Aaron Cosgrave was prolific for Lewes in the Isthmian League. Neither are true replacements for Pigott.
Target: Avoid relegation
Wimbledon are in for a tough season. The loss of Pigott will affect them badly – there are no obvious candidates to step up and replace his goals. Palmer would have to score more goals than he ever has previously unless Cosgrave can replicate his Isthmian League form four tiers up.
Their defence was rocky last season. The 70 goals they conceded was as many as Bristol Rovers, who finished bottom. Charles should add some experience to their back line, but he hasn’t played a lot of football recently and it would be naïve to put too much responsibility onto the shoulders of a 33-year-old.
Pigott’s goals were probably the difference between Wimbledon staying up and going down last season. Robinson looks a good manager, and his commitment to a club that he has been associated with for 17 years isn’t in question. However, when you lose a player like that, there is only so much a manager can do.
Wimbledon fans would be more than happy to see their club finish 19th again this season. On a small budget, with an inexperienced squad, it would be a little greedy to ask for much more.
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