Whilst World Cup qualifiers have given English football’s top two tiers the week off, the lower leagues continued with almost full sets of fixtures.
One of League One’s ten matches over the weekend saw AFC Wimbledon lose to one of the division’s newly promoted sides Blackpool.
The Seasiders have made a good start to the season, having won three and lost one of their opening five games, exceeding expectations as one of the favourites for relegation. Interestingly, they have so far out performed all three of Doncaster Rovers, Plymouth Argyle and Portsmouth, who were promoted ahead of them from League Two.
Wimbledon have now lost three of their league games and are one of four clubs currently sat just a single point above relegation at this early stage.
Here are three things that The Boot Room learnt from the game:
Sean Longstaff is too good for League One
Signed on loan from Newcastle United, Sean Longstaff has hit the ground running in Tangerine. The 19-year-old netted the winner on Saturday and now has four goals from as many starts in the league, proving instrumental in all three of Blackpool’s home victories.
The scoring record, despite being over a short period, is remarkable for a midfielder, particularly one so young. Not only has he been finding the net, but he has done so in style and Saturday was no different.
Following a long-ball from goalkeeper Ryan Allsopp and a flick-on, Longstaff collected the ball and charged into Wimbledon’s penalty area, holding off three defenders and swivelling to find the bottom corner.
Seeing Longstaff on the score sheet was no surprise and the effort was a worthy follow-up to his successive League One goal of the week’s – both thunderous strikes from range.
Blackpool are solid at home
Blackpool have now played three times at home this season, securing a maximum nine points and conceding just once in the process. Although two of the wins, including Saturday’s, have been 1-0 score lines, they showed against Wimbledon an ability to dominate a game.
Aside from a brilliant Allsopp save to deny Cody McDonald at the end of the first-half, the Dons rarely threatened and found themselves restricted to few opportunities.
On the other hand, Blackpool were unfortunate not to score at least a second and were denied by the post a couple of times in the second-half. In failing to double their lead the Tangerines highlighted an inability to kill games off, which could prove detrimental in the future.
Wimbledon can execute a plan
Despite the home side’s wasteful dominance in the second half, the first 45 minutes offered little entertainment from either side, partly due to Wimbledon’s effective closing down.
It was clear that they had prepared to have less possession, but knew how to stifle a Blackpool midfield which struggles from a lack of creativity – something made worse by the departures of Brad Potts and Bright Osayi-Samuel.
The Tangerines were frequently forced into careless misplaced passes, confined into the middle third of the pitch and found themselves out numbered during efforts to advance on the wings.
In fact, the best chance of the half (by some distance) fell to Wimbledon, who could have led at the break from a well-disciplined performance.
It was only after conceding that the side imploded. Nadjim Abdou received a straight red-card for an unnecessary two-footed challenge just minutes after going behind. His departure marked the end of Wimbledon’s competitiveness in the match.
How has Lyle Taylor rescued AFC Wimbledon’s season?
AFC Wimbledon are on the brink of promotion after the most successful year in their young history, having secured a place at Wembley for the play-off final. The club will have to thank their fruitful striker Lyle Taylor for his extra-time winner in the thriller in East Lancashire against Accrington. The 26-year-old has been the club’s stand-out performer throughout the year.
Taylor trained as a youngster with Millwall but never broke through to the first team. After spending a couple of years being loaned out to non-league sides, he was signed by Bournemouth where he made 29 appearances. However, Taylor continued to struggle for first team football and was soon loaned out again. Taylor’s career was full of turbulence having to move around up to seven clubs over five years before signing with Wimbledon last summer. The highlight of Taylor’s career to this point was a 34 goal season with Falkirk.
Taylor seems to be finding his rhythm at the Greater London club with many high quality performances since the start of the 2015-2016 campaign. He has already made 38 appearances and managed 22 goals. A highly impressive record considering that he has to play alongside a strong group of strikers at Wimbledon with the likes of Adebayo Azeez, Tom Elliot and Adebayo Akinfenwa.
With his stand out physical traits, Taylor possesses the make-up of a complete forward in the modern game. He has a large frame (6ft 2) that helps him win aerial duels. At the same time, Taylor also possesses pace as and would not hesitate to drift out wide to beat his man with speed. Blessed with both size and pace, Taylor is a versatile striker that would put off any defender that has to mark him
Taylor is a striker equipped with many different weapons. Very comfortable with the ball at his feet, Taylor can play with his back against goal to bring his team-mates into the game. His work rate and stamina also allow him roam deeper when his team is pressed to seek of the ball. There are games where Taylor is deployed successfully as a wide attacker rather than an out-and-out striker to supply more crosses to Wimbledon’s aerial threat Akinfenwa. His best weapon of all is his ability to run in channels at pace to receive that killer through-pass putting him through on goal.
One thing Taylor needs to improve is his finishing. With his pace and positioning, he always manages to find himself in goal scoring positions only to be disappointed by his finishing. Another aspect of his game Taylor should look to improve to step up to the next level is his consistency. The striker often goes on extended stretches games failing to find the net. This can put his team in difficulties especially during crucial times in the season.
Wimbledon fans will be hoping that their Player of the Year will turn up with goals at Wembley in the play-off final on the 30th May. It will be a historical moment for the club if they emerge victorious, with it being the first time they will have reached the heights of League One in their 14-year history.
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Will Plymouth Argyle or AFC Wimbledon be victorious in the League Two play-off final?
After 48 games and nine long months of the League Two season, it’s all come down to a defining 90 minutes at the home of English football for both Plymouth Argyle and AFC Wimbledon.
A place in League One is at stake for two of the most impressive sides of the season, and if their respective play-off semi-finals are anything to go by, then we could be in for an entertaining game that’s fitting with the way League Two has been all year.
Despite their impressive win against Accrington Stanley in their semi-final tie, Wimbledon take the short trip across the capital as the firm underdogs as they look to secure their place in the third tier of English football for the first time in their short history.
Argyle, on the other hand, arrive at Wembley as favourites after dispatching Portsmouth in the most dramatic style; a Plymouth side that were five points clear at the top of the table at Christmas will be looking to finish the season on a high.
In this article, the four key individual battles that will be on show across the Wembley pitch on Monday have been explored, showing where the play-off final may be won or lost.
Peter Hartley and Curtis Nelson vs Adebayo Akinfenwa
For someone who isn’t an avid fan of the lower leagues, it may be a tough task to recognise any names on the team-sheets for this game – yet there’s one name that any football fan will know.
Adebayo Akinfenwa; or ‘The Beast’ as he’s better known, will be out to gain revenge for his play-off final heartbreak with Northampton Town back in 2013, and central defenders Peter Hartley and Curtis Nelson will be the ones handed the unenviable task of keeping him at arm’s length.
Although it is unlikely that Akinfenwa will start the final, you wouldn’t bet against him coming on in the second half to add some physicality and experience to Wimbledon’s young front-line, much like he did when scoring a vital goal against Accrington Stanley last week.
The perennial football league man, however, will be up against a defence that only conceded a measly average of a goal a game across all 46, and they will be hoping to stifle him and to add one more clean sheet to the 14 that they’ve picked up across the campaign.
Jake Jervis vs Lyle Taylor
If there was ever a game for strikers to deliver in, then this is most certainly it.
Two of the most in-form players in League Two are set to face up, hoping to be the one to secure the trophy and secure promotion for their club. In Jervis, Plymouth have a reliable forward who has filled the goal-scoring void that an out of sorts Reuben Reid has left this season, linking well with Carey behind him to fire in eight league goals.
For the opposition in the form of Wimbledon, Lyle Taylor has had an outstanding debut season and is undoubtedly the reason as to why the Dons have been flying so unexpectedly high up the table. His 21 goals in 40 league games is the fourth best in the league this year, including the crucial extra time goal against Stanley to send Wimbledon to the final.
If both of these players turn up and play to the extent that they’ve showcased all season, the Wembley crowd could be treated to some fireworks.
Graham Carey vs Sean Rigg
Out of all of the mini-battles that will take place on Monday, the one between attacking midfielders Carey and Rigg could turn out to be the pivotal one.
In the early stages of the game both sides will be looking to come flying out of the blocks and stamp their authority on the game, and the width of the Wembley pitch could lead to a very attack-minded game which will suit Carey and Rigg perfectly.
Carey’s ability going forward can’t be underestimated by Neil Ardley’s side, and he showed this by securing Argyle’s final berth with an injury time winner against Portsmouth. Him; alongside Jervis, are Plymouth’s top scorers this season and Carey could play a vital role once more.
Luke McCormick vs Kelle Roos
They may not be in the thick of the action for much of the 90 minutes, but these two goalkeepers could be hugely instrumental in deciding which team goes on to hit the heights of League One next year.
McCormick’s 14 clean sheets this season have kept Argyle in the hunt for promotion, and prevented them from free-falling down the table even further than they did, and with a trio of Akinfenwa, Azeez and Taylor to handle on Monday, he will need to be on top form again.
With Jervis, Reid and Matt attacking Roos’ goal at the other end it seems like the goalkeepers could be the ones to decide the tie, and this could become even more true if the tie goes to penalties.
If the game does go all the way there can only be one hero between the sticks, and one person that go down as legendary status with the club, and these two will be hoping that it is their time.
Featured Image: All rights reserved by Dan Westwell
Have Wimbledon, Exeter and co. been the stand-out League Two sides this season?
After the annual Football League awards took place in Manchester last Sunday, it seems an appropriate time to take a retrospective look back at the current season and pick out those sides in League Two that have been a cut above the rest throughout all 46 games.
For a league that not many people bat an eyelid at most of the time, this League Two campaign has pretty much had it all; it’s had entertainment, had clubs survive from the brink of extinction, and had ex-Premier League players stamping their marks on the lower league.
Even with three games left there’s still a lot to play for, especially in the case of the battle for automatic promotion, where just two points separate second from fifth. A memorable League Two season looks set to have some last day drama to shout about – a fitting end perhaps.
Below are what I believe have been the sides that have, by their standards, had seasons to put them apart from the rest of the league.
The fairy-tale story of AFC Wimbledon began almost 15 years ago now, entailing five promotions in nine years of non-league football before reaching the heights of League Two again.
Unfortunately, in their four seasons in League Two the Dons haven’t quite been able to recapture this promotion form, narrowly avoiding relegation twice and finishing below mid-table on the other occasions.
This makes it all the more impressive then that they’re flying as high as they are this campaign. Led by perennial League Two front man Adebayo Akinfenwa, Wimbledon are four points clear in the last play-off place with a game in hand over the chasing Wycombe behind them. ‘The Beast’ himself has provided vital goals at key points this year – none more so than a last minute winner at promotion chasing Plymouth Argyle to distance themselves from the other play-off hopefuls.
It’s another striker that has been making all the headlines this season though, with Lyle Taylor topping the Wimbledon goal-scoring charts with 19 goals which, bar a horrific collapse in the last four games, have all but certainly given the Dons at least two extra games after the end of May.
Accrington Stanley have, by all accounts, exceeded any pre-season expectations by a long distance.
In their tenth year in League Two, the football league’s smallest club have launched themselves into the midst of an exciting and tense battle for automatic promotion to League One, and currently find themselves in pole position by virtue of being in second place with three to play.
With games against relegation certainties York City and lowly Stevenage to come, Accrington know that two wins will secure them a place in the highest league in the club’s relatively short re-formed history.
Stanley boss John Coleman has performed miracles to get his team playing good quality football, getting the most out of midfield duo Josh Windass and Matt Crooks (who were both recently announced in the top ten League Two players of the year) as well as striker Billy Kee.
More importantly, Coleman has had Accrington playing as a unit for the whole year, and has instilled a workmanlike mentality into a side that has pulled off the key results when needed. Big wins against promotion rivals Plymouth Argyle, Oxford United and Bristol Rovers have come since January and it’s this, combined with other promotion contenders dropping points, that have aided the club hugely in their push for League One.
If Stanley manage to see the job through and do go up to League One, it would be a very popular promotion amongst the footballing neutrals.