Payne’s Player Ratings vs AFC Wimbledon (Away):

This is a fixture that needs no introduction…but I’ll be giving it one anyway! After a comfortable victory at home to Newport, The Dons were back on the road to visit AFC Wimbledon. The reverse fixture was something of an embarrassment for the South London side so they came into the game with a point to prove. They had a certain energy about them that made the whole affair very tight, with neither team creating many chances. The home side would eventually go on to win the game with a last minute goal. Here’s how I rated the players after the 1-0 loss to AFC Wimbledon at the Cherry Red Records Stadium:

Formation: 5-4-1/5-2-2-1 (Two holding midfielders and two attacking midfielders)

GK – Michael Kelly – 6: Kelly picked up an early booking for missing his challenge on Omar Bugiel when the striker looked to be in on goal. He made one or two decent saves including denying James Tilley’s low effort at the far post with a strong hand. Kelly’s distribution was a mixed bag and his long balls left his targets with a lot of work to do at times. However, there was nothing he could’ve done to prevent the goal.

RWB – Kyran Lofthouse – 6.5: He had a quiet first half with the opposition marking him out of the game, though the rest of the team trying to force the ball down the left didn’t help either. Lofthouse started to find his footing in the second half and started to become a problem for the opposition to deal with. However, just as he was looking like one of the brighter sparks in the team, he was taken off for Ellis Harrison. His appearance ended after 65 minutes and Stephen Wearne moved to wingback to accommodate the change.

RCB – Cameron Norman – 5: The defence did a good job for the most part when it came to defending the box, though they did give away far too many set pieces in dangerous positions. Norman was no exception to that and he put in some important blocks and challenges along the way. He did look exposed for the goal but he was let down by Stephen Wearne who let his marker run through down the right.

CB – Warren O’Hora – 5: Similarly to Norman, he got stuck in and limited the opposition to very few clear chances. He does have a portion of the blame for the goal as he redirected the ball into the path of Ronan Curtis but he had to try and block the ball in as he didn’t know if Daniel Harvie had the man behind him covered or not. O’Hora was usually the starting point to Dons’ possession play but he was too lethargic with the ball. There were times where he was trying to encourage the opposition to press which is normal for this style of play but most of the time the ball just came straight back to him due to the tight marking system the opposition used. O’Hora looked to force the long ball over the top far too often. This was never likely to work when going up against physical opposition who play long ball on the regular.

LCB – Daniel Harvie – 5: Harvie played a very similar game to O’Hora, though Harvie had a few more mistakes in his game. He was one of many players who got too caught up in the physical side of the game and he gave away free-kicks in dangerous positions multiple times. With this being said he did also prevent some of the opposition’s better attacks with some very well-timed blocks. Harvie struggled playing out from the back and seemed to be on a different wavelength to Joe Tomlinson and Alex Gilbey, which made it difficult to advance down the left.

LWB – Joe Tomlinson – 4.5: He struggled to get into the game and the ball very rarely reached him on the left wing without the move breaking down instantaneously. Tomlinson did make some runs in behind and he was usually the target of the long balls forward which did win a couple of throw-ins high up the pitch but never any dangerous attacks. On the few occasions he did get the ball further up the pitch, his delivery was poor. With this being said, he set up Ellis Harrison’s chance with a header he won. Defensively he wasn’t at his normal standard and it was his marker that scored the goal though it did take a deflection which left Tomlinson in no-man’s land.

CM – Jack Payne – 4.5: Could’ve been given an even lower rating but he did contribute to some of the better attacks The Dons had. It wasn’t from a lack of trying but Payne struggled to get into the game and was regularly caught in the wrong positions. He’s usually the one picking up the second balls when the striker loses possession but he seemed to be operating in deeper positions instead. His passing was inconsistent and he struggled to cope with the physicality of the opposition.

CM – Lewis Bate – 6.5: Bate was one of very few that stuck to the game plan. He was sometimes dispossessed easily but he kept trying to increase the tempo where others were slowing it down. When Dons did have more control of the game it was Bate who was orchestrating it through the middle. When Ellis Harrison came on the pair were able to fashion a few half chances and Bate did carry the ball up the pitch a couple of times, though he didn’t have enough support with him to sustain the attack without slowing it down. Defensively he was up for the battle though he did sometimes lose track of his marker, including for James Tilley’s chance in the first half.

RAM – Dan Kemp – 6: Kemp had a quiet first half with Dons struggling to play possession football beyond the defensive third. However, as the game went on Kemp started to get on the ball more and by the second half he was putting together some attacking moves, including a couple of great dribbles, one of which he got a shot from though his effort was denied by Alex Bass. Unfortunately Kemp suffered the same fate as Lofthouse and was brought off just when he was starting to impact the game. He made way for Tezgel after 80 minutes.

LAM – Alex Gilbey (C) – 5: He was clearly up for the fight but was maybe a victim of trying too hard, often messing up the basics after doing some good work on the ball. Gilbey was physical throughout and had The Dons’ first shot on goal, though his effort was tame and easily claimed by Alex Bass. Defensively he was strong, putting in some big challenges and going in for every ball. He may have benefitted from dropping into the holding midfield role just to give Dons that extra grit in the closing stages.

ST – Stephen Wearne – 4: This was a difficult game for Wearne. He saw very little of the ball in the first half despite Dons playing long ball far more often than usual. Wearne got more involved in the second half due to his position switch to right wingback but this proved to be a mistake in the end. He failed to track his man as he made a run down the wing which enabled the opposition to play the ball straight down the right before playing a ball across goal that ultimately resulted in Ronan Curtis collecting the ball in the middle of the box and firing it into the bottom corner to make it 1-0 after 94 minutes, the final minute of stoppage time. In addition to this, Wearne had missed what was effectively an open goal just minutes earlier. Ellis Harrison’s shot was saved into Wearne’s path but he failed to hit the target from a tight angle with the ball going out for a throw-in. It was a risk to play an attacking midfielder at wingback and Dons ended up paying the price. Wearne was also at fault when the opposition hit the bar earlier in the game, losing his aerial battle in the box.

SUB (ST) – Ellis Harrison – 7 (TOP DON): He changed the game for Dons with his more physical profile making it easier to progress further up the pitch. He became the focal point for every Dons attack and he gave a proper test to the opposition defence. Harrison had a couple of attempts on goal, the first of which was blocked but his best attempt came when Tomlinson headed the ball to Harrison’s feet. From there Harrison spun and hit a shot towards the bottom right corner from outside the box. Alex Bas saved his shot but could only tip it into the path of Wearne who wasted the chance. Without Harrison on the pitch, Dons may never have threatened the opposition goal at all.

SUB (RAM) – Emre Tezgel – 6: Like many of the other attacking players, Tezgel was limited for service. He showed a surprising amount of strength when contesting for the ball and he tried to act as a support man for Harrison. He wasn’t an improvement on Kemp but he didn’t do anything particularly wrong either.

TEAM PERFORMANCE – 5: On the whole, Dons defended well and limited the opposition to very little from open play. However, there was always a nervous energy when Mike Williamson’s men had to defend throw-ins from long throw merchant Kofi Balmer. The problem wasn’t so much the defending itself, rather it was the possession play as Dons looked to build from the back. It’s a very slow, patient style of play but for it to work against a well-organised team there has to be a lot of movement off the ball. The opposition were compact but if Dons started moving more in the middle third then gaps would’ve opened up when the opposition’s press was triggered. This was shown when Dons nearly caught the opposition defence napping twice early in the second half. The majority of the time, the play was too predictable and Dons played into traps, something that hasn’t happened for months when Williamson was first introducing this style of play.

As a result, the attacking players had very little to work with and just weren’t clinical enough to make the most of what they did get. Everything Dons did until Harrison came on felt very forced. The players got drawn into a physical game and instead of imposing Williamson’s style of play on the opposition, they tried to mimic the opposition. This was shown by the amount of yellow cards that Dons picked up. Out of the six yellow cards, a couple were tactical fouls which is understandable, but the rest were needless challenges that you wouldn’t expect from a possession-based side. If you try to play a physical team at their own game, they’re going to come out on top and that’s what eventually happened.

The scrappy game wasn’t what Williamson would’ve been looking to see but he did still get this one wrong tactically. There’s no problem with starting the team that won against Newport but when it’s not working you have to make changes. When he did decide to throw the dice, the players that came off were the ones that looked energetic and were the same players that always seem to come off. Dons are fortunate to have a lot of players that are considered ‘undroppable’ but it’s naive to think that these players shouldn’t ever be substituted in any circumstance. Jack Payne plays a pivotal role in this team but it clearly wasn’t working with him in the middle of the park. With players like Ethan Robson and MJ Williams available you sometimes have to make the big call. Even Alex Gilbey could’ve filled the holding role to allow Emre Tezgel or Matt Dennis to play higher up. It was also a mistake to sub Kyran Lofthouse. Losing his defensive abilities left Dons vulnerable down the right. Stephen Wearne is a player with star quality and Ellis Harrison definitely did need to come on to give Dons some more physicality up top but it probably should’ve been a straight swap rather than experimenting in a game that was extremely close throughout.

It’s another away game where Dons have come away with nothing. However, a loss in that fashion should inspire some kind of reaction from Williamson’s men as they travel again to face fellow promotion-chasers Mansfield on Tuesday. There’s still plenty to play for so this is a huge game that could have major implications on the promotion push. Let’s back the team to the very last, come on you Dons!

If you’ve read this far then thank you! I’d love to hear your thoughts on the game in the comments below and I hope you enjoyed the read!

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