As every football fan whose side aren’t doing so well will tell you, the team at the bottom of the league is always the strongest – because they’re holding everybody else up!
As we reach the point where most teams are two-thirds of the way through the season, it is becoming apparent which teams are going to be drawn into a scrap that looks like it could, and probably will, go down to the wire. This is probably fairly exciting for any neutral observers, but for Wimbledon fans (as well as anyone supporting Aldershot, Barnet, Accrington Stanley, Plymouth, Bristol Rovers, and even potentially Torquay or York); this will not be an enjoyable experience.
From a Wimbledon point of view, it is a very alien experience. Our fans have been spoilt for the first ten years of our existence, with a lowest finish of 8th, in any division. Five promotions in nine years didn’t really prepare us for the last two, where we have performed disappointingly in the football league. What we can say for certain, however, is that Wimbledon fans are not ones likely to give up without a fight – our very existence proves that!
The Outside Bets
While I feel that York and Torquay look fairly safe, I know that many of their fans disagree. York are on a downwards slide, with 4 points from seven games, and there is a feeling amongst a few of their supporters that if Gary Mills lasts the season, they may be going down. Torquay are doing slightly better than York, but again aren’t on great form, and the serious illness of Martin Ling could throw a spanner in the works. While these two look okay for now, if their poor form continues then they could be drawn into the fight.
Bristol Rovers are by no means safe, and are still within short reach of the bottom five, but their excellent form under John Ward lately suggests to me that they may be safe to play another season of League Two football.
Safe for now
Plymouth, Accrington and Barnet are all, at the time of writing this, outside of the relegation zone, but given the surprising form of most of the teams down the bottom, one bad result could send them over the edge. Plymouth are on decent form, having not lost since January 5th, but the bottom five are all within four points of each other – and only two points if Wimbledon can win our game in hand. Accrington look in serious danger, as they are sliding quickly down the table. They need a turnaround soon, having won just once since November, or they look like they could be occupying bottom place come the end of the season. Barnet are another side that look rejuvenated, under the leadership of Edgar Davids, but they are not out of danger, and have some big fixtures coming up against other teams around the league’s base.
In the relegation zone
Aldershot look like they’re in trouble, with their form not matching that of Bristol, Plymouth or Barnet. As an optimistic AFC Wimbledon fan, they would be my pick to go down, along with Accrington. They need to find the form that they briefly had in early January to stand a chance of survival.
And, currently sat bottom of the league, two points adrift (but with a game in hand), are Wimbledon. Not an ideal situation, admittedly, but one we’re capable of getting out of. But with a promising manager in Neal Ardley, who should most certainly not be fired, even in the event of relegation, and a good-looking squad built up in January, safety is very much within reach, if the support and belief is there. We have a crucial run of fixtures, with a game against off-form Bradford (other than a certain League Cup final), the mentally vital game in hand against Northampton, and winnable fixtures against Dagenham & Redbridge and Plymouth. This battle will almost certainly go right down to the wire, but at the moment, despite the setback against Chesterfield, I still believe in Neal, Neil and the players to dig their feet in and stay up.
I think what we need to learn for next season, whether in League Two or the Conference, is that players that care are absolutely vital. Toby Ajala always made it clear that he was desperate to be recalled by Bristol City, and I was fine with that while he was playing well. But since Bristol announced they wanted him back, he has been very poor. He is just one example of players who are either on loan, or know they are good enough to find another FL club if we go down, and so don’t necessarily give their all. If we are going to be playing badly, I at least want to have players, in the Seb Brown/Danny Kedwell style, that really care about making it work.
On a lighter note (for us anyway) it hasn’t escaped my notice that Portsmouth may be sent down to the Conference Premier after administration problems. Seeing as they look like being relegated from League One anyway, the protocol in that situation appears to be for one less side to be relegated. Although I wish Portsmouth all the best in their bid to survive their money issues (as a Wimbledon fan who knows exactly how it feels to be punished by the FA), this is welcome news to the League Two strugglers, should the worst come to the worst.
Written by Charlie Worthington, We Are Going Up’s AFC Wimbledon Blogger
Charlie tweets at @AFCW_Blog