AFC Wimbledon’s Last Gasp Winner Sinks Watford

Satish Sekar
By Satish Sekar July 27, 2017 13:42

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AFC Wimbledon’s Last Gasp Winner Sinks Watford

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By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (July 15th 2017)

Football’s Back

Less than a month ago the last season ended with Manchester United securing a Champion’s League berth. Football rarely takes a break. Pre-season is already underway. AFC Wimbledon began their quest for promotion by entertaining Watford, under new management. Their previously arranged fixture against Eastleigh was cancelled due to the state of Eastleigh’s pitch – a move replicated by Portsmouth.

Wimbledon’s recent academy graduate Alfie Egan stole the headlines after coming off the bench to grab a fairy-tale last gasp winner that beat former Hull City manager Marco Silva’s Watford. After a scramble which resulted in a blocked shot rebounding to Egan, the youngster calmly slotted it across Heurelho Gomes’ replacement, Daniel Bachmann, to give Wimbledon a victory that had seemed unlikely minutes earlier.

“I feel like I’ve improved as a player”, Egan said. “I’m getting better and better and there’s still a lot more to come, but I just want to keep on improving really. I can remember sitting here talking about signing my first pro contract and getting ready to play Chelsea in the FA Youth Cup. A lot of things have changed, but I feel that I’ve improved as a player. I did two weeks with a coach to get me ready. That kept me sharp and it’s really helped me. I knew I had to put in the work because I have a few aims and goals for myself that I want to reach. I’ve got to put in the work to get the results really”.

And when it came to his match-winner: “I do like scoring against Watford”, Egan told reporters. “To be fair, Jayden [Antwi] had a shot and it’s just bounced back to me and there’s just a bit of luck there and I thought if I get this on target, it could go in – so I’m really pleased. Watford are a great team. They pass and move it well and it’s hard to get really close to them. You’ve got to know when to go and when to sit and that’s the standard now. I don’t think anyone is going to get any better than that. If we’re beating them, then hopefully we can carry on and beat the teams in our league”.

Important Work Ahead

A goalless first half was followed by five in the second.

“Of course we expect a different result”, Silva told journalists after the match. “For me, in a friendly match always it is important to win, but the most important [thing], of course, is not the result but to start to see our model, to start to analyse our players because we need to take decisions as well”.

Silva recognised that there was important work ahead. “Now is the moment to start to input more our model, our main principles in our squad, to pass more time in our tactical work and to start to see better things in the match”, he said. Defensively Watford were poor. “I saw a little of what we are trying in the first half and how we reacted after the second goal, but I didn’t like how we started the second half and we lost our focus too easily”. Silva admitted the more signings were likely and needed, but refused to comment on who they might be as they are contracted to other clubs.

On Route to Victory

Cody McDonald’s two minute brace within five minutes of the restart seemed to set the League One side for a famous victory – Silva has holes in defence to fill as he acknowledged in post-match press conference. The Portuguese coach refused to identify any targets as they play for other clubs currently. Montserrat’s Lyle Taylor and Andy Barcham provided the assists for McDonald – both close range efforts.

Almost straight from the kick off, Lyle Taylor sped down the left flank and crossed for McDonald’s glancing header to beat Gomes from close range and put the hosts ahead. Silva won’t be pleased. His mood soured even more within two minutes after excellent work by Barcham on the same flank crossed for McDonald to sweep it in from six metres out.

Silva’s team were shell-shocked, but within ten minutes the Hornets clawed their way back into the match. Jose Holebas found space on the left wing to cross for Ben Watson to finally beat George Long from 12 metres out and halve the deficit. Capoue’s rasping shot a minute later also beat Long, but Long’s right hand post too.

After 71 minutes Long was taken off by Neal Ardley, receiving the biggest and most deserved ovation from the 2500+ crowd. Five minutes later a rasping left-footed shot by Dutch international Steven Berghuis gave Long’s replacement Joe McDonnell no chance. Brice Dja Djédjé provided the assist from the right for a stunning finish, but it proved to be in vain.

Generous

Ardley was touched by the reception he received from fans of former club Watford. He wished the best for the club. “The manager, you’ve got to remember, he’s come in” Ardley said. “He’s got to find out a bit about the players, he knows what he wants to do and how and I think Watford will be making a few more signings over the course of the next few weeks and the manager will shape the team how he wants. I wish them all the best because it’s always very, very tough to bridge that gap when you first go up”.

I was a different era when Ardley was there. The ITV Digital deal had collapsed leaving a very uncertain future – a pay cut among other things. Ardley welcomes the input of the Pozzos at his former club and maintains a good relationship with Watford fans. “I really enjoyed walking across today and I had a nice round of applause from the fans because when I did leave it was sort of on strange terms with what was going on at board level”, he told journalists. “But I never once had any dig at any of the fans because I loved the club and I loved my time there. It was more about how I was being handled behind the scenes, so I’m really pleased that I got a round of applause and that warmed my heart”.

But what of now? He quipped that after transfer activity he had £8.50 to bring in two more players, but that if Alfie Egan wanted it as a bonis he had to perform in more than just one match!

Chances Spurned

Chances were few and far between in the early stages. AFC Wimbledon’s captain Barry Fuller hit the post with a header in the first 15 minutes against the run of play and Watford’s Étienne Capoue blasted wildly over. However, the best chance came on 37 minutes after a scramble following Ben Watson’s corner, which resulted in a brilliant reaction save by George Long to deny Stefano Okaka from close range. Long is star of match so far. Chances at both ends, but clinical finishing lacking – early days in pre-season though.

Substitute Noordin Amrabat was later foiled by a partial save by Long and excellent defensive work by Deji Oshilaja at the expense of a corner. Prior to that the recently introduced Wimbledon substitute, Kwesi Appiah curled one from the right of the area – just outside just wide and over the far post.

The biggest appreciation of the match deservedly came on 71 minutes as George Long was replaced by Joe McDonnell. There were weaknesses in his game – for example, his punching needs work – but the potential is obvious. Watford should have gone behind again with 6 minutes remaining, but the last barrier, Bachmann, denied Appiah when clean through. It was a good save, but Appiah had to do better.

With just two minutes left Egan, who excelled in Wimbledon’s academy, grabbed the headlines by shooting across Bachmann, to give Wimbledon a confidence-boosting victory over Premier League opposition in their first pre-season math after the state of Eastleigh’s pitch caused the cancellation of that fixture – Portsmouth followed suit.

Satish Sekar
By Satish Sekar July 27, 2017 13:42