Now that was, in the end, just what the doctor ordered: five goals, including ones from midfielders getting into the box, and a storming second half performance when we needed to up our game after a mixed first half, one in which we’d dominated without creating clear-cut chances, then scored a beauty out of the blue, only to concede twice in three minutes to go into the break behind.
The team saw in front of Amos Pratley asked to drop back again into central defence alongside Pearce as Famewo wasn’t able to overcome a training ground injury (with Oshilaja on his way back on the bench), Gunter and Maatsen completing a back four. Midfield, with Morgan and Shinnie unavailable, was a diamond with Watson flanked by Gilbey and Forster-Caskey and Maddison forming the point behind a front two of Bogle (back for a start, Aneke on the bench) and Washington. My thought before the game was that this should be the position for Maddison to shine in, he’s been given the opportunity, up to him to take it.
It proved to be a competent but rather uneventful first 20 minutes, during which we dictated the play, with Maddison indeed prominent, but hadn’t really fashioned an opening. I marked it down as 18 minutes before a real shot in anger (a couple had gone before), with Pratley heading back from a free-kick and Gilbey getting one in which was saved. Shortly after, very much against the run of play, we very nearly went behind. A ball in from their right was deflected past Amos, who was coming out to gather, and it seemed they were bound to score, only for Gunter to get there first and clear.
Another 15 minutes went by without real incident, except for a poor tackle on Forster-Caskey which at least merited a yellow but wasn’t even given a free kick (the ref’s approach to yellow cards was to prove inconsistent to say the least) and the returning Piggott being given too much space to get in a shot. We did then break the deadlock, rather out of the blue. Moving out of defence Pearce looked up and played an excellent ball forward for Washington. He still had a lot to do, but turned inside and then curled a super shot into the far corner of the net. On the balance of play we deserved to be ahead, but on chances to that point Wimbledon had been closest. No matter, relax a little, play some football, get into the break.
That might have been the plan, but it went out of the window not long after. A ball forward found Pigott on the edge of our box and our defenders all backed off and allowed him to turn and look up. Like Washington before him he curled one into the far side of the net. Excellent strike but should never have been given the time and space. And it got worse as their guy managed to keep the ball in play along the goal-line and had a shot blocked by Amos for a corner. From that the ball was half-cleared, only for again too much time and space to be afforded to someone to put it back into the mix and find two Wimbledon players unmarked. The second of them headed beyond Amos into the net.
At the break there was an element of fair play to Wimbledon. They’d kept their 3-5-1 shape, defended well, and taken their opportunities. We’d been not sharp enough in our passing and movement, one moment aside, and defended sloppily at times and paid the price. We would have to play better to get the result we wanted.
There did indeed seem a greater sense of urgency when we resumed. Maddison played in Bogle but his control let him down, while a Wimbledon break from our corner created a three-on-two but they failed to take advantage. And on 52 minutes we made the changes, with Aneke and Williams coming on for Bogle and Gilbey. No change in formation, just personnel.
Almost as soon as he was on Aneke was causing problems, just failing to get his head onto a chipped cross, before he was ridiculously yellow carded for something, followed by a Wimbledon player shown yellow for stopping us taking a quick free kick, which they had been doing in the first half without comment. Then their keeper, who had already been timewasting, saw yellow for a disagreement over whether the ball was in the right place for a goal kick.
Back to the football and just after the hour we did draw level. Good work down the right between Waston and Maddison, on to Aneke. His shot was blocked but fell to the onrushing Forster-Caskey who scored. And before we had time to digest that one we went ahead. Gunter again found space down our right and squared it, for Williams to run onto and convert, from pretty much the same spot Forster-Caskey had found. Midfielders making runs into the box paying dividends!
There followed a spell of around 10 minutes when we had the opportunities to score again, to presumably kill off the game, but didn’t take them, raising the risk of a sweaty end to the match. Into the final 10 minutes of normal time and we made another change, Maddison – who had been involved in many of our better moments and was always trying to make something happen – went off for Purrington, with Maatsen moving further forward and Williams switching into the point of the diamond position.
Shortly after we did get the goal that effectively wrapped up the points. And it was a gift. Their defender slipped as he went to clear and Aneke pounced, taking it wider before shooting into the net. Wimbledon didn’t look like coming back from that, and after Oshilaja had come on for Washington to shore things up, they suffered the indignity of conceding a fifth. Purrington and Maatsen made space down the left, Maatsen played it inside, Williams’ shot hit the post, but Purrington put in the rebound.
All’s well that ends well as they say. What was pleasing for me was that at the break we clearly needed to up our game and we did, although the extra threat that Aneke brings was clearly a key factor. We need midfielders to be scoring goals and today they did, by making runs into the box. The stats showed we had 16 shots, 10 on target, much higher than some recent games. Plenty still to work on but the fans at the game, including Thomas Sandergaard, will have gone home happy. Me? The performance and the result merit a good Givry Chambertin, just to compensate for the fact that if we hadn’t conceded the penalty at the death against Shrewsbury we would be second tonight.
Amos – 8/10. Don’t think he was at fault for either goal, dealt with everything else.
Gunter – 8/10. Made decisive contributions today at both ends. His first-half clearance prevented a goal and in the second half his attacking forays made a real difference.
Pratley – 7/10. Did again what we asked him to do, but we did give them too much time and space at times and paid the price.
Pearce – 7/10. The same, although deserves special mention for the pass to Washington for our first.
Maatsen – 7/10. A little sloppy at times in the first half but nothing serious, and also contributed going forward in the second half.
Watson – 7/10. Decent game, provided the protection and ensured things ticked over.
Gilbey – 6/10. Played his part but not especially instrumental and replaced before the hour.
Forster-Caskey – 7/10. Gets the extra mark for being in the right place to score when one came back off their keeper.
Maddison – 7/10. I suspect he’s always going to have critics but one thing about him is he makes things happen. Not everything came off but he was involved in most of our good moments.
Bogle – 6/10. Worked hard as ever but a couple of times he should have made more of opportunities and didn’t cause their centre-backs too many problems.
Washington – 7/10. Thought he was rather ineffective in the first half, then he goes and scores a blinder.
Aneke – 8/10. No question he made a difference and was a key factor in the win.
Williams – 7/10. Played his part and scored again!
Purrington – 7/10. Only on for around 10 minutes but scored.
Oshilaja – Can’t give a mark for five minutes but good to have him back available.