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Dons spirit blunts The Iron

21 January 2014

Behind the mic with WDON's Rob Cornell

A rather upbeat pre-match press call and a chat with a former Dons Young Player of the Year suggested that Saturday's game at Scunthorpe United was not necessarily going to be a fruitless trip for our WDON team.

And so it proved as our commentator Rob Cornell (pictured above left with Mikey T) took great delight in reporting on a 0-0 draw from the home of the League 2 leaders at Glanford Park.

Here’s a behind-the-scenes blog of Rob C’s preparations for his live broadcast and a bit about the day itself:

Confounding the critics and upsetting the odds was a part of my earliest memories of supporting Wimbledon.

It may not have been the beautiful game for some, but the Dons upset the established order of English football during the 1980s. Fast forward a quarter of a century to a bench outside the training ground at New Malden and Neal Ardley – a man schooled on the Crazy Gang philosophy – was plotting how to upset the odds at Scunthorpe United. This weekend, the Dons would need to be the “coupon-busters” after the home debacle against Torquay.

Last Thursday’s visit to New Malden served-up a comprehensive round-up of news and interviews for our Dons Player subscribers, but it also gave me an indicator of things to come. Neal Ardley has never previously appeared to be one for a nostalgic trip down memory lane on the subject of his playing days. Right from the off I got that impression after his very first press conference that heralded a new era at AFC Wimbledon on 10 October, 2012.

Deep down, of course, I think he’s very proud of what was achieved - rightly so - but as a forward-thinking newcomer to the managerial game he’s not afraid to revisit the coaching books and also draw on qualities that served him well back in the Dons midfield trenches.

 A pre-interview chat about our chances against a club leading the way in League 2 and splashing the cash during the transfer window led to me offering the following words: “This is what we’ve always done - rallied in the face of adversity.” The style of football has of course changed, but there was a kind of spirit that again became evident from Neal, himself, in his pre-match quotes.

“We can be scared of these games or we can approach them in the old Wimbledon way and say ‘let’s go out there and work incredibly hard and see what we can get from it’.

Clearly the disappointment of the home defeat to lowly Torquay the week before had left some followers low on optimism and wondering just how big the final score would be in Scunthorpe’s favour. However, it was refreshing to witness the positive atmosphere upstairs in the manager’s office among all the coaching staff, before we started recording. They had clearly got any traces of negativity long since out of their system.

In fact, when you have goalkeeping coach Ashley Bayes working at the desk next to you, then “negative” is probably not a word that exists in the office or any environment and a smile can never be far away from the manager’s face! Even I’m subject to it on a regular basis at grounds up and down the country and welcome it is too, especially after a long trip to North Lincolnshire!

However, steely professionalism then takes over as he warms up his two young goalkeepers. It was notable that Neal praised Ashley’s contribution as goalkeeper coach during his post-match quotes after another great performance by Ross at Scunthorpe. “Alright Bobby, how are ya son?!” he roars from the pitch just before putting Ross Worner and Seb Brown through their paces at Glanford Park and one of my colleagues hasn’t escaped the treatment too. “Alright Scouse Lad” shouts Bayzo before he waves to the Dons supporters who have arrived at Scunthorpe early.

Your commentary team struggled to pick an outright Dons man of the match, due to there being so many worthy contenders. Mike focused on 2011/12 WDON Player of the Year Sammy Moore for his tireless and competitive work in the engine room. I wanted to catch up with new signing Aaron Morris afterwards, who put in a solid shift defensively after having to take over from Andy Frampton from so early in the game.

I reached for the contacts book for more about our latest signing and had a chat with another former Cardiff youngster for more on Neal’s latest link-up with his past. Last season’s WDON award winner Jonathan Meades is still looking to make a new life for himself, despite an injury-stricken start, at Oxford United.

In a long telephone conversation on all things League Two, Jon gave his friend Aaron a glowing reference by telling me - in essence – that Wimbledon have got someone who will do a good job. After all, Jon should know! While Jonathan hopes to build a special rapport with Oxford fans when he’s fully recovered from injury, he definitely hasn’t forgotten the tremendous support he received from AFC Wimbledon supporters while on loan last season.

Aaron is himself getting over a long absence from the game and was feeling the effects of an extensive work out at Glanford Park afterwards! When he’s fully fit and if he can improve further on this level of performance, then his fellow countryman’s assessment could prove accurate. There’s work to do, but it was a promising start.

Another player with WDON connections is young Will Nightingale, who made the bench for the first time against Torquay United. I first came across Will three years ago in 2011 when Geoff Hawley and I put together an AFCW TV special on the young talent at the club and Academy Manager Mark Robinson’s coaching methods.

a young apprentice is expected to at AFC Wimbledon, but Will’s also a supreme athlete when fully fit as he won the annual Richmond Park run for Under-18s last year by some distance I’m told. I’ve seen our budding centre-back doing all the jobs  Despite injury setbacks, Will is held in high regard by Wimbledon’s first-team coaching staff and hopefully he can follow in the footsteps of Jim Fenlon by making what is arguably the hardest step in football.

 Just as I was proud to see someone around the same age as me – and from the local area – progress through the Dons ranks to first-team player and now manager, it was great to see Will being a part of the first-team squad with a certain Mr Ardley overseeing his progress.

Perhaps a little bit of history repeating itself?

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