Manager's reaction after top-7 place is sealed
Neal Ardley saluted his players for producing an excellent run of form since Christmas after Wimbledon’s place in the end of season play-offs was officially confirmed.
It took a dramatic twist at Cambridge United with Plymouth scoring in injury-time to seal it with a game to spare, but Neal paid tribute to his players afterwards – and he was delighted to reward the club’s fans on volunteers’ away day.
Speaking during an interview for Dons Player, the manager said: “Irrespective of today’s result, the players deserve a huge amount of credit because of what they did since 26 December. They have gone on a run that would have us second in the table based on form during that spell. That got us to this point where we had enough of a cushion and I am so proud of them.
“It was great to do it today. ‘Coxy’ had said that it would be great for the fans to have a day out here and to send them home buzzing. All the drama was not in this ground, but obviously I am delighted. I am ecstatic and excited. I’m also relieved that we got ourselves over the line.
“We never came here for a draw and we wanted to win the game, but it was important not to lose the game today. There was a bit of edginess from the boys because they want to do so well for this club. They did not play with as much freedom as they normally do. It was important that we did our jobs. If we had drawn today and Cambridge would have won that would still have left us with two results to get over the line next week.
“We had heard that Plymouth were 1-0 up, but then all of a sudden it was 2-1 to Cambridge. At that moment we had to stay calm and accept that it was going to the last game if we couldn’t score. Obviously, our fans let us know at the end of the game about the late drama elsewhere and the result went in our favour.”
Three years ago Wimbledon were heading into the final week of the regular season desperately fighting to stay in the division and Neal summed up the progress made since during his interview.
“It has been slow and I know for a couple of seasons there has been frustration from some of the fans,” Neal added. “They did not feel we were moving forward and I took the brunt of some of it. I accept that. What we achieved that season in keeping the team up will probably in 15 years still be one of my greatest achievements, perhaps greater than making the play-offs.
“That gave us the platform to build and to get our team gradually away from the relegation zone, maybe into a side pushing at the other end. We managed to attract better players and improve the structure with the Under-21 set-up and the training ground facilities. Slowly but surely we are becoming a proper club and if we can get ourselves back to Plough Lane there is so much to be excited about.”
Picture credit: Stuart Butcher, Pro Sports Images.
The full post-match reaction from Neal Ardley is now on Dons Player and interviews with Paul Robinson and Darius Charles will follow tomorrow.