Manager assesses options ahead of League 2 match
Neal Ardley will have Bayo Akinfenwa and Ryan Sweeney back in contention for Friday’s trip to Hartlepool United, but he has fitness doubts over other players in the squad.
Speaking during an interview for Dons Player, Neal welcomed the availability of Akinfenwa and Sweeney after both served their suspensions. However, the Wimbledon manager is likely to wait on the fitness of certain players before naming his squad.
“It’s great to have any players back, but to have Bayo and Ryan in the squad will add competition,” said Neal. “Unfortunately, one player has been sick and I’ve had to send him away so he becomes a doubt. Two players have also had to sit out training and one of those is a serious doubt for the game. They are players who have started previous games and they may need late fitness tests. It’s not ideal, but the change in the training pitches has maybe caught one or two out. We have tried to water the pitches to take the firmness out of the ground.”
Jake Reeves’ last-gasp winner against York deservedly earned the “Football on 5 Goal of the Week” and Neal said it was a strike that finally silenced jibes from some of his team-mates!
“Jake does a lot of shooting in training and he works hard on it,” added Neal. “It’s hard because Dannie Bulman’s strength is his energy and he likes to get from box to box, but Jake feels he has to take on the sitting role more at times. I think Dannie and Jake can do both and they need to share the load. They can both chip in with goals. We had been mocking Jake about his lack of goals and it was good for him to get one. Let’s hope it was a season-changer.”
Friday’s opponents Hartlepool have improved recently as they are on a four-game unbeaten run under new manager Craig Hignett. At a similar time last season, the Dons came a cropper against a Pools side fighting to avoid relegation – and Neal is determined to avoid a similar scenario.
“We always try and prepare right,” said Neal. “It is different because we have a better team than last season. Last year they had gone from being in a bad place to hitting really good form before they played us. This season they are also unbeaten in four with Craig going in there and doing a really good job. He has lifted them and they have a bit of spirit about them.
“Chris Wilder once said to me that the time when you play teams during the season can have a big bearing on it and they are in a good place. All we can focus on is producing a high level of performance. If we do that we have to be confident that we are good enough to win.”
The full update from Neal is now on Dons Player, along with an interview with George Francomb.