By Rob Cornell
Deji Oshilaja's all-action defensive performances have made him a favourite with Wimbledon supporters, but he believes there is plenty of room for improvement.
Since returning to the club last summer from Gillingham, the Dons defender has established himself as a key member of the side both on and off the pitch.
Speaking ahead of the important game against Wigan, Deji said: “As a player you should always be able to offer more and you should always strive and believe in your ability to be better. I believe I’ve had a good season, but I also believe I could do more to have a better season as well.
“I think, with the whole improvement side of things, every player has to strive for that. I think that everyone needs to be happy with what they’ve done because you can’t change it, but at the same time you aim towards the top and obviously look forward to further performances.”
Deji is looking forward to the challenge of tackling title favourites Wigan on Saturday.
“We’re looking good, we’ve got a good game plan,” said the centre-back. “We’ll continue working on things in the build-up to the match, iron out a few things, and look to give them a good game.
“It’s been a long season, but it will be all over in the next week, as we play Saturday, Tuesday and Saturday. Hopefully we go to Wigan, do what we need to do and then we’ll be a lot more comfortable.”
Neal Ardley has played a significant role in his development over the years. He initially nurtured Deji’s talent in his role in charge of Cardiff City’s Academy, before taking over as AFC Wimbledon manager in October 2012, then bringing him to the Dons on loan in 2015.
“The gaffer knows me personally and that’s the good thing, as that’s always helped me I’ve thought. I’m really close here with the staff and the players from the last time I was here as well.
“Knowing the gaffer, he basically just told me to come here and do my thing. That helped me massively because he knows how I play and what to expect from me, so I’ve had no added pressure and played my game.
“What’s crazy is that when he was the manager of the youth team at Cardiff he was very similar to how he is now, very dedicated, but there is added pressure here. He’s very honest as well and very thorough in what he wants.
“It’s obviously a big step to go from being a youth team manager to being a League One manager, but I think he’s done it well. I think he’s done a great job.”
While Deji has helped form a solid back line for the Dons this season, he also recognises the vital defensive work put in by those up front. Deji’s connection with Dons striker Lyle Taylor goes back to an early age.
“I knew about Lyle from Millwall’s Community Football scheme. I knew he was a good player as I played against him back then. Everyone knows his qualities and for him to now chip in with the work that we need as well, you can see that in the last couple of games he’s done even more. I think that’s testament to his character as well and how much he cares about the club.
“It’s a positive to have him helping out and Joe Pigott too. When he’s come on he’s worked hard as well. I think the team is in a good place and I believe that if we continue with that, hopefully we’ll go there on Saturday and do a good job.”
The full interview with Deji Oshilaja before Saturday’s game at Wigan Athletic and the pre-match views of Neal Ardley are available on our premium iFollow Dons channel.