By Chris Slavin
His instant impact at AFC Wimbledon may be viewed by some as a tough act to follow, but Joe Pigott is determined to prove himself as a Football League striker after coming through difficult challenges in his career so far.
Joe's second goal for Wimbledon came in dramatic fashion on Saturday with the winner against Bristol Rovers, following up his dream debut when he scored less than four minutes after entering as a substitute against Blackpool.
For those supporters who may have missed it, the full interview with Joe for the Bristol Rovers programme is republished below.
Dropping down to non-league with his hometown club Maidstone, initially on loan from Cambridge, was the launchpad for Joe to reignite his career – and he always kept the faith that he would make it as a professional footballer.
"It was hard to get my head round it at first, but there's nothing like playing every week. I really improved and expressed myself. It was great for my experience and development. I had some nice messages from people there after I scored on my debut for Wimbledon. I was born in Maidstone, and playing for the club meant a lot to me.
"I always had big belief that I could make it. I was something of a late developer as I only got picked up by the Charlton academy system when I was 15. I was playing local football in the Kent League for a team called Corinthians, and I was doing quite well for the Kent county side when I was offered a trial. It all developed from there.
"I had trials at Crystal Palace and Chelsea as well, but Charlton was closer to where I lived and I felt I had the best opportunity of getting into the first team there. I think it was the right decision because I did progress to the first team at Charlton. Football can be a bit of a journey, and you end up in all sorts of different places playing the game."
With limited first-team opportunities as a teenager at Charlton Athletic – and he also scored on his debut for the Addicks – Joe was sent out on loan to Bromley, Gillingham, Newport County, Southend United and Luton Town.
"Going on loan as a young player is very tough," Joe told us earlier this week. "You're not guaranteed to be in the side every week, and when you're a young player your performances can fluctuate. The consistency isn't there, even though the talent may be. It's just about learning the game and adapting to different managers and different styles of play.
"I've had a few tests in my career. The start of last season, at Cambridge United, was a tough spell. I started the season, but we just couldn't get a win. That's football, sometimes. Though I didn't make many first-team appearances for Charlton, I was still involved in the squads, and they were difficult times."
After signing for the Dons last month, there was that dream debut against Blackpool when Joe scored just four minutes after coming on as a second-half substitute. It certainly captured the hearts of Wimbledon supporters, and his initiation song – a traditional way of introducing new players into the squad on their first away trip – was also a big hit.
"I did a bit of Robbie Williams and sang 'Angels'. I'm surprised they haven't asked me to sing it again on another away trip! It was a great result for the team up at Bradford, and hopefully we can replicate that kind of performance away from home a few more times this season. I've settled in really well here, and I obviously had a dream debut. We had a couple of really good results when I first came in, but since then we've been going through a difficult spell.
"I'm really happy to be here. The main thing is to help the team stay up, and I believe we can do that. It's about building momentum from now until the end of the season, and hopefully the results will come."
Though Joe is still adjusting to the demands of League football after stepping up from Maidstone, there is plenty of confidence from the tall striker that he can keep on improving with Wimbledon.
"The toughest part of making the step up from non-league is probably the intensity of training. I'm trying to get used to what's required so that I can keep progressing as a player, though I'm probably still adapting to that now. Everyone develops at different stages, and it's up to me to prove myself at this level.
"The number one priority for me is to be an asset to the team, as much as I possibly can. I want to bring others into play, work hard for the side, and do the other things that come with being a striker. Obviously I'll be looking to score as many goals as I can. I can improve on bits of everything, really. Being a striker, it's your craft to score goals, and that's the hardest thing in football. I want to get as many goals as I can, but I also to keep learning more to improve my overall game. We've got good, experienced strikers here – Lyle and Cody have scored a lot of goals in their careers. It's good for me to add competition to the squad."
The undoubted highlight for Joe so far in his career was when he scored a last-gasp equaliser for Southend United at Wembley in the League Two play-off final against Wycombe Wanderers in 2015. It was a goal that forced extra time, and Southend eventually went on to win on penalties, with Joe striking one of the successful spot-kicks. His goal made him a hero with Southend supporters, who were quick to send him good luck messages via the AFC Wimbledon Twitter account when he signed for the Dons.
"It's massive for any player to score a goal at Wembley, but even more so when it's a vital goal that helps a club to promotion. My goal was important in the context of the game – getting the equaliser in extra time for Southend. Luckily, we went on to win on penalties. That was a great moment. Hopefully, I'll have a few days like that with the Dons!"
Everyone connected with the club will be hoping that comes true, and Joe feels proud to be playing a part in AFC Wimbledon's unique history.
"What this club has achieved already over a short period of time is pretty amazing. The club can go on to do great things. Returning to Plough Lane was one of the things the gaffer spoke to me about. These are really good times for the club, and hopefully we can stay up and push forward with the new stadium coming.
"I've loved it at this club so far. I really appreciate what the club is all about with the way it's run by the fans. Little things like being introduced to the supporters at the Man of the Match presentation after the Blackpool game helps you get a feel for the club."
If Joe can build on his first two games for the club, which included a goal and an assist, then he could be a Wimbledon striker for years to come.