Will Nightingale has been handed the captain’s armband in Deji Oshilaja’s absence through injury, and the towering defender says he will be aiming to lead by example at what is a crucial stage in the season.
Now aged 23, homegrown talent Will Nightingale, who joined us at the age of nine, has been followed into the first-team by fellow Academy products Anthony Hartigan, Toby Sibbick and Paul Kalambayi. In recent matches, Will has played alongside Paul at the heart of Wimbledon’s defence, and against Shrewsbury last Saturday they were joined by Terell Thomas as Wally Downes deployed three centre-backs.
In an interview for our match day programme on Saturday, Will said: “I’m trying to lead by example, to help all the boys around me. I’m trying to talk to them as much as I can, but I’ve got to get the balance right between concentrating on my own game and trying to help other people.
“Paul is a machine – everyone knows how much of a strong boy he is. I try to talk to him as much as I can. I’ve enjoyed playing with him over the years, including for the U23s. I think we’ve always had a good partnership and been pretty solid. We’ve never really felt troubled, but obviously we get a few more problems now that we’re at first-team level. I think we’re all coping with it well. Terell is another young lad, and I think the three of us have played well together.
“Paul is a great player, and he’s another success story for the Academy. Toby Sibbick and Anthony Hartigan are now getting games as well. We all want to play, of course, but we have to show that we deserve to play in every game. We have to make sure we don’t lose our places – and if that does happen, it will be our own fault for not doing well enough.”
In terms of appearances, this season has been Will’s most prolific as he has racked up 36 appearances in all competitions, putting the injury problems suffered in the past well behind him. However, he’s far from content with his own performances – and indeed with the club’s current position.
“It’s been nice for me to rack up the league games this season, to get that experience. But from a personal perspective I don’t think I’ve been at my best. I’ve done all right, but I think I’ve probably been better in previous seasons when I’ve played less. I’m starting to get my confidence back since the manager took over – he’s been a massive help to me – but I want to start proving to him that I can do a lot better.
“Maybe I can be a bit too critical of myself, but I try to be realistic. I’m hoping to keep getting games because that’s the only way I’m going to keep improving and getting better. I try to learn every single day in training, whether it’s just one little thing, or more than that. I aim to take something new on board every single day.
“I know people out there will express their opinions about me, but my priority is this club. It’s always been that way, and I’ll do everything I can for the club during the rest of this season because it means such a lot to me. It’s been a long time since my full debut, against Accrington – over four years ago now. I got Man of the Match and it meant a lot to receive such praise from the fans in my first game. I’ve come a long way since then!”