Scott Wagstaff believes that Wimbledon’s youngsters can help push the club forward next season after coming through a testing experience with flying colours in 2018/19.
Teenagers Paul Kalambayi, Toby Sibbick, and Anthony Hartigan all played key roles in League One survival and Will Nightingale skippered Wimbledon at the age of just 23.
Midfielder Wagstaff, who turned 29 in March, shares a responsibility to help guide the club’s young players at a time when Wimbledon are aiming to avoid a fourth season of League One struggle.
“When I signed I felt we had a good enough squad to be around the play-offs, and at least in mid-table, but it didn’t work out like that," said Wagstaff. "We need to take the momentum we’ve got from the end of last season into the next campaign. We have to make sure we turn that momentum into something special. I feel we can do that, especially with the young squad that we’ve got. We’ve got a lot of young players who have been through the experiences of last season and they will only get better. Older players from last season have left, so looking at ‘Woody’ and myself we will probably have to take more on our shoulders and help the younger boys in the squad.
“Towards the end of the season we looked a lot more solid and we managed to keep clean sheets, which proved to be vital in keeping us up. For the young lads coming in at the back it was not an easy situation for them to come into. They showed a lot of courage and heart to perform the way they did during a relegation battle and to help get the team over the line.”
Wagstaff missed the last two games of the season due to a calf injury, but it meant a lot to him to be involved in the celebrations at Bradford. He’s raring to go now for the start of pre-season training after making good progress in his recuperation.
“It was a horrible feeling not playing because you know that you cannot get out there and help the boys," added Wagstaff. "You could tell why the fans got so tense about the outcome, particularly when so much was riding on the result at Bradford. It was hard for me to watch when everything was on the line, but everyone stuck together.
“Even though I wasn’t playing, I really wanted to go up and support the boys. I also knew it would be a great memory for the future if we stayed up on the last day. We did it in the end and it was great to be a part of that with the boys. We had been through it together all season, throughout the 46-game league season. It was nice to see the boys before the game and afterwards to be involved in the celebrations after the game.
“I have my own programme to do while I’m off, but it feels good at the moment, so I’m looking forward to getting back now. My calf is pain-free at the moment and it’s feeling good, which is the main thing. The plan is to be ready for the first day of pre-season and be raring to go with the boys.
“We only had two games left in the season and I was always going to be ruled out for. It was quite a bad injury, but we knew that there was a lot of time in the close season to get it right so that I would be ready for the first day of pre-season.”