When January comes around it is often a case of looking between the gaps in your fingers as AFC Wimbledon fans hold their hands to their faces, wondering what will happen next. This time around in 2024, there was always a sense that their worst fears would be realised, but also one that had them looking optimistic as well.
It is commonly known that the club is weighed down with a “friendly debt” that is owed to those who contributed to the building of the Plough Lane stadium. This, in turn, makes them a selling club, that will unearth a gem now and then that they can profit on to help not just the debt, but the playing budget for the wise heads that are doing the recruitment of players. Craig Cope, Head of Football Operations, and Chief Scout Andy Thorn have done a sterling job since their introduction which has given supporters a new belief.
The football has been forward-thinking. More progressive, with a steady defence to anchor it. This has led to the Dons not being outside the top half of the table since the second league game of the season, and those opening two games were both draws.
Having just completed consecutive home wins against promotion-chasing rivals, Mansfield Town and Barrow, the Wombles sit just outside the playoffs places but are ready to make a move into those positions. They are not too far off the automatic places, just 8 points with a game in hand over the current third-place occupant.
So, with all this in mind, here are five reasons why AFC Wimbledon can achieve automatic promotion to League One this season.
Johnnie Jackson is now 18 months into his tenure, and having learnt some harsh lessons last year, he is finding his feet in the muddy waters of League Two management. Many would have seen the axe fall given the poor second half to last season, and some at times quite puzzling tactical decisions. He has though found a formula that works, and despite some tactical errors that still arise, he has the squad fighting for places, and that transpires into better performances. Because of this he, and his assistant Terry Skiverton, have just been awarded contract extensions for another two years. This will give him a sense of belonging and loyalty, and also stability as he looks to take the club to the next level.
Many clubs at this time of year will feel the weariness that a long Christmas and New Year can bring. Injuries, suspensions, players coming and going. It all takes its toll and some of the familiarity that binds a good defence together can go. Wimbledon has had to navigate all of this in the past month but has reason to believe that everything will be fine. Having secured Joe Lewis from Stockport County on a permanent deal, from his already successful loan period, the popular centre-back is now out for up to a month. Couple this with Ryan Johnson being injured for the same amount of time and it could be all doom and gloom.
— AFC Wimbledon (@AFCWimbledon) February 10, 2024
The arrival of Kofi Balmer, on loan from Crystal Palace, and a switch from left back to the middle for veteran Lee Brown, and the Dons have hardly skipped a beat in the last three games, only conceding once, with Paul Kalambayi also filling in for the draw at Bradford. Isaac Ogundere and Hus Biler are both young and hungry in the right back position, the former getting the nod currently due to the latter’s suspension. When all are back and fit then the competition for places and knowing that each position is covered is great news for the Dons.
The loss of Ali Al-Hamadi to Ipswich Town hurt the football club. It was hoped that he could stay for the rest of the season, but when the proverbial “offer you cannot refuse” comes in, you just have to bite the bullet. Wimbledon were prepared though and quickly moved in to sign Solihull Moors hotshot Josh Kelly. The striker has stepped straight into the first team, and even though he hasn’t scored, he looks every bit an EFL forward. Pace to burn, strength and agility. This is not just a plug-the-gap acquisition, it is one that the Dons will nurture and gain as much from as possible. Josh Davison may feel aggrieved to have been usurped by the newcomer, but he has never been one to let his head drop and this will only spur him on.
— AFC Wimbledon (@AFCWimbledon) February 10, 2024
Omar Bugiel is still doing the heavy lifting up front, his presence alone will make defenders think, and work. He is also chipping in with goals again, which bodes well in the coming weeks. With John-Kymani Gordon in from Palace, and James Tilley, they have two wingers who can turn games in an instant.
The 27-year-old former Republic of Ireland international is to use the cliché, “too good for League Two” and could be the catalyst to Wimbledon’s season. After being a mainstay in the Portsmouth set-up for so long, his career took an awful turn this time last year when he suffered damage to knee ligaments, The coaching staff at Wimbledon helped with his recovery and rehabilitation, and after being released by the south coast side, it was a no brainer for Jackson to sign him up.
Goalkeeping error, a piece of magic or both? #AFCW
— The Real EFL (@RealEFLSocial) February 11, 2024
Curtis has made an immediate impact, scoring the injury-time winner against Mansfield, and then the opening goal in the 2-0 victory over Barrow. And he still isn’t 100% match fit. Once he is fully up to speed then he will no doubt be the key to how far the Dons go, and given his start he will be an instant folk hero at Plough Lane.
League Two is as tough as it’s ever been. There are a few weak links, the bottom two seem to be adrift, but even they can cause an upset, just as Wimbledon found out when Sutton United rolled them over on Boxing Day. The middle of the table is filled with teams that will beat each other and so do not come out as contenders. Surprise teams like Crewe Alexandra, Barrow and Harrogate Town have emerged, but sustaining their charge will be difficult. High flyers early on, Notts County and Wrexham are not losing games that just a few short weeks ago they would have won. It is their inconsistency that will drive Wimbledon on. The Dons have only lost back-to-back games twice this season across all competitions and bounced back with a run that corrected that blip. The home form used to be a concern, but since November they have won 10 of their 12 games at Plough Lane, the only losses being Sutton, and Ipswich in the FA Cup. Picking up points away will be crucial, but they have all their rivals to play, and they will not fear anyone.