By Gerry PrewettLike Bristol Rovers AFC Wimbledon, this week’s opposition at the Mem, are looking to be a club on the move.
Unlike Rovers the Dons are not involved in court case with a supermarket giant, the purchasers of Kingsmeadow Stadium will be Premier League giant Chelsea.
The Dons Trust approved the deal after two votes at the end of last year but confirmation still hinged on a number of other hurdles being overcome. Wimbledon getting the all clear for a return to their spiritual home of Merton was the biggest obstacle but that was cleared in December when the council voted in favour of the move to the borough. Again a helpful council is vastly different from the long-standing Rovers saga.
The Dons are looking to build a 20,000-seater arena, with an initial capacity of up to 11,000, on the site, which is currently home to stock car and greyhound racing. Chelsea want to use Wimbledon’s current home for their ladies and youth teams.
AFC Wimbledon Chief Executive Erik Samuelson said, “As you know, a key element of the financing of the stadium is the sale of Kingsmeadow to Chelsea FC. The contract is close to being finalised, and I am hopeful that it will be signed in February. To remind you, the sale will only go ahead once a number of “conditions precedent” are met, and until that happens the stadium remains in our ownership. Although the principle of the deal is straightforward, the detail is complex, and getting to this stage has been a long process”
I am certain that everyone connected with Bristol Rovers wishes AFC the very best of luck with their venture.
On the pitch a four game winning streak, which started after Rovers 0-0 Boxing Day draw at Kingsmeadow, was ended last weekend as Jack Compton's hat-trick earned a 3-2 away win for Yeovil Town. The
Dons led twice in the first half through David Fitzpatrick and Tom Elliott, but on both occasions Compton levelled for the visitors.
In the second half the winger scored the winner from the penalty spot after substitute Kevin Dawson was fouled by Callum Kennedy.
Wimbledon went ahead after nine minutes with a brilliant team goal as Jake Reeves and Elliott combined to set up Fitzpatrick to blast in from 20 yards.
Yeovil were level just three minutes later as Liam Walsh sent Compton clear and the winger slid the ball past home goalkeeper James Shea.
Wimbledon regained their lead on the half hour when Barry Fuller found Elliott in space and the big striker volleyed past Artur Krysiak from the edge of the area.
But they were only ahead for five minutes as Compton scored his second, curling a free-kick on the touchline past an embarrassed Shea to make it 2-2, before Compton notched from the spot.
In 2011/12, Rovers’ opening day fixture saw Paul Buckle’s team visit Kingsmeadow for the South West London team’s debut in League football. The live televised game provided great entertainment. Goals by McGleish and Harrold had Rovers cruising within 20 minutes. AFC then fought back and Stuart was on the scoresheet 7 minutes before half-time. On 67 minutes Kingsmeadow erupted as Ademeno pulled AFC level. It was left for Adam Virgo to spoil the party with an 84th minute penalty to take all 3 points back down the M4 to Bristol.
Rovers should have had the game out of Wimbledon's reach by half time, but allowed their hosts to get back on level terms before they settled things with that late penalty. The team contained ten players making their Rovers league debut.
The following season an appalling first half display saw Rovers give away 3 goals in 14 minutes to lose any chance of taking anything from the game. To cap it all they finished the game with ten men after Tom Parkes picked up his second yellow card of the evening on 83 minutes.
It was no real surprise when Wimbledon took the lead on 14 minutes. A ball in from the right seemed to catch everyone by surprise and appeared to hit Gary Kenneth on the shin and roll into an unguarded net. Incessant pressure from the home side saw them rewarded with a second goal on the half hour mark. Midson was the provider, slipping the ball out to the right to Rashid Yussuff who comfortably slid the ball past Neil Etheridge from six yards.
Three minutes later goal number three arrived. Tom Parkes was penalised with a yellow card for a poor challenge out on the right, George Francomb floated the free kick into the area and Antwi was credited with the final touch, though from the stand it appeared to go in off of Kenneth
With just 18 minutes remaining Rovers recovered some semblance of dignity when David Clarkson set up Eaves for the fourth goal of his brief Rovers career. Winning possession some 25 yards from goal, he squared the ball to his strike partner who fired a superb shot into the top corner of the net.
Any hopes of a dramatic fight back were dashed seven minutes from time when Parkes made a rash challenge on Luke Moore and was booked for his efforts. It was his second booking of the evening, and he headed for the dressing room knowing he faced another suspension.
In Rovers first home game against the Dons, Tom Hitchcock scored his first ever league goal in the 83rd minute. Tounkara put the ball into the path of the young striker who shot home from 12 yards out. Hitchcock could have made it 2-0 after getting on the end of a Broghammer cross, but he headed wide of the right hand post.
The following season Rovers won 3-0 with goals by David Clarkson on 19 minutes, Tom Parkes just after the half-hour and Matt Harrold with a last minute penalty.
Don’s striker Lyle Taylor scored five goals in five games over December and January but has drawn a blank in his last two outings, although that hasn’t stopped others getting in on the act.
“I’ve lit a fire in everyone else and they are all at it which for the club is brilliant,” he said, “The gaffer right now has got the best nightmare it is possible to have as a manager, but he has got to deal with it not me.”
Meanwhile, midfielder David Fitzpatrick scored his first senior goal in Saturday’s home loss in what was just his sixth appearance since joining the Wombles in late 2014.
The 20-year-old knows boss Neal Ardley is looking at performance all over the pitch and expects him to do his part when there is defending to be done, something Fitzpatrick admits he has fallen down on in the past.
“I’ve had to be very patient because there were a few things in my game to be addressed defensively and the gaffer told me that lots of times,” he admitted.
“I went on loan to Tonbridge which was a good place to practice and now I’ve come back feeling I have addressed some of those things and that’s why he is giving me a chance.”
Saturday’s selection came as a surprise to Fitzpatrick as he got the vote over fit again George Francomb and new arrival Connor Smith as replacement for the injured Sean Rigg in midfield. He wasted no time making an impression as he lashed home Lyle Taylor’s layoff to give Dons an early lead.
“The goal was quite surreal really because I watched it go into the back of the net and it still didn’t really sink in it was my first goal," he added.
“We’ve had U21s games where I’ve built confidence and I’ve been scoring a few, so as soon as it came to me from the set by Lyle Taylor I had it in my head I was going to shoot and luckily for me it came off the laces and was a good strike.
“Any footballer wants to play football, so I am going to work as hard as I can to keep the shirt and if not I’ll work even harder to win it back.”