AFC Wimbledon boss Neal Ardley has found himself in the full glare of media attention, but he says life will only get hotter as the FA Cup trip to Stadium MK approaches.
Ever since last week’s second round cup draw had the two sides just one game away from a historic first meeting, Ardley and his team have come under the scrutiny of the footballing world.
And after the Dons’ thrilling 4-3 win over York City in front of the ESPN cameras, and MK Dons’ 6-1 thrashing of Cambridge City, the media glare has intensified.
Ardley is quick to acknowledge the high-running emotions of fans and recognise the hurt some are feeling.
However, he is distancing himself from the tie and going all out to shield his team from the spotlight, especially as the Dons have three vital League Two games before the Dons showdown.
They host Aldershot this weekend in a six-pointer, before the visit of Southend on Tuesday and a trip to Morecambe the following weekend.
Ardley said: “The meeting of the two clubs was probably going to happen at some point with the way we have come up through the leagues, and I know how the fans are feeling, and I know how much passion and hurt there is.
“But all I am doing is preparing for Saturday’s game and I know that sounds like a get-out, but we have three really big games before the MK Dons game and I know the media are not going to like it, but I am trying to put it all aside until the week leading up to it.
“That will be the time when everything intensifies and it all really hots up.
“I feel what the fans feel. The fans feel strongly about the issue and rightly so, and whatever they decide to do and whatever they feel about the game, I will back every single one of them 100 per cent, because I would not want to be in their shoes.”
The media focus on Kingsmeadow has caught Ardley full-on and the Dons boss is having to learn fast.
“This is my first job in management and five weeks in we’ve already been on TV and now we have this. It is certainly testing my media skills. That’s for certain,” he said.
“Up until now I have been able to get away with simple answers to questions, but that is all going to change.
“My main priority is giving the fans and the board a team and performances they can be proud of. This MK Dons match would exaggerate that if we go there and pick up something, but the league is also important and we need to pick up what we can before then.”
Ardley insists the dressing room has its focus on improving performances to build on the back of two consecutive wins – with inconsistency needing to be addressed.
“I don’t think the players will turn up on Thursday for training with only MK Dons on their mind, and mine cannot be either – the week leading up to the tie will be the most difficult,” he said.