The House of Payne - Fortune favours the brave
They say fortune favours the brave and that certainly applies to AFC Wimbledon at the moment.
Visiting a side that had humbled them 4-0 at Kingsmeadow in November, Neal Ardley took an attacking approach to Southend United on Tuesday night, playing with two wingers, and was richly rewarded with a 3-1 win at Roots Hall.
True, Southend’s form has dipped, but they went into Tuesday night’s game well in play-off contention and buoyed by the fact they have a Wembley date to look forward to in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.
So it was no mean achievement for Wimbledon to win so convincingly.
“We made them look ordinary,” said Ardley.
“We were the better team in all departments.”
The statistics bear that out, with the Dons having had 15 goal attempts to the hosts’ eight, and it is a result that has given them a five-point cushion from the relegation zone at the foot of League Two.
But bravery has been a feature of Ardley’s managerial reign since he took over from Terry Brown.
He may be in his first managerial post, but he hasn’t shied away from trusting his judgement and overhauling the team to the extent that, of the team that kicked off the season, only Pim Balkestein, Mat Mitchell-King and Sammy Moore made the starting line-up on Tuesday night.
It has clearly worked. At one stage, Dons were relegation favourites but four wins in seven games has changed all that and it is worth noting they have been beaten just three times in 14 games since the turn of the year.
In a normal season, the 42 points collected would see the job virtually done with nine games to spare. The average points tally of the second relegated side over the past decade has been 44 and the highest that any side has gone down with over that period was Oxford United’s 49 in 2005-06.
With the bottom two, Accrington and Plymouth, both already on 37, and only the Lancashire club having a worse goal difference than the Dons, safety hasn’t been secured yet and they face a six-pointer at Aldershot on Saturday.
But there is enough to suggest that, if Ardley’s braves can win this battle, their aspirations for next season can be much more than pure survival.