Match Overview

The two Robinson’s – Mark and Stephen – are back head to head again following a blockbuster game at The Mazuma Stadium back in September. A game which The Dons won 4-3 thanks to a 94th minute Ayoub Assal winner. It felt like watching a basketball match with both sides taking the lead twice during the game. 

Both sides come from FA CUP 3rd round defeats last weekend and will be fired up to ensure they get back to League One business and get the three vital points. This is a game both managers will be looking to gain maximum points and take advantage of their opponent’s weaknesses. 

For this preview, I’m delighted to be joined by two extremely knowledgeable Dons, Tim Hanson from Plough Lane By Numbers and Matt Rickard.

So what are they expecting from the game?

Tim,

“It’s a big game for both teams. Both have certainly had higher-profile games recently but a look at the league table shows this is a crucial one. It’s a chance for Wimbledon to create a bit of a gap to the bottom 4 (and a chance for Morecambe to overtake us).

It’s a bit hard to know what to expect from Wimbledon. We were in good form prior to Christmas (8 points from 4 games) but after a long lay-off due to COVID postponements were awful at Oxford in late December, well beaten at Boreham Wood in the FA Cup and also lost to MK in midweek.

I expect it will be open (perhaps similar to the game at Morecambe) – both teams score goals but also have mistakes in them defensively. I think we’ll get a reaction from our recent results and put in a decent performance – perhaps just edging a high-scoring game.”

Matt,

“Goals! We haven’t kept a clean sheet all season at home and as we saw from the game at Mazuma, we are two teams who love to attack. Having said that, we are on the back of three blanks – away at Oxford, Boreham Wood and Franchise – so are not looking very threatening at this moment.”

Shrimps’ Selections

According to Wyscout, 4-3-3 is Robbo’s most utilized formation, having used it 46% of the time. However, when needed, (21% of the time), the Gaffer has switched to a system with three central defenders, so it does make it a little difficult to anticipate his choice with 100% certainty. 

As you would expect, he does tend to alter line-ups depending on players availability and tweaking to counter the opposition. 

One of the issues he has had to contend with has been finding a dependable centre back option to partner with captain Anthony O’Connor. On occasions, to compensate for this, we’ve played with a three at the back in a central trio. 

He will be encouraged by the impressive 58 minutes Jacob Bedeau made on his debut last Sunday against Premier League opposition Tottenham Hotspur, following his loan move from Burnley. Jacob won all six of his defensive duels, completed 85% of his passes and even completed two of his three dribbles successfully. 

Recently appointed Assistant Manager Diarmuid O’Carroll – who was in charge on the day following the unfortunate COVID positive result for the Gaffa – mentioned in his pre-match interview that Bedeau was withdrawn due to cramp. 

I expect us to revert to four at the back to work best against Wimbledon’s expected system with O’Connor and Bedeau as our centre back pairing. 

Bedeau warming up prior to Spurs game – picture from Morecambefc.com

Another selection question is which Ryan Robbo goes for at right-back – Ryan McLaughlin or Ryan Cooney. I’ve previously made a case for Cooney, but I expect Robbo to stick with McLaughlin. Cooney will probably have to wait for the opportunity and seize it with both hands when it presents itself. The two have become great friends off the pitch and hopefully, they can keep pushing each other to ensure they both are delivering their highest level. 

The final selection challenge would be whether Arthur Gnahoua returns to the side, being arguably the most natural wide player we have, to make up a front three. I had considered Robbo bringing in Obika as a front three with Cole Stockton and Jonah Ayunga, but width will create opportunities against The Dons. 

Incidentally, you’ll be glad to hear Robbo is back on the touchline having recovered from a mild case of COVID.

The Dons’ Selections

Tim,

“Most of our strongest line-up pretty much picks itself. If everyone is fit and Mark Robinson (Robbo) doesn’t decide to rotate, then 9 of the 11 starters are easy decisions. 

One of the usual 9 will be absent – Hartigan with a stomach problem. George Marsh will likely step in for him. Marsh hasn’t featured too much due to Hartigan and Woodyard’s form but has looked good in his fleeting appearances – though lacks Hartigan’s passing range. 

It’s usually only at full back where it’s a tougher call. Nesta Guinness-Walker will be suspended so that reduces our options. It will be any two from three of Alexander, Osew and Lawrence (all can play either side). As Alexander has only just returned from injury and played in midweek, I think Robbo may opt for Osew and Lawrence but it’s quite possible Alexander will play instead of one of them.

Robbo will need to decide whether to play centre-back, Will Nightingale, in back-to-back games. He’s one of our key players but only just back from a 2-month injury layoff and started on Tuesday. If he decides he’s not up to starting then Dan Csoka is likely to come in and is not quite at the same level. But I think Nightingale will start given the importance of the game.

The only other decisions will be whether to rotate any players to bring in fresh legs but there is quite a drop-off in quality between our starters and back-up options, so I think/hope we’ll go for our strongest team (especially as it’s such a crucial game).

We usually set up as a 4-2-3-1. The two midfielders (Woodyard and Marsh for this one) play quite deep and give the attacking midfield 3 lots of freedom, as well as allowing the full-backs to push on. At times we’ve used a 3-4-3 (including in the loss to Boreham Wood) but it’s generally not worked that well and I’m not sure we have the players to suit that shape. At the end of last season we often played a 4-2-2-2 and still occasionally do with Assal pushed on to play near Palmer. But I think the 4-2-3-1 is most likely against Morecambe.”

Matt,

“Hartigan is sick, which is a huge loss, so Marsh will come into midfield. Apart from that, we have had a few injuries to the defence, but are now back at full strength, bar Kalambayi, who wouldn’t start. 

Nesta Guinness-Walker is suspended following a red midweek, but that arguably strengthens us tbh. Our team pretty much picks itself.”

The Dons’ Strengths 

Tim, 

“At our best, we are a really energetic, aggressive, high pressing team, effective at closing down and winning the ball in the opposition’s defensive third. 

Our three young attacking midfielders – Assal (aged 19), Rudoni (20) and McCormick (22) – are all big threats. They have a mix of pace, trickery and movement, and are at their best when rotating positions between the lines. They have 17 goals and 11 assists in the league and cup games between them so far this season.

Our usual sitting midfield two (Hartigan and Woodyard) are a good combination – Woodyard tenacious and adept at breaking downplay and Hartigan an excellent passer who sees more of the ball than anyone and sets our tempo. Marsh is probably closer to Woodyard in style than Hartigan so we may build through midfield a bit less than usual I’m this game and get the ball forward a bit quicker (which some fans would not see as a bad thing).

Earlier in the season, we were very effective from set-pieces but that has dried recently (really after the Morecambe away game!). I think that’s due to a few reasons – opponents becoming aware of our threat, Nightingale (one of our biggest aerial threats) being injured, and some regression to the mean. But with Nightingale back we may become more of a set-piece threat again (though we’ll miss Hartigan’s deliveries). We’re also usually pretty solid at defending set-pieces.”

Matt,

“Wimbledon have settled into a 4231 which, at its best, is fluid and a lot of fun to watch. When we play with no intensity however, we look anything but. Our Robinson is very tactically fluid, occasionally starting with a 352, as he did last week in the cup defeat at Boreham Wood. We will also happily change shape in-game. 

The best of our team are the forward areas. Marsh will replace Hartigan and form the playmaking foundation alongside Woodyard, and these two allow Assal, McCormick and Rudoni to work their magic. “

As Tim mentioned in the home tie, Wimbledon’s deliveries caused chaos in The Shrimp’s defence all afternoon, unsurprising as they have the highest set-piece ratio in the division with 0.31. This essentially means that they have a high proportion of quality chances created from set pieces. It’s certainly a plus for us that Hartigan, who scored one and set up one in the first game, is missing. That being said, Wimbledon’s First Team Restarts Coach, Andy Parslow, responsible for maximising set-piece opportunities, will I’m sure be working closely with Hartigan’s replacement to repeat this success. 

The Dons have the sixth lowest-highest PPDA in the division, according to The Analyst. This means they have one of the most intense presses in the division and look to force errors out of a side playing out from the back. 

One advantage – when The Dons system is working well – is that 6 ft 5 in centre forward Ollie Palmer is able to use his strength and bring the creative attacking players around him into play. According to Wyscout, Wimbledon have less than average ball losses in the final third around the box. This season Palmer has been involved in an average of 11.59 aerial duels per game-winning 42.7% of them. 

Don’s Weaknesses 

Tim,

“We never look especially solid or well-organised defensively in open play and rarely give the impression of having much control in games. I always fear that we’re a misplaced pass away from letting opponents in on goal. We can take too many chances/make bad decisions in possession at times, especially when playing back towards our own goal.

We often struggle to break down opponents who sit deep and give us space to play in non-dangerous areas. We can be a bit slow at moving the ball and it all becomes quite ponderous. Our best performances have tended to be against teams that play out from the back and give us opportunities to win the ball high up (e.g. against Lincoln and Crewe).

Our first-half performances tend to be a bit passive and it’s no surprise that a large majority of our goals have come in the 2nd half of games. We attack much more aggressively after going behind, which is a regular source of frustration (seeming to wait until going behind to start playing).

Our first XI is a lot stronger than what we have in reserve so we’re always a couple of injuries away from having a severely weakened team (though we seem to be mostly in good shape at the moment, Hartigan excepted). Partly as a result, we can become weaker after making substitutions as we usually make like-for-like swaps (positionally) but bring on weaker players.”

Matt,

We are the youngest squad in the EFL so performances fluctuate widely. I’m not a fan of any of our full-back options so teams have a lot of joy in the channels between the two CBs and wide defenders.

The Dons have the third-lowest number of goals from open play in the division with 15. In comparison, The Shrimps have the 10th lowest with 21. 

Having played 22 games so far the Dons are averaging 0.68 goals from open-play per game compared to 0.875 for The Shrimps. Essentially, Morecambe are scoring a higher proportion of goals from open play per game. Mark Robinson’s men will be looking to improve this or utilize their strengths from set pieces. 

Opportunities against The Dons 

Tim,

“I think teams that play with pace/overlaps in wide attacking areas can always have joy against us. We tend to push our full backs quite far forward and our centre backs are not the quickest at getting over to cover, so there is often space in wide areas. Oxford capitalised from this hugely recently and Portsmouth have also benefited from the same approach. Our fullbacks are arguably the weakest part of our starting XI, so even when they don’t push on they can struggle against decent wingers/wide attackers.

It may be a game where being solid and patient could work well for Morecambe. Some of the Wimbledon fans may be a bit lacking in patience after 3 defeats in a row (especially as a defeat could see us in the bottom 4) and frustrating us by sitting deep and keeping solid while waiting for chances to capitalise on counter-attacks/misplaced passes could be a good approach. As noted above, we can give the ball away in dangerous areas and sometimes take too many chances in possession so even when we’re on top in games we can give away chances (and when this happens, I’m sure Stockton’s finishing prowess could come in handy). It’s possible we may be a bit less possession-based in this one without Hartigan.”

At times we don’t track midfield runners too well (see McLoughlin’s goal in the reverse fixture) so that could be another route where Morecambe benefit. And we are not always the best at closing down outside the box so there are often long-range shooting opportunities.

Matt,

“The flanks are our weakness, so Morecambe will look to exploit the channels as mentioned above or look to get crosses in for Stockton to attack. Neither of our fullbacks show any desire to stop crosses so Im expecting a busy afternoon for our CBs. Our former Womble Mcloughlin scored a header from a cross against us in the reverse fixture. 

As both Tim and Matt mention, there should be an opportunity to exploit the flanks which is why I expect Robbo will go with a front three – with two wide forwards. As Matt mentioned, we exploited the wide areas with a cross from Arthur Gnahoua from our right side for Shane McLoughlin’s goal in the first game. 

Looking at the Don’s average position on Wyscout from three recent League one games (Fleetwood, Accrington and Wycombe) an interesting positional imbalance in defence is consistent. 

With right centre back Heneghan (number 22) playing higher than his centre back partner and Osew (number 27) playing high up the right flank there will be gaps down their right defensive side – particularly in transition. 

To exploit this we need to play balls into the channel for Cole Stockton and the wide left forward – likely to be Arthur Gnahoua – to run into and get behind the defensive line. When we get into these pockets of space we need to act fast and take advantage before they’re able to regroup. 

Threats from Dons 

Tim,

“I think if Assal, McCormick and Rudoni are on their game they will test just about any League 1 team. I’m not sure Morecambe’s defence is necessarily the most mobile (?) so they could create problems with their speed, movement and rotation. Assal tends to get most of the publicity but Rudoni’s movement and timing of runs is excellent. He’s scored 7 league goals already this season but could have had several more. He’s excellent at making space and ghosting into goalscoring positions and scores all kinds of goals.

Morecambe tend to concede quite a lot from set-pieces so I think this could also represent a good scoring route for Wimbledon. As noted above, we haven’t scored a set-piece goal for a while but we’re ‘due one’ and should be more of a threat with Nightingale back.

Thinking a bit less tactically, we will be licking our wounds after 3 defeats in a row on the back of 3 postponements in a period when we were hitting form. It’s also the first home league game for 49 days. I’m sure Robbo will have the players very up for it and we’ll be looking to play at high intensity from the off. It will be interesting to see how Morecambe react after the Tottenham game – if they are not quite at it from the start of the game I think we could cause problems with the pace and intensity of our play.”

Matt,

“We started the season with a huge set-piece threat, which abruptly stopped immediately after the last Morecambe fixture. At that match, Hartigan scored a direct free kick, while Nightingale and Assal scored from corners. 

Nightingale returned from injury midweek, but now Hartigan is missing so expect McCormick to take on set-piece duties. 

Palmer will hold the ball up well and bring into play our small, exciting forward options. Assal will progress the ball and be a nuisance. McCormick will probe and create, and Rudoni is our main goal threat with his great movement and game awareness. “

Whenever I have seen Wimbledon play this season, they play with such exuberance and energy going forward. Assal in particular has impressed me with his sparks of magic. Against Crewe on the 24th of November – according to The Analyst – he created an unbelievable 7 chances. 

LET THE BATTLE COMMENCE!

I have avoided mentioning the Spurs game until now, but it would be remiss of me not to. I was very satisfied with last weekend’s result. For seventy minutes, we held one of the country’s ‘elite’ teams, in their own backyard. We had two new faces who came into the side and acquitted themselves well. Unlike the cup fixture of last season, our fans were able to watch the lads live and a shout must go out to the phenomenal support of circa 3000 who travelled to North London. In the cold light of day, I’m sure the players themselves will have drawn encouragement from the performance and will bring this into our forthcoming matches. 

I expect this game to be no less difficult than any this season. Having watched Wimbledon on a number of occasions, reading the observations from Tim and Matt and reviewing the statistics the attacking trio of Assall, Rudoni and McCormick will be key to The Dons success. I believe it will be important to reign them in and not allow them too much space to roam. When we’re in possession we need to exploit the wide areas and get in the channels between their full-backs and centre backs. It’s an important tie towards both sides’ mission to secure League One status and both managers will take a win in whatever form it comes. It has the recipe for a few goals. Another Cole special?

I´d like to say a huge thanks to Matt and Tim from Plough Lane from Numbers – for their insights into the Dons!

I hope you enjoyed the preview and analysis. If you did, please follow ShrimpsOnline for more news & updates. FEEL FREE TO LEAVE COMMENTS BELOW.

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