WIMBLEDON might just be walking into a trap. Sitting next to the play-off places in EFL League One, they are the hottest of favourites to beat Curzon Ashton, who are just above the relegation zone in National League North, in Sunday’s FA Cup second round tie at the Tameside Stadium.
But if there is even slightest whiff of complacency about the London professionals, the Nash are ready to pounce, just as they did so spectacularly against Exeter City eight years ago.
Manager John Flanagan is ready for the challenge. After a week of mounting media interest — including an appearance on CBBC’s “MOTD Kickabout” — he’s eager to test his side, and himself, against a club looking for promotion to the Championship.
“Can we win the game? Of course we can,” said Flanagan. “Will we win it? That’s a different matter. The likelihood is that we won’t if you take in all the factors of where they are and where we are.
“However, we’re talking about the FA Cup where shocks are always possible. It’s a one-off game that’s a potential banana skin for Wimbledon. If we can get our noses in front, if we can get that little bit of luck, if a refereeing decision goes in our favour, then we could go through to the third round.”
Despite being seventh in League One, and inflicting two heavy defeats on Bury, Wimbledon had a largely disappointing November. They have won only two of their eight matches since October 22.
Flanagan added: “I saw them beat Bury 5-0, but Bury were awful, probably because of what’s going on behind the scenes at Gigg Lane. They had no spirit and threw the towel in. Yet for 15 minutes the Shakers were the better team. They collapsed after conceding the first goal.
“Wimbledon played a 4-3-3 formation but tucked in and went very, very narrow whenever they lost possession so that it became more of a 4-5-1. I thought they had defensive weaknesses and were poor at set-pieces. But they were very competitive and worked hard to get the ball back when they lost it.
“As a professional club they work on discernable patterns of play. With us it’s all about what happens on the day. Wimbledon may have watched us but they won’t have learned anything because we’re so inconsistent. It’s hard to spot our patterns because we’re so sporadic.
“Wimbledon say they’re not going to take us lightly. Their full-back, Jon Stead, has been describing us as tough opposition. But the more they do that type of interview the more I believe there is a chance they will underestimate us.
“All it will do is emphasise to them that they are the favourites. Their mindset will be that they are expected to win. So can they motivate themselves? And of course they don’t really know anything about Curzon Ashton whereas we know about them.
“Warrington showed what can be done a couple of years ago when they beat Exeter. They got in front and dug in. We don’t have to play well to win — we need things to go in our favour — but it’s my intention that we play well.
“We won’t change the way we play. We’ll be trying to pass as usual. It’s important to me personally, as a manager, that we give a good account of ourselves and that everybody puts in every last ounce of effort.
“If we do that, who knows what’ll happen? We might get to go to the Emirates in the third round and I could and be on the touchline with Arsene Wenger. I’d have to get one of those long coats. Hopefully he wouldn’t try to push me around.”
Wimbledon — or AFC Wimbledon to give them their Sunday name — were founded by 2002 by supporters who refused to accept the original Wimbledon FC’s decision to move 62 miles up the M1 to become Milton Keynes Dons.
AFC Wimbledon claim to be guardians of the flame lit by Dave Bassett’s Crazy Gang who, under the management of Bobby Gould, famously denied Liverpool the 1987-88 double by beating them in the FA Cup final.
The Dons play at Kingstonian’s Kingsmeadow ground but want to return to Plough Lane where Wimbledon FC’s ground was situated from 1912 to 1991. Plans to build a stadium on the site of Wimbledon Greyhound track, about 200 yards from the original Plough Lane ground, were approved by Merton Council 12 months ago.
Wimbledon are managed by Neil Ardley, who played for the original club as well as Watford, Cardiff and Millwall. Their key striker, with nine goals, is pacey former Oldham Athletic man Dominic Poleon who started out at Chelsea.
Their line-up for Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Fleetwood was: James Shea — George Francomb, Paul Robinson, Chris Robertson, Seth Owens (Sean Kelly) — Danny Bulman, Jake Reeves, Dean Parrett (Tom Beere) — Chris Whelpdale, Tyrone Barnett (Tom Elliott), Dominic Poleon.
Full-back Jon Meades may return on Sunday following an ankle injury.
The tie, which kicks off at noon, will be broadcast live on BT Sport.