PREVIEW: AFC Wimbledon v Luton Town

Jonathan Smith battles for possession at AFC Wimbledon last season
Jonathan Smith battles for possession at AFC Wimbledon last season

A play-off place remains a definite possibility for AFC Wimbledon after firmly putting a sticky run of form behind them recently.

The Dons failed to win a single game between early November and late December, after crashing out of the FA Cup at home to National League side Forest Green Rovers.

They then picked up just five points from a possible 21 in the league, with five draws and two defeats from seven games, including a host of disappointing home results, losing to the likes of Dagenham & Redbridge and Stevenage.

However, that was rectified in some style with a 2-0 win at Exeter, followed up by a thumping 4-1 victory at Cambridge.

They also put their home woes behind them by defeating Mansfield 3-1 and made it four straight victories by triumphing 2-0 at Notts County.

However, the only blemish appeared two weeks ago when struggling Yeovil Town ran out 3-2 winners at Kingsmeadow, but Neal Ardley’s side’s form was enough to keep them firmly in contention with the top seven, sitting 11th place, just four points behind behind Leyton Orient.

Like Luton, AFC’s away form has been better than their efforts at home, with just five wins in front of their own fans this term, beaten six times, with three draws too.

They now have a busy few weeks though, with a number of games crammed in, and Ardley knows it’s a crucial time to see where his team will end up this term.

Speaking to the club’s official website, he said: “We have eight games in four weeks coming up and we need to bring our best to every single one of them. If we don’t, then we will fall back into inconsistency and we’ll be struggling to keep tabs on the top-seven spots.

“They are all exciting, but at the beginning of March they are all top games against good teams, and it will tell us where we stand.

“We have to look forward to it and be excited by the challenge. The remit is to keep everyone on the boil for the last third of the season.

“We need everyone to stay on top of their fitness. We all need to be pushing in the same direction and see where that takes us for the last 18 games.

“As a management team that’s all you can do. We are not going to be looking to do anything wonderful on the pitch, other than set the team up to go out and try and win every game of football.”

Dons had a quiet transfer window, although did add Derby goalkeeper Kelle Roos on loan until the end of the season, plus midfielder Connor Smith following his release from Watford.

Meanwhile, off the pitch, it’s been a momentous time for the club, as they have been given permission to build a new stadium close to its spiritual home in Plough Lane.

The Dons applied to build an 11,000-seater stadium, that could be expanded to hold 20,000, on the site of Wimbledon greyhound stadium.

Merton Borough Council have recommended it for approval and councillors unanimously approved the plans, with construction aiming to be completed in 2018.

Team news: Hatters could have winger Danny Green available as he returned to training this week after recovering from an ankle injury.

Both Nathan Doyle (knee) and Josh McQuoid (knee) are still unavailable for the time being.

For the Dons, Dannie Bulman back in the mix after shaking off a hamstring injury, while Sean Rigg and Jon Meaders are back in the reckoning too.

However, two un-named players are struggling after picking up knocks in training this weeks.

Top scorers - Hatters: Cameron McGeehan (10). Dons: Lyle Taylor (11).

Milestones: If Jake Howells plays, it will be his 327th game for Hatters, moving him up to 16th in the most appearances for the club, over-taking Seamus Dunne’s record of 326.

Man in the middle: Christoper Sarginson. Official has taken 21 games this season, showing 65 yellows and just one red, that in his last match, Southend’s 2-1 win at Shrewsbury on February 2.

Has refereed one Hatters game this term, the 3-1 triumph at Morecambe back in September, while he had the whistle for the 4-2 victory over Newport County last campaign.

Was in charge for Luton’s 4-2 FA Cup win over Corby back in November 2010, sending off the visitors’ Nathan Jarman on just 25 minutes.

Also took Town twice in the 2008-09 campaign, the 1-1 League Two home draw with Chester, dismissing Kevin Roberts, plus Town’s 2-0 win at Notts County later that season.

Assistant refereees are Carl Fitch and Matt Eva, with fourth official Ian Cooper.

In charge: Neal Ardley, 43-year-old who made over 400 appearances during a club career that started with Wimbledon in 1991.

Played almost 250 times for the Dons after coming through the youth ranks, before moving to Watford in 2002, where he spent three seasons.

Joined Cardiff City in March 2005 and then Millwall for the 2006-07 campaign before retiring after a series of injuries in August 2007.

Began taking his coaches badges at the age of 24, and was appointed as manager of the Cardiff City academy, staying for five years before being named bosss of AFC Wimbledon on October 10, 2012, and is now the ninth longest-serving manager in the Football League.

View from the dug out: Dons boss Neal Ardley told the club’s official website: “I think that Nathan Jones is starting to put his own stamp on them. Luton have had a couple of good away performances, but similar to us some home games they would have hoped to have won.

“They are strong and put in a really resilient performance to win at Wycombe. They have a lot of good players, including Paul Benson, Joe Pigott, Craig Mackail-Smith, Jack Marriott and Cameron McGeehan is as good a goalscorer from midfield as you will get in this league.”

One to watch: Lyle Taylor - 25-year-old striker is having an excellent first season at AFC Wimbledon.

Started out at Millwall, before spells at Eastbourne, Bournemouth, Herford and Falkirk, where he netted 24 goals in 34 league games.

A £220,000 move to Sheffield United followed in July 2013, before he went back on loan to Partick Thistle and then signed for Scunthorpe until a permanent deal at AFC in the summer.

Got off the mark in his seventh game for the Dons, but has gone on to be top scorer, with 11 goals to date, including five in his last seven matches.

Friendly faces: Former Town forward Stuart Douglas is AFC Wimbledon’s physiotherapist.

Began his career at Hatters in August 1995 and made over 100 appearances, scoring 18 league goals before spells at Oxford and Rushden and then moving to Boston United on a free in August 2002.

Played for both: Defender Curtis Osano joined Luton in the summer of 2011 and made 32 appearances for the club, leaving the following year and heading to AFC Wimbledon, where played 20 times.

Left Kingsmeadow to head to Indian club Bengaluru where he has now spent the last three years.

We’ve got form: Luton are yet to emerge victorious from their trips to AFC Wimbledon, with two draws and a defeat from their previous three meetings.

The first game, a Conference clash back in 2009 saw Hatters held to a 1-1 scoreline, with Tom Craddock on target.

They then played out a goalless draw during the following campaign, before suffering a 3-2 reverse last term.

Last time out: Alfie Potter (28) and Dannie Bulman (42) had put the hosts 2-0 in front, before on-loan Jayden Stockley pulled one back on the stroke of half time.

Elliot Lee then came off the bench on his debut to net with virtually his first touch, but David Connolly’s last-gasp strike won it for the Dons.

Hatters: Elliot Justham, Michael Harriman, Scott Griffiths, Fraser Franks, Alex Lacey, Jonathan Smith, Andy Drury (Elliot Lee 64), Luke Guttridge, Cameron McGeehan, Nathan Oduwa (Alex Lawless 64), Jayden Stockley (Alex Wall 86).

Subs not used: Liam Gooch, Jake Howells, Andy Parry, Shaun Whalley.

Attendance: 4,050.

Referee: Fred Graham.