Dons Starting to Click: AFC Wimbledon Ladies, September 2021

D2B is back in the FA Women’s National League with our second review of the AFC Wimbledon Ladies’ D1SE campaign. Cards on the table, we are Dons’ fans here at D2B Towers, but do at least attempt some level of objectivity when writing up about our (beloved) Wombelles… Our August round-up ended with the Dons sat mid-table, while Billericay Town and Hashtag United set the pace. Kevin Foster’s talented squad would need to lift themselves, build some momentum and perform consistently during September if they were realistically going to fight their way back into the promotion race…

Norwich City 1-1 AFC Wimbledon (5/9/2021)

Midfielder Emily Donovan in action against Norwich City. (Photo: Chris Bushe Photography via WordPress)

“I would love to highlight that, out of the eight goals we’ve scored this season, there have been seven different people on the score sheet – showing the depth and ability across the whole squad.”  

Hannah Billingham, captain and defender, AFC Wimbledon, via Norwich City programme notes 5/9/2021

A home game with Norwich City kick-started the month of September.

Norwich, sat bottom of the table, were arriving on the back of a pretty traumatic start to the season. They were beaten 8-0 at home by Billericay Town on the opening day and had followed that up with consecutive three-goal defeats. But the Canaries coaching team felt their performances had been improving steadily. They enjoyed a 3-2 victory over the Dons last season, and were not planning to be overrun at Colston Avenue.

Wimbledon boss Kevin Foster made just one change to the side that won at Cambridge City bringing in Chloe Sampson on the left of the Dons midfield. Wingback Gloria Siber made way as the Dons altered their shape to a 4-4-2 with Angel Fowler at the base of a diamond midfield.

The hosts showed their intent early with Ashlee Hincks firing wide.

But Norwich looked bright and soon registered their first effort on goal with Megan Todd getting on the end of Jess Harper’s corner delivery but unable to guide it past Lauren Allen.

As the clock ticked towards the quarter hour, the Dons manufactured another opportunity. Allen punted the ball downfield, Hincks headed it on and Megan Stow beat keeper Bryony Williams in the foot race but prodded wide of the target.

In the 19th minute Williams edged the duel developing between her and Stow, making a good stop after a nice move down the right involving Hincks and Katie Stanley.

Norwich generally looked more switched on than the home side, though, keeping possession better and getting on to any loose ball quicker as the Dons wrestled with their new formation. A drinks break on a very hot day was welcome. It also gave Kevin Foster a chance to talk to his team and make some adjustments.

In the 24th minute, though, Canaries’ forward Todd lashed over the bar from six-yards out after the Dons failed to deal with a corner delivery from the left. It was a big miss and the Dons raised their levels in response.

Two minutes later centre back Kelly Highman lofted a cross into the Norwich penalty area, Hincks brought it down but half-volleyed wide. Moments later Highman was involved again, threading Stow in behind the Canaries’ back line only for the former Crawley Wasp to drive the ball high and wide.

The hosts were building a head of steam. Sampson drew a foul on the left and Hincks drove in a free kick that Williams brilliantly pushed around the post. From the corner, Emily Donovan drew another foul in a similar position to before.

Hincks’ attempt was parried, Angel Fowler couldn’t convert the rebound but the ball hopped up to Hannah Billingham and the Dons’ captain volleyed in emphatically from close range. The goal was recorded at 32 minutes.

Half chances kept coming for the Wombles. Fowler glanced a Hincks corner wide of the keeper’s right hand post; then Donovan and Fowler both hit distance shots over the bar.

With two minutes of the first half remaining Sampson burst forward down the left wing, found Hincks, who teed up Stanley and the Dons forward drove her half volley against the cross bar.

Both teams came out with ambition at the start of the second period. Dons’ veteran Becky Sargent picked out Katie Stanley in the penalty area but she volleyed wide.

Norwich moved the ball quickly down the right with Megan Todd continuing to look lively. Kathryn Stanley recycled a cross but fired over the bar. Then Jodie Drake made a nice burst down the left but couldn’t trouble Allen in the home goal.

In the 51st minute, 16-year old Canaries’ keeper Bryony Williams pulled off a fabulous save from Emily Donovan, acrobatically tipping the midfielder’s 20-yarder over the cross bar.

Two minutes later the Norwich stopper was called into action again. Fowler won the ball in midfield, Hincks and Sampson exchanged passes into the penalty area but Williams got a hand on Hincks’ low drive.

Dons’ keeper Lauren Allen hadn’t seen a lot of goal action early in the second half. On the hour, though, she was alert and off her line to save at Kathryn Stanley’s feet.   

Katie Stanley’s snap shot was punched away by Williams in the 63rd minute. Moments later the Dons had a penalty shout when substitute Gloria Siber went over in the 18-yard area. The referee was quick to wave it away.

A second drinks break followed and supporters of both sides sensed how important the next stage of the game was going to be.

Out came the Dons again. Hincks found Stow in a yard of space, she couldn’t have struck the shot any better but Williams made a terrific diving stop to her left.

Williams had kept her team in the game during the second period. One-nil was a dangerous score line. Would these missed opportunities cost the Dons? The answer to that question came in the 69th minute.

A simple, short throw-in routine engineered a cross from the left that looped up towards the Dons’ back post. Allen gave a firm shout to claim the ball but misjudged the flight and dropped it. Forward Todd was on hand to pass it into the net from a couple of yards out and Norwich were level.

Within five minutes of the equaliser the Wombles had created two chances to retake the lead.

Donovan won the ball in midfield and hit a low shot that whisked past the right-hand post. Then Siber broke through the middle of the Canaries’ Norwich backline, teeing up Stow on the right. Stow’s shot was parried but seemed ideal for Hincks to convert on the rebound. The Dons number nine was caught on her heels for a moment and Norwich cleared.

Into the last ten and Wimbledon were looking more desperate as frustration started to set in. Stanley hit a shot straight at the goalkeeper. Striker Jess Lewry came on to replace Rosie Russell and blasted a half volley over the bar as the clocked ticked into stoppage time.

Hincks would have the last good look at getting a Dons winner. Her 20-yard free-kick from the left side of the penalty got over the wall but dipped too late.

Dons full-back Rosie Russell receives her Sponsors’ Player of the Match Award; Norwich keeper Bryony Williams was Opposition POTM (Photos: Karen Hardy (@runningwomble)

A point apiece meant Norwich moved off the bottom of the table, while AFC Wimbledon remained in mid-table. It had been an exasperating afternoon for the Dons’ players and coaching staff but, to a person, they all paid tribute to a sensational goalkeeping performance by Canaries’ stopper Bryony Williams…

AFC Wimbledon 1-2 Oxford United (12/9/2021)

A Tale of Two Megans: Stow (left) and Alexander literally got to grips with each another when the Dons hosted Oxford United… (Photo: Glyn Roberts @rabidbarfly)

There’s so much been on our shoulders but we have to embrace it. Some of us have let it get to us a little bit. We haven’t started great. Anyone coming to play us, you look at us, and where we’ve played in our careers – there’s no excuse not to be winning games and not to be playing well. It’s been a strange start, a bit of a reality check.

Megan Stow, Midfielder, AFC Wimbledon, Wombles Had a Dream Podcast #6

The Dons were in FAWNL Cup action the following Sunday hosting Oxford United, sat third in the National League South (one tier up from Wimbledon). The Determining Round does exactly what it says on the tin – it determines which cup competition each club ends up playing in – the loser of each game goes into the ‘Plate’ Competition, the winners progress to a first round proper.

A cup match can offer opportunities for a bit of squad rotation and so Kevin Foster made some alterations to the team held by Norwich City.

Faye Baker returned in goal, while central defender Sarah Wentworth got her first start of the season, replacing Kelly Highman. Steph Mann and Emily Oliver came into midfield for Angel Fowler and Chloe Sampson respectively. Rebecca “Chewy” Carter made her long-awaited return to competitive duties following an injury. She swapped in for Katie Stanley.

Keeper Sophia Garrido had left club, moving to Hounslow who were propping up Oxford’s NL South division.

Initially the Dons looked set up as a 4-4-2 with Mann and Megan Stow at the defensive and attacking ends of a diamond, but it wasn’t long before Stow looked more like she was operating on the right of  three attackers, with Ashlee Hincks central and Carter on the left.

The ‘U’s arrived in good form, having won three of their opening five league games, scoring 13 times in the process.

Dons’ fans would recognise number 19 Lily Stephens, who lined up in midfield for Oxford. She spent a short, but productive spell with the Dons in the 2019/20 season, that included a barnstorming stoppage time free kick from 35-yards, ensuring victory over league leaders Ipswich Town.

The early exchanges saw both teams having a good look at each other, with Oxford dominating time in possession.  In the 11th minute Lauren Haynes swung a dangerous corner in from the left that Baker did well to claw away from under the cross bar.

Not long after that the Dons put their first meaningful attack together. Carter and Emily Donovan worked the ball down the left to Hincks and she cut inside her marker 20-yards from goal and fired past the post.

The visitors looked at their most dangerous when they were able to counter quickly. In the 18th minutes they moved the ball swiftly from left to right, winger Daisy Ackerman sent in a cross to the far post and Sarah King headed just wide.

Moments later, ‘U’s centre half Riva Casley played a perfect, lofted ball over the Dons’ backline, Carly Johns was on to it in a flash, half-volleyed goal ward but was frustrated to see Baker pull off a smart stop to her left.

In the 24th minute Hincks got another sight of the Oxford goal, latching on to Stow’s pass and hitting a low drive that called keeper Paris Sercombe into action for the first time.

When the Oxford keeper was required to make her next save, in the 31st minute, it was the best of the match. Megan Stow ghosted in behind the ‘U’s defence, caught her shot plumb but Sercombe found springs in her feet and made a fantastic one-handed stop at full stretch.

Johns had another good opportunity when she seized on a loose pass and hared in for a 1v1 with Baker. The Dons’ stopper somehow diverted the ball away from goal with her legs.

Four minute before the break full back Hannah Mackenzie arrived in the right spot to meet Haynes’ out-swinging corner but couldn’t direct her header on target.

The Dons made some tactical adjustments at the break with Carter and Hincks swapping positions to see if they could get more joy in their individual duels. But Dons boss Kevin Foster was then forced to make another change just six minutes into the second half when Rebecca Sargent was caught by Ackerman and had to be replaced. Kelly Highman came into the centre of defence.

In the 57th minute excellent winger Sarah King fizzed in a cross from the left, but Sophie Baker headed over the bar. Chances were going begging, and that perhaps prompted ‘U’s boss Liam Gilbert to shuffle his pack around the hour mark as he introduced Beth Lumsden and Megan Alexander.

Eventually the second period whirred into life.

In the 72nd minute, Hincks dragged her shot the wrong side of the post after good approach play down the right involving Rosie Russell, Stow and Donovan.

Then Lumsden, who looked a defender’s nightmare from the moment she stepped on the pitch, engineered a run and cross from the left that Johns stabbed wide.

The visitors did finally take the lead, though, in the 81st minute, and it was a defender who did the honours.

Haynes’ corner from the right was cleared, but the ball was recycled back to her on the corner of the penalty area and the midfielder delivered a dipping cross to the far post that Casley dispatched from close range.

They doubled that advantage in the second minute of stoppage time. Lumsden threaded the ball into a channel down the right, Baker crossed from the by-line and Johns powered her header in at the back post. It really was the least that the ‘U’s centre forward deserved for her relentless work rate.

The earlier injury to Sargent – plus an Oxford player later in the half – meant that a good stock of stoppage time had built up. There were minutes on the clock for a Dons revival if they could get one back immediately.

In the 96th minute Hincks did score, winning a 50/50 on the edge of the Oxford penalty area and thumping the ball past Sercombe.

There was a late half-chance to take the match into extra time. Hincks’ free kick from deep broke off a defender to Stow but she lashed the ball wide of the mark. It would be the last sniff of goal that the Dons would get. Oxford held on to progress, while the Dons get their second chance of sorts in the FAWNL ‘Plate’ Competition.

Dons young midfielder Emily Oliver was awarded with Player of the Match for a combative and mature display in the centre of the pitch against some very good opposing players…

Stevenage 1-9 AFC Wimbledon (26/9/2021)

Katie Stanley gets her leap-frog over Ashlee Hincks all wrong as the Dons celebrate another goal against Stevenage. Other captions welcome… (Photo: Glyn Roberts @rabidbarfly)

The would be a two-week break before competitive matches resumed for Kevin Foster’s squad – a chance to rest, recoup and regroup after an up-and-down start. A road trip to Hertfordshire to take on Stevenage would get the season back up and running.

The hosts came into the match on the back of their first victory of the campaign, a confidence boosting 2-0 win against mid-tablers Enfield Town.

Following the Oxford cup game, Dons’ manager Foster continued to rotate his goalkeepers with Lauren Allen returning. Kelly Highman replaced Sarah Wentworth in central defence and Katie Stanley came back in for Emily Oliver, tilting the team’s balance towards something more attacking.

That decision would pay dividends very quickly. The Dons took the lead inside two minutes through Ashlee Hincks after good approach play down the left from Hannah Billingham and Emily Donovan.

Just eight minutes later Hincks got her second when Katie Stanley played her into virtually the same area of the penalty box as the first goal.

The Dons continued to push forward. In the 20th minute Hincks’ distance drive was parried in the first instance by Tea Oldroyd but the ball hopped away from the keeper and Stanley followed up to knock in the third.

Things went from bad to worse for the hosts around the half-hour mark when midfielder Louise Godden was sent off for a foul on Donovan. Interim Stevenage boss Fadi Mazloum felt some defensive adjustments were needed and brought Ailish Straver on for Hannah Nebbitt.

That change would just about get them to the break, although the Dons thought they had notched a fourth goal in the 42nd minute. Emily Donovan’s 18-yard lob was eventually ruled out after some discussion between referee and her assistant. Even the Stevenage You Tube Highlights don’t clear up what was amiss.

However, it took just seven minutes of second half play for the Dons to score again; Hincks doing the honours and picking up her first competitive hat-trick since becoming a Womble over the summer.

Three minutes later the former Palace striker had scored her fourth, converting at close range after Megan Stow’s effort had rebounded off the upright.

An unassailable 5-0 lead was the cue for Foster to make a trio of substitutions. He brought midfielders Angel Fowler and Chloe Sampson into the fray for Donovan and Steph Mann. Gloria Siber came on for Katie Stanley.

Sampson’s impact was almost immediate as she provided the through ball that sent Rebecca ‘Chewy’ Carter away to score her first goal of the campaign on 63 minutes – although the keeper would have been devastated to let this one in.

Stevenage were now pinned in their own half, facing relentless waves of attacks. Keeper Oldroyd made a good stop to deny Gloria Siber in the 66th minute, after the left winger had made a pacey run down the left.

But this was merely a precursor to the visitors grabbing their seventh from the resulting corner. Rebecca Sargent got the first shot away, but it was Carter that put it over the goal line at the second bite.

Hincks, it turned out, wasn’t finished – sliding past two defenders to score her fifth, and the Dons’ eighth, in the 75th minute.

Then central defender Hannah Billingham got in on the act four minutes later, arriving at the back post to direct Hincks’ right-wing corner back over the keeper.

‘Billy’ wouldn’t be the last name on the score sheet, though.  Despite what could only be described as a torrid afternoon for Stevenage, Sophie Davidson conjured up a spectacular long-range half-volley that gave Lauren Allen no chance. Final score 9-1 and the Dons were up to 4th in the table.

Queen’s Park Rangers 2-5 AFC Wimbledon (29/9/2021)

How it stood going into the match at QPR…

A healthy charge of confidence had been generated with the Stevenage win and the Wombles only had to wait a few days to get back out on the pitch again. Midweek, under the lights, could they turn a good result into genuine momentum?

Hanwell Town FC were the hosts but Queen’s Park Rangers would be the Dons’ D1SE opponents – coming into the match on the back of a 2-2 draw with Cambridge City.

The ‘R’s had started their season brightly with victories over Stevenage and Kent Football United. But after that their form stalled with defeats to Actonians and title contenders Billericay Town. QPR’s starting eleven would feature ex-Don Alice Curr.

Wimbledon made just one change to the side that thrashed Stevenage, with Emily Oliver replacing full back Rosie Russell.

The Dons, clad in their yellow away kit began with a good tempo. Hannah Billingham, ‘Chewy’ Carter and Megan Stow were all thwarted by Lucie White in the ‘R’s goal.

Once again striker Ashlee Hincks looked in the mood to keep her goal tally moving. In the 17th minute she crashed a shot against the horizontal.

Moments later, Carter was denied by White again with the QPR backline scrambling the loose ball off their goal line.

It took 25 minutes for the hosts to fashion their first good opportunity, playing some nice football to generate a cross that was headed over the bar. But the ‘R’s wouldn’t take nearly as long to make their next chance with Dons keeper Lauren Allen standing her ground to deny Kasha Petit.

Hincks’ unrelenting desire to keep firing shots in from all angles put AFC Wimbledon in front in the 36th minute with a well-struck drive that White couldn’t reach.

A minute after the restart Emily Donovan nearly doubled the lead but couldn’t keep her effort down.

Instead QPR found an equaliser, four minutes before the break, when Emilia Nygaard-Parsons bundled in at close range.

If the Dons felt that their possession and approach play had perhaps merited a little more than a tied score line at half time, they set about putting that right from the moment the second period began.

By the 50th minute they were three goals to the good, with Carter thumping her finish into the roof of the net and Hincks hammering in her second strike from somewhere between the 35 to 40-yard mark.

Hincks completed her hat-trick on the hour and Dons boss Kevin Foster – for the second consecutive match – felt he was in a position to start resting players.

Winger Gloria Siber swapped in for Katie Stanley and scored within two minutes of her arrival beating White with pinpoint accuracy from the left side of the penalty area.

Chloe Sampson and Angel Fowler also came on, for hat-trick hero Hincks and the long-serving Rebecca Sargent respectively.

Sampson – up against her old club – almost made the same impact that Siber had, but her fine run and shot ended with the ball fizzing just wide of the keeper’s left-hand post.

The home side retained a threat and got another goal in the 78th minute when the Dons were penalised for handball in the penalty area. Ellie Searle stepped up and put away her spot kick.

Siber almost got her second just before the end, but White was well positioned to ensure that the score remained at 5-2.

Ashlee is a Womble, and she’s racking up the goals… (Photo: Glyn Roberts @rabidbarfly)

Eight goals in two matches had taken Ashlee Hincks to eleven goals for the season (in all competitions) and helped propel AFC Wimbledon Ladies up to third in the D1SE table – three points behind Billericay and six points adrift of Hashtag United who had also run up a 5-2 margin of victory (versus London Seaward) on the same evening…

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