U’s hoping to extend AFC Wimbledon’s astonishing winless streak


Tuesday 7th December 2021 was a fairly significant day in League One.

Rotherham reaffirmed their League One title credentials by thrashing Gillingham 5-1 in South Yorkshire, while Sunderland kept themselves within touching distance of the top two with a 5-0 win against Morecambe at the Stadium of Light. Cambridge United also recorded a 5-0 win, beating a Cheltenham Town side who were promoted alongside them last season.

At the time, AFC Wimbledon’s 2-0 win away at Accrington Stanley was totally swept under the carpet. But flash forward to just under three months later, and it could arguably be considered the most significant result of evening.

7th December was Wimbledon’s last win in any competition, and since collecting three points at the Wham Stadium that evening, the Wombles have embarked on an eye-watering 20-match winless run that has seen them drop from 17th to 21st in the table.

The situation is far from terminal for their survival hopes, but Wimbledon now have just eight games left to climb out of the relegation zone. The Wombles have a game in hand on all three of the teams below them, as well as fellow strugglers Gillingham, but actually taking advantage of the situation would require them to end their winless streak as soon as possible.

At the moment, that seems unlikely. Wimbledon’s most recent match saw them strike first against Cheltenham through Jack Rudoni’s 26th minute goal, but they surrendered their lead with less than ten minutes to spare, ultimately losing 3-1 at the Jonny-Rocks Stadium. Unsurprisingly, the pressure on manager Mark Robinson has reached boiling point, but the board recently released a statement confirming their support for the 52-year-old.

The Wombles have a difficult run-in, facing a number of promotion-contenders such as Sheffield Wednesday, MK Dons and Wycombe Wanderers. Any remaining ambitions of avoiding the drop will surely rely on beating Cambridge United this weekend.

The U’s have built up a 12-point cushion on the bottom four and seem all but certain to avoid a relegation battle. They’ve established an impressive home record, staying unbeaten from the start of 2022 until last weekend’s 1-0 defeat against MK Dons. While Mark Bonner’s side are not yet mathematically safe, their form has spiralled due to their comfortable league position.

Cambridge have lost four of their last five games, although three of them have come on the road. That’s where the problem lies – the U’s have won just one league game away from home since the start of the year.

That should give Wimbledon some confidence, although Bonner is keen for his side to maintain a high level of performances to reach their points target for the season. However, Cambridge have little else to play for and have already started planning for another season in the third tier, which the Wombles will be hoping to capitalise on.

While Terry Ablade (Finland U21) and Daniel Csoka (Hungary U21) will miss the game due to international duty, Ayoub Assal has returned from England U20’s training camp and may feature against Cambridge before returning for the Young Lion’s game against Germany next week. The attacking midfielder has been a key player for Wimbledon this season, scoring six goals and assisting four in 34 league games.

Alongside Assal, Rudoni and Luke McCormick are the top scorers in the Wombles’ squad after striker Ollie Palmer left for National League side Wrexham at the end of January. Between them, the young trio have scored 23 of Wimbledon’s 40 League One goals this season (57.5%).

In a way, that’s been part of their downfall. Wimbledon have the youngest squad in League One, and their lack of experience isn’t ideal for an incredibly fierce relegation battle where a single mistake can see you cut off from the rest of the division.

Cambridge have done enough to avoid that, and have welcomed back a number of key players to help them in their nightmare run-in. Like Wimbledon, the U’s will face a number of promotion hopefuls before the end of the season, but having the likes of Joe Ironside, Shilow Tracey and Lloyd Jones fit and available will provide a massive boost.

Similarly, Jack Iredale has returned to first-team training following his recent ankle injury, while Greg Taylor is looking to be fit for the start of pre-season. The only other long-term absentee is loanee Jensen Weir, who is unlikely to return from parent club Brighton & Hove Albion after suffering a knee injury. Bonner now has a selection dilemma with almost his entire squad available.

As a result, the likes of Ben Worman, Jack Lankester and Lorent Tolaj have had their first team opportunities reduced, with the latter yet to make a single start since joining on loan from Brighton. Bonner may be inclined to rotate his squad for their demanding run-in, giving more minutes to bit-part players who could step into the starting lineup next season.

Similarly, the U’s head coach may want to start planning for life without a number of key players who may leave in the summer. Norwich City and Republic of Ireland legend Wes Hoolahan may return to Dublin to wind down his career, with the attacking midfielder set to turn 40 at the end of May. Iredale and Adam May are yet to sign new contracts, and may see their long-term futures elsewhere after their consistent performances this season.

Cambridge and Wimbledon may only be separated by four places in the league table, but the two clubs are in totally different situations. While the U’s are looking ahead to the future, the Wombles are fully focused on the here and now in order to escape the bottom four. Whether that reflects in the scoreline on Saturday remains to be seen.

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East Anglian football editor for Prost International.

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