Bristol Rovers v AFC Wimbledon @ Memorial Stadium
Saturday February 8 @ 3.00pm
AFC Wimbledon manager Neal Ardley is looking for Saturday’s visit to Bristol Rovers to be the start of a special month for his League Two side.
The Dons slipped to their first defeat in 2016 losing 3-2 to Yeovil last week, leading on two occasions before falling to Jack Compton’s hat-trick.
But with the likes of Luton Town and Oxford United to face in February, Ardley feels the next four weeks could determine his side’s season.
He said: “I try not to say it is a tough month coming up, but it’s an exciting one and by the end of it we still want to be in with a shout.
“We want to get to the end of February in and around where we want to be, to give us the chance of doing something special.”
The Yeovil defeat was Wimbledon’s first slip-up since December 12, with Ardley’s men set for maximum points from January until that loss.
Despite the optimism, the manager is aware of the challenge the Dons face against a Rovers side sitting fourth in the league, just a place behind the automatic promotion spots.
He said: “They’re a different kettle of fish at home, where they have a good record. They play very brave and go at you.”
Like Wimbledon, Bristol Rovers have been on an equally-impressive run of late, losing just two of their last 11 although they too suffered defeat last weekend, going down 1-0 to Accrington Stanley.
Rovers boast the league’s second-highest goalscorer in Matty Taylor with his 14 goals, including a hat-trick against Wycombe in December, contributing to a run of eight goals in six matches.
However, Taylor has only netted one in his last eight games and will need to restore his goal scoring levels if Rovers are to maintain their push for the upper echelons.
The two have already met at Kingsmeadow this season, sharing the points in a Boxing Day stalemate where the hosts held on for 86 minutes despite having had captain Paul Robinson sent off in the early stages.
The Dons even came close to snatching victory, despite the numerical disadvantage, much to the pleasure of the boss.
He said: “We played for so long with 10 men against Rovers at home, but Darrell Clarke [Bristol Rovers manager] said afterwards that he would have taken a point after an hour because we played so well.”
Despite that rear-guard effort, it’s Rovers who have the better head-to-head record, winning all three meetings at the Memorial Stadium – where AFC Wimbledon have yet to score a goal.
The Pirates stole the show with a 3-0 win in last year’s corresponding fixture, while you have to go back to 2012 for the Dons’ only victory in their eight-game history, profiting 3-1 at Kingsmeadow.
Ardley also confirmed that Dannie Bulman and Sean Rigg are unlikely to return for the match due to injuries, but new goalkeeper Kelle Roos will come into the reckoning.
He said: “Kelle is a very confident boy and it was an area of the pitch that we wanted to strengthen.”
Image courtesy of AFC Wimbledon via YouTube, with thanks