The second-best goal scoring record in England’s top four divisions has propelled a youthful AFC Wimbledon to their highest ever league position.
Mark Robinson’s side head into tomorrow’s home fixture against Plymouth in sparkling form, fourth in a League One littered with footballing heavyweights.
Most impressive of all, however, is that the Dons’ drive up the table has been largely spearheaded by its youth ranks with some 60% of their league goals netted by academy graduates.
For Chris Thorpe – editor of the club’s matchday magazine BTPL, it comes as little surprise to see Wimbledon’s home reared talent performing so superbly.
He said: “It’s such a big factor in what makes Wimbledon, Wimbledon – it’s such an important part of the DNA of this club, the ethos.
“We give that platform to develop and thrive and they love that.
“I’m shocked we haven’t received more recognition from higher up in terms of how many quality players we’re producing playing so regularly and scoring so many goals.”
There is perhaps no greater testament to the crucial role Wimbledon’s youth system has played this season than 19-year-old academy grad Ayoub Assal’s last-gasp winner on Saturday away at Morecambe.
Thorpe, present at every home and away fixture this season, was at hand to see the Dons young boys snatch all three points at the death in the tumultuous 4-3 goal fest.
“Emotions take over in those situations”, he said.
“It’s one of those moments where you think: this is why I travelled God knows how many miles and got that train at nine in the morning, this is why we do it.
“That’s what football is all about, it was just crazy.
“People were flying everywhere!”
Defying the doomsayers
On the eve of the 2021/22 League One campaign, however, bookmakers had resigned the Dons to the drop.
After all, Robinson lost his star player responsible for some 37% of the team’s entire goal tally for the previous season.
The Joe Pigott shaped void left by the hitman’s departure to Ipswich Town has nonetheless been more than compensated for, with goals coming from every avenue of the pitch.
Centre-half Will Nightingale has more goals than Doncaster Rovers’ entire team, for example.
Citing the club’s pedigree for replacing prolific goal scorers who opt to depart south-west London, Thorpe explains he was never concerned going into the new season.
“Every time we lose a top striker, we always find a way to replace them”, he said.
“I relate it to when Lyle Taylor moved to Charlton – it was heart-breaking.
“But it’s something we came to terms with and in the case of Pigott, just as was the case back then, I knew we had the players to step up to the plate and make up for that loss of goals.”
With the Dons continuing to dazzle, bookmakers have slashed their odds concerning Wimbledon’s relegation credentials.
|Bookmaker||Relegation odds as of July 26||Relegation odds as of September 16|
Whether the Dons can continue to defy the doomsayers is still to be seen, but one thing is for certain: it is an exhilarating time to be an AFC Wimbledon fan.
Pictures courtesy of Sean Gosling