Neal Ardley has spent recent weeks playing down AFC Wimbledon’s promotion chances but it’s becoming harder and harder to rule the Dons out.
Six wins in their past seven games has seen the Dons move to within a point of the play-offs and only seven away from automatic promotion with 16 matches to go.
In that time they have to face eight of the nine teams currently above them in League Two, and tonight face a Carlisle United side who sit just two points behind them and also want to gatecrash the play-off party.
After that come four games against those above them, home to third-placed Oxford United, away at leaders Northampton Town, home to fourth-placed Accrington Stanley and away to sixth-placed Bristol Rovers.
Ardley has said it must be a full squad effort if they are to come out of that testing run still in the promotion effort, giving specific mention to those that have found playing time limited of late.
“The likes of Callum Kennedy, James Shea, Sean Rigg, Ade Azeez and Bayo Akinfenwa are integral to how the team is playing,” he said.
“Their attitudes have been first class and long may that continue.
“I’ve given them a message in private, but they know from the last few weeks how important they are. I make them aware of it every single day.
“They are important to the standards of training, important around the place, and we treat them with respect. We work them hard and try to improve them as players.
“If you put your dynamic players through seven games in three weeks you are going to end up having a dip at some point and risk injuries.
“We have to work out how to keep it fresh, without making too many changes.
“We don’t want to change the shape if we can help it or change too much about the starting line-up because they are playing well.
“But we need to keep it fresh at the same time in a few areas as we go along.
“That’s going to be a difficult task for me, but we are looking at certain games that may suit certain players.”
Ardley is also keen to make sure the players don’t start getting over-confident.
“Carlisle are a good team and Keith Curle has done a good job,” he said.
“I expected them to be in the play-off mix when I watched a lot of their games earlier in the season. They have not disappointed.
“With a couple of games in hand, they will feel they are right in it if they beat us.
“There is probably a mini-league now from third down to 12th or 13th and anyone in that group will feel their season is still going.”
Image courtesy of AFC Wimbledon TV via Youtube, with thanks