Four takeaways from AFC Wimbledon’s 2-0 win at home to Walsall – A season of ‘what-ifs’ as Al-Hamadi fever sweeps through Plough Lane
AFC Wimbledon ended their 11-game winless run in League Two on Tuesday evening after beating Walsall 2-0 at Plough Lane.
The Dons secured three points thanks to goals from Will Nightingale and Ali Al-Hamadi.
Here are Edmund Brack’s four takeaways from SW19:
AL-HAMADI DELIVERS CLINICAL CAMEO
In the same way that Beatlemania engulfed Britain in the 1960s, a new craze is sweeping through Plough Lane.
Ali Al-Hamadi, who our paper understands was signed on a free transfer from Wycombe, has quickly become a cult icon amongst AFC Wimbledon fans since arriving in the January transfer window.
Despite playing 74 minutes in St Petersburg on Sunday for the Iraq national team and arriving back on Monday – Al-Hamadi made himself available for the bench on Tuesday night.
A palpable buzz surged around the ground when he was called upon from the bench, replacing Saikou Janneh in the 69th minute.
Five minutes later, the 21-year-old sealed AFC Wimbledon’s second win of 2023 when he reacted quickest inside the area from a Kasey McAteer cross and poked the ball beyond Owen Evans.
He could have had a second two minutes later, sneaking through the Walsall defence to slide Ethan Chislett’s cross home. However, the South African playmaker was flagged offside in the build-up.
When the players soaked in their lap of honour, the Toxteth-raised forward was greeted with chants of his name by fans who stayed behind to catch a personal glimpse of their new star.
A SEASON OF WHAT-IFS
The win against Michael Flynn’s side all but secures AFC Wimbledon’s place in League Two next season, with Johnnie Jackson’s Dons moving up to 16th and 14 points clear of relegation.
You could not help but look back at moments in the season and wonder what the South Londoners should have been fighting for the latter stages of the campaign if a culmination of problems had not occurred in quick succession.
Where would Wimbledon be if Qatari side Al-Wakrah had not triggered Ayoub Assal’s release clause and taken him away from the club six months earlier than planned?
What would have happened if loanees Ryley Towler and Paris Moghoma – two key figures in the winning run prior to January – had not been plucked by sides higher up the pyramid?
And where could this side be without the abundance of first-team players suffering injuries throughout the course of the season?
CHISLETT SHINES ONCE AGAIN
Ethan Chislett is out of contract at the end of the season. The South African is a priority for the Dons to tie down to a longer-term deal – and rightly so, as his performances have really kicked on this season.
The 24-year-old attacking midfielder has finally been given a run of games to show what he can do.
Dons boss Johnnie Jackson also recently admitted the club need to sign a player who has the robustness to play more than 30 games in the season – Chislett is the only player who has featured in every League Two outing this season.
He led by example against Walsall, twisting his way out of tight spaces to create attacking situations and causing havoc for the opposition defence.
A HANDFUL OF EXCELLENT INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCES
Considering this was Nathan Broome’s second start in League Two, the 21-year-old, who has been playing as a support act to Nik Tzanev since signing from Stoke in January 2022, performed admirably.
He made a great save to deny Conor Wilkinson down low to his left in the 34th minute and kept his first league clean sheet intact with an excellent reaction stop in added time to thwart Wilkinson again.
Jack Currie also looked back to his best against The Saddlers – making four clearances, five tackles and three blocks.
Aaron Pierre also produced his best performance in a Wimbledon shirt, marshalling the back four alongside Will Nightingale and helping keep a first clean sheet in eight.
MAIN, CHISLETT AND McATEER PICTURES: LUCY DIXON
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