Crazy Gang | Part 6 | Star Strikeforce Reunites

The aggressive Crazy Gang style of play finally saw AFC Wimbledon earn their stripes as the dirtiest team in England in 2024. We racked up a record for indiscipline in the Championship while again consolidating in mid-table and amassed 50% more bookings than any other team in the country.

We brought in £2m selling the likes of Daniel Csoka, Alessandro Zanoli, Zak Sturge, plus failed winger and goalkeeper Aurel Wagbe and Ellery Balcombe. That took the club’s bank balance past £10 million for the first time. It also gave us a transfer budget of £3.8 million and a wage budget of £95,000 – which remains microscopic by Championship standards.

However, we then received interest from Premier League clubs in our star youth product Jakub Stepien and promising left-back Cody Thorn. We negotiated a new club record fee of £8.5m rising to £11.5m with Sheffield United for Stepien, who rejoined us on loan for a year. Then Thorn, who we signed on a free from Man City last summer and played a 6.1 in his only match for us, moved to Leeds for £6m rising to £8.5m. Those deals boosted our bank balance to £23m.

We began the summer by renewing loan deals for Spurs striker Jamie Donley, whose season was cruelly cut short by injury in February, and midfielder Alfie Devine, who are both now considered wonderkids. Even better news was that Sheffield United had underused Daniel Jebbison last season and listed him for loan, so we jumped at the chance to bring him back for a fourth season and reunite him with his pal Donley. And we replaced Thorn by loaning Niels Nkounkou from Everton.

The last couple of NxGn awards had seen players from small European clubs named as the top prospects. And, intriguingly, they were available and interested. Last year, we snapped one up who we were still waiting to get a work permit on. But this year, we snapped up exciting centre-back Anders Frandsen Kroll from Vejle BK for a new club record £700k. Joining him were more exciting youngsters in midfielder Joey Keating, who has high teamwork and work rate and came in from Hibs for £150k, and backup goalkeeper Antoine Vidal on a free from Montpellier. Then on deadline day, we signed Karamoko Dembélé from Celtic for £500k and I plan to retrain him as a left-winger.

With those additions in, the squad was looking very young and inexperienced so I decided we needed to add a bit of know-how. And we did exactly that by snapping up former Barcelona and Arsenal forward Martin Braithwaite on a free transfer. We also signed former England international Aaron Cresswell for £250k from Bournemouth, and he should provide a better set-piece-taking option.

I’m considering making some tweaks to the player roles, including a mezzala and deep-lying playmaker in midfield. While we’re returning to the preferred poacher and advanced forward roles in attack.

Non-playing staff members

I realise we’ve not really looked at any staff members that have joined the club, which I think is an important area of any save. Former Crazy Gang hero Dennis Wise is a scout. I’ve brought in the likes of Rafael van der Vaart as my assistant, Jody Morris, Jonathan Woodgate, Andreas Hinkel and Colin Cooper as coaches, and Jean Tigana as director of football. While Troy Deeney and William Gallas are under 23s coaches, Joe Cole is under 18s assistant, and Paul Jewell is under 18s coach. I’ve generally brought in coaches with high determination and signed a solid head of youth development in Ged Roddy.

Another Championship challenge

The media still don’t fancy our chances, predicting we’ll finish 21st despite slashing our title odds to 50/1. Southampton, who have the likes of Ward-Prowse, Livramento, Hudson-Odoi, Origi and Mauro Icardi, are massive favourites at 1/10 followed by Norwich and Watford (both 7/2). And we still have by far the lowest wage expenditure in the league, spending £77k per week compared to 23rd-highest Peterborough’s £135k and Southampton’s £1.6m-per-week, which is 21-times more than us!

The new season began with a tough test at Derby and we unsurprisingly lost 3-1. We drew 0-0 in our first home game with Oxford but improved significantly to win 3-1 at Forest, who had a massive 31 shots, with Braithwaite scoring his first goal for the club off the bench. But from there we really struggled, pulling off a win against Barnsley then losing 4 in a row without scoring, admittedly against teams in the top 6.

That left us just outside the relegation zone going into a near David v Goliath clash as we welcomed Southampton, who also had Dean Henderson in goal. But we played superbly, taking the lead through Jebbison and striking the crossbar late on to claim a huge 1-1 draw.

But we finally got back to winning ways as Dembélé scored his first goal for the club alongside Donley and Jebbison strikes in a 3-2 success at QPR. And we took that into three wins on the bounce, including a 3-1 success at leaders Huddersfield with Frandsen Kroll and midfielder Toni Carapina getting their first Wimbledon goals.

The up and down form continued, including then a 3-0 win at Middlesbrough, in which Jebbison scored twice and Filip Stankovic made an outrageous 18 saves! And that gave us the confidence to make it four consecutive wins on Boxing Day and two days later at home to Bristol City and Preston then a fantastic 2-1 success at Blackburn.

As a result, we climbed all the way up to 10th in the Championship heading into 2026. We’re well clear of relegation, only 3 points off the playoffs and 9 points away from the automatic promotion places. However, a really tight league sees 4th to 12th separated by just 6 points and 1st to 12th by just 12 points!

January transfer business

The Braithwaite deal didn’t work out with 2 goals in 15 games. So when Panathinaikos made a bid to sign him at the end of the season, I was happy to sell him on for £120k. While Dembélé decided he wasn’t happy with being a squad player in Championship mid-table, and we managed to double our money by shipping him off to Aston Villa.

We bolstered our squad with another exciting defender and our first Brazilian! Centre-back Sílvio José arrived for £400k from Bologna and looks like a great prospect with 17 determination and 15 bravery.

Elsewhere, Southampton weren’t happy with just being top of the league and went on a £30m spending spree but also sold the likes of Livramento and Thierry Small for £75m. While Rudoni already found himself transfer-listed by West Brom after 3 goals in 26 games!

Back on the FA Cup run

Last year, we managed to reach the FA Cup quarter-finals. And this year, we got through to the fifth round by beating Colchester then Ipswich on penalties after a replay. That teed up an exciting tie at home to Everton, who scored 2 in 3 first-half minutes. But a stern half-time team talk fired the boys into life and a Donley brace pulled us level to take them to extra-time. Donley had a chance to put us ahead but hit the bar and Everton went down the other end to score through Dele Alli. And the FA Cup dream was over for another year, but what an effort by the lads.

Playoff push on the horizon?

We began the new year at home to bottom side Birmingham and dispatched them 4-1 with goals from Cadogan, Ricky-Jade Jones’ first of the season and an injury-time brace by Jebbison. That took us to 6 straight wins and 8 games unbeaten in all competitions and just 2 points off the playoffs!

Our star strikeforce was starting to fire again, as Donley won January player of the month with 6 goals in 4 games and Jebbison in 3rd. And they fired us to an impressive 11-game unbeaten streak before a tired squad suffered 4-1 defeats at Barnsley and at home to Stoke.

But we got back on track with a 3-0 win at Millwall, which was as feisty as you’d expect with us getting 6 bookings and Millwall getting 4! Then the rapidly improving homegrown winger Alphonso Cadogan and Donley sealed a 2-1 win at Blackpool before an impressive 3-2 win at home to promotion-chasing Watford lifted us back into potential playoff contention.

Back in the playoff chase

With 8 games remaining we’d worked wonders to trail 6th-place Barnsley by just 3 points. But the playoff chase was still ridiculously tight, with 4th to 10th separated by just 7 points.

A 0-0 at Oxford kept us 3 points off Barnsley then Jebbison nicked us a big 1-0 win over Derby to jump above them into 7th. But we continued the trend of losing every time we play West Brom, despite them languishing in 19th, then threw away a 2-goal lead to draw with Forest. And that left us 6 points behind Barnsley with 4 to play, so the outside chances were basically gone.

But we hammered Lincoln 4-0, led by a Cresswell brace!, then beat Wigan 2-0 thanks to a Jebbison double to move back to just 2 points off the playoffs with 2 games remaining. And that confirmed the highest finish in Wimbledon history for the 5th successive season. Then a draw at Ipswich coincided with Barnsley losing at home to Norwich, which took us into a thrilling final day battle.

The final day saw us welcome Middlesbrough to Plough Lane. Boro were 6th on 75 points, only ahead of Barnsley on goals scored, we were one point back and Oxford were 2 points back from us.

We started superbly as Jebbison got on the end of a brilliant Cresswell free-kick to head home on 12 minutes. And we were suddenly up in the playoff positions! But Barnsley ensured that didn’t last long as they took the lead at QPR. The same duo combined as the left-back flew down the left to cross and the striker tapped home. But Barnsley held on to beat QPR 3-2.

That meant we only missed out on the playoffs by 1 point and finished in an outrageously impressive 7th in the Championship on 77 points! We lost 9 fewer games than last season, improved the defence by conceding 57 goals compared to last year’s 60, and the attack, scoring 78 compared to 61.

We dropped to 4th in the discipline ranks, with our 96 bookings usurped by Hull’s 122. But we did rack up a league-high 5 red cards! We again made the most fouls (828) and won the most tackles (880) and only Oxford won possession more times than our 4,710.

Jebbison was the top scorer in the league with a brilliant 28 in 39 games. He also set new league records with an average rating of 7.52 and 11 player of the match awards. As a result, he won Championship Player of the Year, while Donley won Young Player of the Year. Cresswell got the second-most assists with 15 and Frandsen Kroll won the most headers (694) and won possession back third-most (627).

Season Review

Jebbison was our main man on his return to the club, scoring 31 in 44 at a 7.49 average rating in 44 games. And that won him player and young player of the season. While his last-minute goal against Boro saw him become the all-time record league goalscorer for AFC Wimbledon, with 91 goals in 165 games. That surpassed Kevin Cooper’s record of 90 goals.

Pushing him close was Donley, who scored 21 in 46, and Cresswell, who racked up a club-record 19 assists plus 5 goals in 50 appearances. Not bad for a 36-year-old! And he decided to go out at the top by retiring at the end of the season. Frandsen Kroll also impressed with a 7.13 average rating, winning him signing of the season, along with goalkeeper Stankovic (7.09) and right-back Luca Stanga (7.05). However, we do need more from our midfield, none of which scored more than 4 goals.

Exciting youth development

In addition to Stepien, who joined Sheff U for a club-record sale, we’ve produced a mass of exciting young talent over the last 5 years. Cadogan has made massive progress this season and trained like a monster every week. He only missed 1 game all season and claimed 10 assists along with 3 goals in 52 appearances. However, he’s now wanted by 8 Premier League clubs! While the likes of Mike Robertson and Chris Passant have stepped into the first-team and, along with winger Terry McKenzie, also have potential to become Premier League players.

This year, they were joined by two more exciting youth products in centre-back Theo Musselwhite and midfielder Darren Prushi, who delightfully has 17 aggression, 16 bravery and 15 teamwork.

The Wimbledon board again decided, on their own free will, to expand Plough Lane in the summer of 2026. The new plans will increase the capacity by 2,640 to 16,944 at a cost of £3.3m. They also increased our youth level to Category Two and spent a further £3.8m to improve the training and youth facilities. They also accepted my request to increase our youth recruitment to “Exceptional.” So the club is very much still on the up!

How will that affect us next season? And can we push on for the playoffs in 2026/27? Join us next time to find out!

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