AFC Wimbledon 2022/23 Season Review: Another season to forget for an increasingly frustrated fanbase

5 min

A new season in a new league with a new manager – the 2022/23 campaign was supposed to bring renewed hope but instead ended with more questions over AFC Wimbledon’s future than answers.

The appointment of ex-Charlton Athletic boss Johnnie Jackson had brought a sense of optimism to Plough Lane following the relegation struggles of the previous season and, as a young, passionate manager with a strong commitment to youth ­– it felt like a great fit for the club.

However, the renewed confidence quickly disappeared after just two wins from their opening 10 league games as Jackson struggled to stamp his authority on a team frequently forced to change formation and personnel due to a spate of injuries.

A turning point came after the embarrassing 1-0 home defeat to local rivals Sutton United in October as the Dons were booed off at full-time with Jackson lamenting his side for not having “the balls to step up” and perform. 

Yet that loss would become Wimbledon’s final league defeat of 2022, as things suddenly began to click for a side who would go on to sit just two points off seventh by the turn of the year.

The team chemistry grew and a system Jackson wanted to implement started to mould together with Academy Graduate Ayoub Assal the catalyst as the youngster was moved from the No.10 position to wide left.

Jackson wanted Assal to become more aggressive, to cut inside and shoot more as the team switched to a 4-2-3-1 formation which resulted in the player scoring seven goals in 10 league games to propel Wimbledon up the table.

Unfortunately Assal’s performances started turning heads with rumours circulating as to whether the star would remain part of the set-up for the remainder of the campaign.

READ MORE: Empty stadiums, reserve sides and general apathy – welcome to a typical EFL Trophy match night

When the Dons travelled to Sutton on New Year’s Day, there was no sign of Assal in the matchday squad due to ‘illness’ and the writing was on the wall.

It would be the start of what was a chaotic and, quite frankly, disastrous January for Wimbledon as Assal was sold to Al-Wakrah of Qatar for a club record fee.

Yet he wasn’t the only key player to depart Plough Lane as Wimbledon’s over-reliance on loans backfired – Ryley Towler, arguably the best centre back in League Two at that point, was unexpectedly recalled from his loan by Bristol City and sold to Portsmouth. 

The hits kept coming, with defensive midfielder Paris Maghoma and winger Nathan Young-Coombes also recalled by Brentford.

“The recalls come as a shock, but sometimes you become a victim of your own success,” Jackson admitted at the time.

In response, the Dons tried to fill the holes with more loanees but ultimately couldn’t replace those who’d left. 

READ MORE: Football Finances – how Brentford, Fulham, Millwall, QPR, Charlton Athletic, AFC Wimbledon, Leyton Orient and Sutton United fare

With Towler and Assal in the team, Wimbledon averaged 1.56 and 1.50 points per game respectively but, in their absence, those numbers fell to just 0.77 and 0.69.

Of the seven players acquired in January, only Ali Al-Hamadi can be hailed as a success – the Iraqi international, who signed on a permanent deal from Wycombe, hit the ground running, scoring 10 goals in 18 league appearances in 2023.

Al-Hamadi proved to be the lone positive in a forgettable 2023 for Jackson and Wimbledon as a dramatic slide down the table ensued following the failure to replace the January losses due to one of the more limited budgets in the league.

Suddenly Wimbledon couldn’t buy a goal, finding the net just twice in the opening seven league games of 2023 and, while a solid defence was doing the heavy lifting for their slim chances of the Play-Offs, it soon proved unsustainable. 

The injury bug once again hit the team and the free fall accelerated when bad habits from last season’s relegation reappeared.

Wimbledon finished the season with a jaw-dropping 40 points dropped from winning positions, the highest in the EFL for the second straight year and a clear indication of the hangover that Jackson’s side failed to shake, eclipsing last year’s total of 39 dropped points.  

READ MORE: “This is AFC Wimbledon, we don’t give up” – Johnnie Jackson and Dons board put on united front amid fan fallout

By April, the end of the season couldn’t come soon enough as fans began to show their anger; boos greeted the final whistle after Salford scored twice in the final 90 seconds to snatch a 3-2 Plough Lane win, and again after an embarrassing 5-1 home defeat to Swindon a few games later.

The board was forced to issue a statement in support of Jackson following the Swindon loss, citing a budget that ranks 17th in the league and 57% player availability this season compared to the league average 86%.

Finishing 21st in the table following just two wins out of a possible 20, it was a sorry end to a promising season which leaves fans unsure of what the team’s identity is

There are of course enough excuses to go around for this season’s disastrous showing but nevertheless, Wimbledon face a make or break summer that will ultimately determine whether they are a club to challenge for promotion or one susceptible to the drop.

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