(Due to laptop malfunction I'm having to combine this weeks' two preview blogs into a smaller post with the addition of wise words from top Wombles fan Ray Armfield. Sorry for an autocorrect words in there …just had to type it all up on the trusty iPad!).
The last time the Cobblers travelled to Kingsmeadow, we were in the midst of a playoff chase whilst the Wombles were battling for their lives at the wrong end of the table. Although it's too early to be attributing each others' form to anything concrete we are now in almost exactly the opposite league positions with varying summers turning the tables on both of our fortunes.
Wimbledon have won four out of four at home and were only denied a point last week at Cheltenham thanks to a late, late winner from Jamie Cureton. Their start to the season, particularly at Kingsmeadow, means this is likely to be as tough a trip as there could be on current form.
Aidy Boothroyd's outlook is simple…we need points and we need them badly and that started, albeit slowly, with a draw and clean sheet against Morecambe. The defensive unit has been bolstered by the arrival and quick gelling of Paul Reid and Mathias Doumbe but it's at the other end of the pitch that we have big problems.
There's plenty of pressure building on Boothroyd after this stuttering start and we not only need a strong back line but something different and creative going forward if it's not to be another bleak weekend.
Wimbledon are still without Will Antwi who is out with a hip injury but Kevin Sainte-Luce could return after a hamstring problem. Striker Charlie Sheringham is another to miss the game through an ankle injury.
For the Cobblers, Jacob Blyth is back at Leicester and Clive Platt will be missing for up to three weeks so Roy O’ Donovan and youngsters Ivan Toney and JJ Hooper are the only real options up front. Lewis Hornby, Alex Nicholls and Kelvin Langmead are all long term absentees. Matt Heath (thigh) also sits out of this one. Joe Widdowson is a doubt as he’s picked up an illness this week.
Wombles fan Ray Armfield joins me this week to give his thoughts on his club's excellent start to the season as well as thoughts on 'super sub' former Cobbler Chris Arthur and the potential move back home. You can follow Ray on Twitter @KentWomble
You’ve had a great start to the season…what's changed since last time out?
Personnel! After securing skipper Alan Bennett on the last day of the January transfer window, it was obvious that our achilles heel last year was the back five, so a completely new defence has been shaped around him. We've been able to bring in experienced players within budget that know what its like to get promoted out of this division – such as Barry Fuller and Andy Frampton – and they have all gelled well like the good professionals they are.
Michael Smith has been banging in the goals so far…how have he, and the other summer signings, settled in?
We made no secret we were after a target-man type forward and even made a (unsuccessful) move for Adebayo Akinfenwa. It's fair to say 'Smudger' wasn't necessarily top of the fans wanted list with some supposedly bigger names in front of him, but he's done remarkably well for a young man still making his way in the game. He's given us an aerial dimension we've lacked and he's got clever, quick feet too. He'll miss the odd chance, but if you give him a couple of opportunities, he won't let you down. I hope we can retain him when his loan is due to expire in January. Chris Arthur has impressed in a super-sub role, so don't be surprised to see him tanking down the left wing late in the game, leavng a few tired defenders in his wake….
Neal Ardley is finding his feet well…how's he getting on as manager?
Neal's made a great start. Following Terry Brown wasn't going to be easy, but this is 'his' squad now and we are reaping the rewards of his professionalism. Obviously being a home-grown Wimbledon FC player back in the day meant he came with a bit of a 'halo' but he looks a good fit and if he keeps this up I worry about bigger clubs sniffing around him….
You've been excellent at home with four wins from four…can you make Kingsmeadow a fortress this season?
I hope so. Home form gives you an excellent platform and we've come back to win from being behind on a couple of occasions already, so we can resiliently dig in and graft a result when we have to. We now have the only 100% home record left in the top four divisions, so no pressure for Saturday then!
How's the situation with the possible return to Merton going?
We seem to be genuinely closer to a return 'home' now than in any time in the preceding 22 years. We submitted a comprehensive Masterplan Design Report and Business Case for use of a redevelopment of the dilapidated Wimbledon Greyhound Stadium site a couple of weeks ago – which is just a few hundred yards from our old Plough Lane ground. We should find out in March 2014 if we are in pole position to have our stadium incorporated within those plans. I saw my first Dons game at Plough Lane way back in 1971, so it could be an exciting end to the season in more ways than one!
Finally, a prediction for the game on Saturday?
I know you'll be likely to be missing a few key players with short/long-term injuries, but after your run to the playoff final last year, I'm surprised you are currently where you are in the table. We will be smarting from conceding a 94th minute goal at Cheltenham last week and will want that 100% run of ours to continue. But I know Aidy Boothroyd won't make it easy for us and I'm going for a close 2-1 win for AFC Wimbledon.