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Neal Ardley’s Wimbledon continue to scrabble away in their battle for League One safety, and the former winger’s capture of Joe Pigott looks to already be a shrewd signing.
A debut goal meant that the £25,000 gamble paid dividends, and sealed an oh-so-important victory over Blackpool. Ardley has realised that attempting to turn a long-ball team into a possession-based side won’t work at the wrong end of League One. Route one tends to be the way to go in the third tier.
Joe Pigott’s arrival has sparked a tactical alteration, and, despite his substitute appearance against Blackpool, the problems the former Charlton man caused with his height will surely mean that he will start in the coming games.
In their promotion campaign in League Two, Ardley had four strikers to choose from: two who were renowned for getting in behind: Lyle Taylor and Ade Azeez, while he had the physical options in Tom Elliott and the infamous Adebayo Akinfenwa. Last term, he had the two strikers who would get in behind, Dom Poleon and Taylor, while Elliott and Tyrone Barnett would do the dirty work in the aerial battle.
Ex-West Ham target man Carlton Cole is training with the strugglers, but with his injury problems and Championship interest from relegation-threatened Hull City and Birmingham City, the Dons may turn to other targets (quite literally).
So who could fill that fourth striking spot?
John Akinde (Barnet)
Akinde would be the obvious choice in this situation. He is a goal-scoring machine and has proved his EFL status with his stashes of goals at Barnet. But with the Bees struggling to stay afloat in League two, they could be tempted by a big bid for their talisman to set them up for the second half of their fight against the drop. Akinde’s arrival would pile the pressure on Taylor and McDonald, forcing them to up their games to challenge for a start. One drawback however, could be Akinde’s dismal injury record, which could mean that Ardley isn’t willing to take an expensive risk.
Jayden Antwi (Farnborough, on loan from AFC Wimbledon)
Another man Wimbledon and Ardley could turn to is their own academy product, who wouldn’t cost a penny to bring in. Jayden Antwi scores for fun at under-23 level for the Dons’ development sides, and has been partnered in recent weeks by the famous face of Carlton Cole.
Standing at 6’0” and relatively strong, it’s not as if Antwi isn’t already a physical presence. Renowned for being the complete forward, Antwi combines pace with power to terrorise defences, and if he were to start training as a target man then Wimbledon could have one of the best young players outside of the Premier League in their ranks.
He has been linked with Derby County and Sheffield United over the past year, but with Antwi’s future set to blossom it is imperative that Ardley keeps his man. With all the hype surrounding “The Ginger Messi” Alfie Egan, Antwi’s development has gone under the radar somewhat. But if Ardley were to wangle the youngster into the squad, he could well have a headache in his striking options come next season.
If Antwi produces the goods on loan at Farnborough, it would be no surprise to see him suddenly break through into Ardley’s first team plans.
Adebayo Akinfenwa (Wycombe Wanderers)
The Beast is a fans’ favourite at Kingsmeadow and Dons supporters were gutted to see him leave before their maiden League One season. Perhaps a cheeky bid may tempt Gareth Ainsworth to sell the veteran, who causes a stir to any defence on a match day. The big man would re-energise the dressing room with his personality, and his big name status could be a driving force in propelling the Dons to safety. However, with 13 goals and 7 assists to his name, Akinfenwa may be too valuable for former Don Ainsworth to lose, especially with Wycombe pushing for promotion out of League Two.
Jayden Stockley (Exeter City)
Another League Two journeyman who deserves his crack at the third tier. He stands tall at 6’3”, and the former Bournemouth striker has been performing excellently for Paul Tisdale’s side this term, firing the Grecians to 5th in the table, nestled into a play-off spot. After some fantastic performances, that have yielded 9 goals and 3 assists, Stockley has become a crucial part of Exeter’s play-off push. A large offer may be hard to turn down for Tisdale, but Ardley should look at the qualities Stockley possesses in abundance and take notice, as I’m sure many League One managers have already.
Tom Pope (Port Vale)
It may not have worked out for him at Bury, but Pope has rediscovered his scoring touch back at his old stomping ground. The Vale flounder near the bottom two in the basement division, and Pope’s goals are the only thing between them and the dreaded dotted line. Another ideal target man for Neal Ardley, and, at 32, he’d be perfectly suitable for a short-term deal that Wimbledon usually offer. He would add a mature presence to the dressing room, along with bucket loads of experience.
Atdhe Nuhiu (Sheffield Wednesday)
The Kosovo international is a scary-looking figure at 6’6”. His sheer height advantage proves his aerial dominance and he’s not half strong either. Nuhiu may prove to be the most unlikely of players on this shortlist to join the Dons, but with the target man seemingly out of favour at Hillsborough then perhaps a loan deal for the Austrian-born striker could boost his confidence. His salary could present a stumbling block, however, but if Ardley uses his charm and negotiating skills he could possibly pull this deal off.