Club locked in relegation battle

icon afcwimb24 January ~ Wimbledon fans, who spent much of Wednesday clearing snow from the Kingsmeadow pitch, will be hoping that the players match that effort on it in tonight's televised clash with Port Vale. While Vale go into the match as league leaders, the Dons start the game in the relegation zone – one point and one place above bottom team Bristol Rovers. Despite a relatively promising start to the New Year, with seven points from three games, Wimbledon have managed a measly two wins at home all season.

Only one of those has come under rookie-manager Neal Ardley, against the aforementioned Rovers. Ardley knows that if Wimbledon are to continue as a League club next season, they will need to drastically improve on this record.

Having enjoyed a well-documented five promotions in nine seasons, relegation from the Football League would be a blow to the club. Wimbledon benefit immensely from their high profile at this level in terms of television coverage – this will be their third time on Sky since promotion to the League – and sponsorship deals, with new stand and shirt sponsors being unveiled tonight. Not only could untold damage be done to the club's short-term health but also its longer-term ambitions of returning to the borough of Merton, at a new ground on the site of the Greyhound Stadium in Plough Lane.

Following the sacking of Terry Brown, Ardley and assistant Neil Cox have gone some way to addressing Wimbledon's defensive frailties by recruiting former Scotland goalkeeper Neil Sullivan to add some much-needed organisational experience at the back. However, the team is still prone to giving away soft goals and with Port Vale having recently brought in Lee Hughes to partner the free-scoring Tom Pope in attack, it could be another testing night for Dons defenders and fans alike.

Wimbledon themselves have been far less potent in front of goal of late, with Jack Midson failing to recreate last season's goal-scoring exploits and record signing Byron Harrison spending as much time on the treatment table as on the pitch. West Ham loanee Paul McCallum has weighed in with four goals in the last three games and the extension of his loan may prove critical for survival.

Chris Hussey and Peter Sweeney have both joined from League One sides and Ardley is looking to bring in a couple more before deadline day. Not only would an unlikely win in front of the TV cameras lift the club out of the relegation zone but it might also help Ardley attract a few more players to the cause. Shane Simpson

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