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Strength in depth and competition for places is Ardley's goal
Neal Ardley says AFC Wimbledon are slowly evolving into his team, with his ethos and his spirit for the fight.
The team that turned out for the 2-2 draw with the then League Two leaders Port Vale contained only three players – Jim Fenlon, Luke Moore and Jack Midson – who played in Ardley’s first game against Cheltenham in October.
However, while the Dons are taking on a new look – furthered by the acquisition of Harry Pell from Hereford, and the possible addition of up to three more names by the end of today – Ardley insists there is no big broom sweeping out the old school.
“We had a very strong bench for the Port Vale game, perhaps the strongest since I have been here, and that is what we want,” he said.
“We’re trying to create a really competitive squad, to the point where players who were in their comfort zone before are looking over their shoulder. We can see it in training, it has raised another two or three notches over the past couple of months.
“It has more quality, more ball retention and there are more people moaning when others are not doing their jobs properly, whereas that wasn’t the case before.”
With the influx of players – Ardley has recruited eight since taking over – there are players going the other way.
He said: “We’ve earmarked a few players who, if the right club comes along, can go for their own sakes because their chances are now limited.
“We don’t want a ridiculously large 30-man squad that we cannot work with on the training field. If we can get it down to about 24, then that would be about right.”
Ardley may be losing the services of Jonathan Meades sooner than he would hope. The midfielder’s loan ends after the Port Vale trip on Tuesday, however, he has been called up to the Wales U21 squad meaning this weekend’s visit of Burton Albion could be his last game in a Dons shirt.
Paul McCallum, who picked up an injury against Port Vale on Thursday, is touch and go for Burton, while Curtis Osano also remains a doubt.