BY RICHARD CAWLEY
AFC Wimbledon are still waiting for a first League One win of the season, but Callum Reilly knows about being at a club in real turmoil.
The midfielder joined the Dons at the end of July on a two-year contract as his Gillingham contract, which still had 12 months to run, was terminated by mutual consent.
But before that Reilly was on Bury’s books. The Shakers were expelled from the EFL on August 29 as the governing body ran out of patience with owner Steve Dale’s inability to conclude a sale.
It means that Wimbledon are now in a 23-team division – and there is one less relegation spot.
Former Republic of Ireland U21 international Reilly, 25, had moved to Gigg Lane when Stewart Day was in control of the purse strings – tempted by the chance to work again with Lee Clark, his boss at Birmingham City.
“It was an experience I hadn’t had before,” said Reilly. “I had been at clubs like Birmingham and Burton before who had both been run very well.
“But there we were getting paid late or not correctly. The lads were asking questions: ‘Where is this and that?’ I was a bit shocked by it. It threw me a little bit. I didn’t think it was right and it wasn’t getting any better.
“I had a two-year deal but only stayed six months before I got out on loan to Gillingham.
“Unfortunately a lot of lads and staff I know were still there. Good people on the coaching and playing side – it is so disappointing and a huge shame. It wasn’t run right from the start, there were issues going on behind the scenes.”
Solihull-based Reilly’s escape route was to Kent. But a change of manager at Gillingham in the summer – Steve Lovell replaced by Steve Evans – meant he was back on the move.
“Sometimes circumstances change,” he said. “I was a long way from home. A new manager came through the door and made it pretty clear he wanted to bring other people in – that’s absolutely fair enough.
“Pre-season went well and I’m sure if I’d stayed there I’d have had an opportunity to force my way in. But at my age now it was not a time to wait around.
“I’ve come to AFC Wimbledon to play.
“I spoke to Wally Downes and got on well with him. I also knew a couple of the lads here already – Scott Wagstaff and Luke O’Neill.
“I wanted to make the right decision. I had other options which were closer to home but I want to make sure I play as high as I can and the best football possible.
“The new stadium is coming as well, that was also a bit of a seller.
“I prefer playing more of a central role. Under Steve Lovell [at Gillingham] I played left in a diamond and I was kind of getting the best of both sides – making sure I was defensively in the right place and trying to get forward and add to that side of things.
“I like to set the tone with my tackles and be involved as high up the pitch as possible to start attacks.
“I’m versatile. If I’m needed in other positions then I’m willing to do that.”
Reilly has two assists for Wimbledon – the latest of those coming in Saturday’s 2-1 loss at Milton Keynes as substitute Marcus Forss headed home just five minutes after coming on.
“It was a brilliant finish,” said Reilly, who signed for Birmingham at the age of seven. “When I got the ball I noticed everyone was close to me but I could see him in the box.
“I knew I had to give it a little bit to try and get it around. He’s made great movement to pull off in the first instance – to get space from three defenders – and then done very well with the header.
“It gave us a chance in the last five or 10 minutes but unfortunately we couldn’t capitalise on it.
“In the first half we were very, very disappointed with aspects of that. We still had chances. Unfortunately we didn’t quite put them away.
“Paul [Kalambayi] had a chance at the end but the defender was more experienced – he lent in and just put a bit of a jog on him to put him off balance. It is a learning curve for the young players.
“We are creating a lot of chances and I’d like to think that we will put quite a few away and give somebody a bit of a hiding – hopefully sooner rather than later.”
This is Wimbledon’s worst start to a campaign since winning promotion to the EFL in 2011.
“I’ve been in teams that have struggled and we haven’t really deserved anything – but there are a lot of games this season we haven’t got what we deserved,” said Reilly. “We’ve been naive or switched off for a couple of minutes – against Fleetwood, Ipswich and Rotherham – and it has cost us.
“We should have got more from what we have put into games. It is important that we stay upbeat because there have been those good elements.
“If we keep working hard it will turn for us.”
Reilly played 66 times for Birmingham. He was one of seven teenagers in one of Clark’s 18-man squads in Christmas 2012 – the likes of Jack Butland, Nathan Redmond and Ravel Morrison also getting game time.
“When you are a young player at any club – especially Championship level nowadays where there is money – you do need a break,” said Reilly.
“You want to be playing football where you need to put points on the board in games that actually matter to the fans.
“It doesn’t matter if it is forced initially – you still have to be good enough or you won’t be involved again.
“I owe Lee Clark a lot for the faith he showed in me.”
Main Pic: Paul Edwards
Other Pics: Keith Gillard
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