BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Ryan Longman wants to use his loan stay at AFC Wimbledon to prove he is ready for men’s football – and boost his chances of making the grade at Brighton.
The 20-year-old is following in the footsteps of Albion midfielder Max Sanders, who spent last season on loan with the League One club.
And Longman, signed by the Sussex club at the age of 10, is getting the competitive action he craves.
He has started 11 of their first 15 matches in all competitions – only not featuring twice, and one of those was against Brighton U23s in the EFL Trophy.
If Longman had not made a temporary switch away from the South Coast then he could have been lining up against Glyn Hodges’ men. Instead he is testing himself week in and week out in England’s third tier.
“It has been a bit of an eye opener,” said Longman. “You are just there to win and you are there to do a job.
“At U23 level everyone likes to play a possession game and move the ball about. In League One you get teams who want to do that but also just smash it long. You get variety of play, that’s one of the biggest differences [to development football]. It means you don’t always know what to expect.”
Longman made his senior debut for Brighton against the Dons in a 2-0 victory at Kingsmeadow in September 2019.
His performance that evening aroused the interest of Hodges.
“He wanted me in January but I had a few injuries last season and it just didn’t quite work out,” said Longman. “I did my ligaments in my right ankle twice in the same year and I was out for about six or seven months. I think I only played six games last season.
“I spoke to Max and he said it was a great club with a good atmosphere and the right kind of dressing room.
“So when I was allowed out on loan this season Wimbledon ticked all the boxes. It is also close to home and I didn’t really want to move too far away. Everything seemed to be right to come here.”
Longman also came on as a 58th-minute substitute in the 3-1 EFL Cup defeat to Aston Villa last season in front of a crowd of 14,982 at the Amex Stadium.
But there have been no supporters in stadiums since March due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Longman started Wimbledon’s first game at their new Plough Lane stadium – a 2-2 draw against Doncaster Rovers – which would have enjoyed an electric atmosphere in more normal times.
“To be fair it has kind of felt like playing in U23 games,” said the loanee. “Because the atmosphere is pretty similar. Not many people come to watch those matches either.
“It doesn’t feel a lot different, maybe that has helped me settle in better. Hopefully the fans will be allowed back in soon.”
Longman signed a two-year contract extension with Brighton before hooking up with the Dons.
He has predominantly played up top at Wimbledon and scored three goals as well as collecting one assist.
“Before I had played on the right or left of midfield. I hadn’t played much as a striker, but it’s good to have variety and also the versatility in another position.
“It’s been a good start on a personal level and I’m just enjoying it. After struggling to play last season that was my only target when I came to Wimbledon. I just wanted to get my head down, work hard and play.”
The Dons are set to resume their campaign at Rochdale tomorrow after an enforced break due to a number of positive Covid-19 tests in their camp. It could mean them playing three games in the space of six days if they beat Barrow in their rescheduled FA Cup first round tie.
Wimbledon’s squad had not been able to train together until yesterday.
“I’ve still got a lot more to give and show – I’m looking forward to getting back into the games,” said Longman. “I’ve just been trying to keep my fitness routine going.
“All the boys have kept fit over the two weeks they’ve had off. I think we’ll be fine, we’ve got good depth to the squad to play all the games.”
Longman was picked up by Brighton after impressing as a junior for Perrywood, who are based in Horley.
“Our team had gone the whole season unbeaten and we went to a tournament down in Brighton,” he recalled.
“There was a scout there from the club who knew about us. I was a winger and scored a hat-trick in the game he came to watch.
“I went on a six-week trial and they signed me after that. I never had a team I supported. As a youngster I wasn’t really into football that much and my parents weren’t big into it – I just enjoyed playing it. I fell in love with the game.”
Former Rangers and Scotland defender David Weir is Brighton’s pathway development manager and is just a phone call away.
“We speak on a weekly basis for a catch up and to make sure everything is going well – in football or out of football,” said Longman. “We used to get a coffee, but we can’t do that now.
“There are still plenty of people I keep in contact with at Brighton. During those two weeks where we weren’t playing they were asking if I needed any help with my programme. They want to make sure you’re doing the right things.
“Ben Smith, my coach at U16 level, was a big influence. He changed my style of play – gave me more tools in the locker. It was little things, like my movement off the ball and with the ball.
“Simon Rusk is my U23 coach and he helped me become more clinical. He helped me with the transition into men’s football.”
PHOTOS: SEAN GOSLING & KEITH GILLARD
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