BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Joe Day has revealed one of the key people in him opting to join AFC Wimbledon – goalkeeping coach Ashley Bayes.
The 29-year-old arrived from Cardiff City in January and has kept three clean sheets in his first nine outings for the League One club.
And without Day between the posts the 5-0 mauling at Oxford United would have been worse, not to mention key saves in the 2-2 draw at high-flying Rotherham United.
“A massive factor in me coming here was Ashley,” said the former Crystal Palace youngster. “The work he’s done in the last couple of years with Aaron Ramsdale and George Long, I saw it as a great opportunity to work with someone who has brought on a couple of keepers recently.
“He has been so good with me – one of the best in the business.”
Day was signed by the Eagles at the age of nine – coming through the academy ranks at the same times as John Bostock, Sean Scannell and Victor Moses – but left at 16.
“They wanted to keep me on non-contract terms because I was quite a late developer physically,” said the Brighton-born stopper. “At 16 I was still a little boy. They thought I had potential, but size is of such importance to a lot of clubs.
“I had the chance to do a full scholarship at Rushden & Diamonds. I went over there for one day, saw how good the facilities were and bit their hand off.
“My childhood was spent at Crystal Palace. I had some really good goalkeeping coaches there, the main one being Adam Sells. He laid the foundations for the keeper I am today.
“The prospect of moving away from home and concentrating on my football had really big appeal for me. It was hard at the age of 16 but it was something I had to do to progress.
“Adam told me to go and get my foot in the door, he told me that if I was good enough I’d come through the football ranks.”
Day did exactly that. He played 241 matches for Newport County.
His final appearance was in May’s League Two play-off final loss to Tranmere Rovers, rejecting new terms at Rodney Parade to sign a two-year contract with Cardiff.
Newport manager Michael Flynn said at the time: “I cannot remember a better goalkeeper at the club.”
Day wanted to stay in the South Wales region for family reasons.
“I loved every minute of it at Newport,” he said. “I had some tough times and good times. I was number one, playing week in and week out. But the opportunity to progress up to a team like Cardiff doesn’t come around too often.
“I had a few options in the summer. I spoke to Michael and he was great with me, he even said himself: ‘You need to progress your career – you’re too good for this level’.
“I felt it was the right time to move. My family are quite settled in the area, I’ve got one-year-old twin daughters and a two-year-old boy.”
Day’s status was different at Cardiff – even before a managerial change saw ex-Millwall boss Neil Harris replace Neil Warnock.
“I was gutted to see the person who brought me into the club go but Neil Harris came in and he’s a great character,” said Day. “He’s a really good manager and I like him a lot.
“When it came to January it was obvious my chances of getting game time were pretty limited – he told me I needed to go and play some games, keep myself fresh.
“The strongest interest was from Wimbledon.
“My contract runs until the end of next season. It’s all going to hang on what happens this summer. They’ve got Neil Etheridge and Alex Smithies, two very good goalkeepers.
“Alex has got the shirt at the moment but you don’t know what is going to happen in the summer, no-one can predict anything.
“I don’t know what the future holds. I’m concentrating on doing well for Wimbledon and I’ll reassess in the summer.
“On a personal level it has gone really well. The first two games are hard to slot in as a goalkeeper because you’re a bit rusty. After that I got to the level I want to be performing at.
“The fanbase have been really supportive. I’m quite surprised, as soon as I first went in there they were right behind me with lots of positive comments. That only helps to improve the confidence of a player.”
Wimbledon are six points clear of the bottom three but have played two fixtures more than 21st-placed Tranmere Rovers.
“It is in our hands,” said Day. “The performance against Bolton wasn’t a classic, but we were still able to grind out a clean sheet to get us an invaluable point.
“The win the weekend before at Gillingham was brilliant, it also shows how vital it was with some of the results [of the lower-placed clubs] at the weekend.
“We’re building a solid platform. We’ve kept three clean sheets in the last six games and if you do that then you know you will get some kind of a return.”
Wimbledon are at Doncaster Rovers tomorrow.
Phots by Keith Gillard and Paul Edwards