Paul Kalambayi determined to rip up the script surrounding AFC Wimbledon

Paul Kalambayi wants to change the narrative around AFC Wimbledon’s fighting relegation and create history by helping the club finish in their highest ever league position.

Dulwich-born Kalambayi played his second full 90 minutes of the season on Saturday, returning to the starting line-up after missing the previous four games in League One due to a quad injury.

The 22-year-old, who has made more than 60 appearances for the South Londoners since he made his first-team debut in 2017, progressed through the club’s academy and captained the U23 side.

Speaking to the South London Press following the 2-2 draw against Sheffield Wednesday, Kalambayi said: “We had to dig deep and show our fighting spirit.

“I’m so pleased with the lads. The fighting spirit that we showed to come back from that [being 2-0 down] just shows the mentality around the group – shows that selfless aspect of never accepting that we’re beaten and keeping on pushing until we came back. In the end, the game could have gone either way, so 2-2 is a fair result.

“We had a great week training – it’s been intense. Today, especially in the first half, I was pleased because, apart from the goal, it reflected how hard we worked during the week. To come back just shows the talent within the group and that we have that mentality and personal attributes to help the team come back.”

While Wimbledon are winless in their previous six fixtures, the past two home performances against Burton and Wednesday rekindled the fighting spirit from the opening stages of the season. And Kalambayi believes that his side is getting closer to clicking and getting back to winning ways.

“I feel as if we had a great start. We’re still doing alright, but for where we want to be and the levels that we have shown that we can get to in training, there is still a bit more that we have yet to show. When it clicks, we can go on that run. But we are getting closer.

“The league is tough this year, so in respect of other clubs, we’re standing our ground. We have still got a bit more to go, and when we click, we can get that run going. We have still got more to learn, and there is still room for improvement. As long as we can go out there, be the best version of ourselves, and get to the levels we set in training, we can push on even more.

“My personal goals are to help the team finish higher than we have ever done before – there has got to be more respect on Wimbledon. In this league, it’s not about the money. Everyone thinks it is, but it’s not.

“We have the perfect coach who is always challenging us, always improving us, and we are willing learners. We have got to prove everyone wrong. Everyone is used to Wimbledon fighting relegation, but we want to change the script now – we are not a relegation team. We have got to make sure we push on and finish higher than we ever have before.”

Despite only having four days of training prior to the game, Kalamabyi was thrust into the starting line-up alongside Ben Heneghan due to Will Nightingale being ruled out for up to four months – and he hopes he can do his part for the side while the centre-back is sidelined.

“It was tough. I had to dig deep, but I always mentally and physically prepare myself to be in the best shape possible. For me, it was head down, do everything I could to help my team-mates. I dug deep and played the whole 90 minutes.

“He had been playing so well,” said Kalambayi on Nightingale. “As a centre half, I am with the unit. If I am playing, I’ll do a job. If I am not playing, I’ll still encourage and do my part. Now that I am in, I’ll do my part. Hopefully, Will gets back soon.”

 

PICTURE: KEITH GILLARD

 


 

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