Will Nightingale has urged everyone connected with AFC Wimbledon to believe they can win their relegation battle.
The Dons dropped to the League One basement after Saturday’s 2-0 loss at Charlton Athletic – with the gap to safety standing at six points.
Nightingale joined the South London club at the age of nine. The 23-year-old centre-back has captained Wimbledon in the last two matches.
“We all believe we’re a good team,” he said. “There have been times we have matched sides but also games where we have let our standards go.
“It’s not been good enough, all the boys are under no illusions about that. But we also feel we are more than good enough to get ourselves out of this mess.
“We have to believe there is a way, whether we do it or not. Some of the games we have not had big decisions go our way – like penalty calls – which can make a big difference. I’m not sure if before we have got wrapped up with that and looked for something to blame.
“We’ve also probably been naive at certain times and that becomes worse when things are beginning to roll badly.”
New Dons manager Wally Downes has handed Nightingale the armband in the absence of Deji Oshilaja (ankle injury).
“I’ve captained the club before in the cups and I also did it two or three years ago in a pre-season friendly,” said the Wandsworth-born defender. “It is a massive, massive honour for me. I’ve been here my whole life and I’m a local boy – I know a lot of the fans and people with an affinity to the club.
“But at the same time I don’t want to dwell on that because there is a job to do. I don’t believe the story here is finished. I think the rise is still going to happen. We need to stop talking and get out of this situation – make it happen. The whole attention is on the job at hand.”
Nightingale’s outlook is the same when it comes to the managerial change. Neal Ardley stepped down last month after more than six years with the Dons – during which time they had won promotion from League Two and had two successive campaigns at a higher level.
“It shows if you do well then the board are loyal and the club don’t want to get rid of you,” said Nightingale. “He has been the only manager I have known. It is hard for me, I can’t really compare him to anyone else.
“I’m excited for the challenge with the new gaffer and Glyn [Hodges, assistant manager] coming in.
“The main thing for me, above anything else, is the club. I don’t mean any disrespect to Neal Ardley or anyone, Neal is the sort of man who would agree. I’m sure he’ll go on to great things and have a good managerial career at Notts County.
Teenage winger Tyler Burey made his Football League debut at Charlton on Saturday. The second-half substitute, 17, was a bright spot and showed no signs of being overawed at The Valley.
“At that point we were 1-0 down and we decided we have got to raise it,” said Nightingale. “It shouldn’t take that scoreline to kick us up the backside a little bit.
“Tyler came on and I thought he was great. He had a positive impact and gave it a good go.
“He almost played with no fear. It is hard sometimes to do that as an older player because everything is on the line for a lot of our boys. Sometimes emotions and nerves get caught up in it. We need to take a bit of a leaf out of his book and forget about the bad times and start to make a positive impact.”
Nightingale politely sidesteps a question about his own long-term future. Wimbledon do not make the contract situations of players public knowledge.
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