Pompey’s potential Wembley rivals set for battle

Wimbledon boss Neal Ardley

Wimbledon boss Neal Ardley

Paul Cook. Picture: Joe Pepler

Pompey face losing Cook

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Pompey’s potential Wembley foes go head-to-head tonight as League Two’s other play-off semi-final between AFC Wimbledon and Accrington Stanley gets under way at Kingsmeadow (7.30pm).

And Dons boss Neal Ardley believes there is plenty of positivity among his underdogs as they look to topple fourth-placed Stanley.

‘Preparations have gone well with the training and atmosphere among the boys,’ he said.

‘The atmosphere is great, even with the players who think they may not be starting.

‘I’ve been trying to put together a team like this for a couple of years and it has been hard.

‘We’ve had a better budget this season and we’ve tried to spend it wisely.

‘We had a big meeting in the summer with all the staff to try and see what promotion looked like and what we thought we needed.’

The Dons had an inconsistent first half to the campaign but won seven of the final 10 games to secure seventh spot with a six-point cushion over nearest challengers Leyton Orient.

Ardley added: ‘That showed real progress.

‘We are just trying to give enough focus to the game, without killing the boys with it every minute of the day.’

Accrington travel to the Dons on the back of a disappointing final day of the regular season which saw them miss out on going up after drawing at home to Stevenage to drop out of the top three on goal difference.

Stanley boss John Coleman is now faced with the task of putting last weekend’s failure to one side and will be looking to book a place at Wembley following the return leg at the Crown Ground on Wednesday.

‘A lot of people have said, “You would have taken play-offs at the start of the season”, and I wouldn’t,’ Coleman told the club’s website.

‘When we played Burnley in pre-season I made a statement that we have got a good enough team to be promoted automatically and I stand by that.

‘But, for whatever reason, we haven’t scored enough goals or conceded too many.

‘The one thing I would have taken is 85 points as nine out of 10 times that would have been enough to go straight up.

‘And 85 points, for this squad of players, is a remarkable achievement. Whatever happens, this is a something they should be proud of.

‘We are going into a mini-league now. We finished above all of them so we have a great chance.’

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