Gareth Ainsworth knows his side face a tough challenge in overcoming a rejuvenated AFC Wimbledon side on Saturday, with Wally Downes hoping to mastermind a great escape of his own in the opposition dugout.
The Dons looked destined for a return to League 2 after a dismal start to the current campaign, collecting 14 points from 20 games before Downes’ arrival as manager, but his first victory in charge – the 2-1 win at Adams Park in December – galvanised the club who now sit just one point adrift of safety, with only one defeat in their 10 matches.
A draw or victory would see Wanderers complete their survival mission with one game to spare, but Ainsworth – who watched on as Wimbledon rescued a point at the death at leaders Luton on Tuesday – know that will be easier said than done.
“They looked strong defensively, and resilient all over the pitch,” he said. “They lost a couple of players to injury but made changes to keep themselves in the game and scoring two at Luton shows they’re a strong side on good form.
“Wally’s turned the club around; he’s done a fantastic job. They looked dead and buried at one stage, but make no mistake about it – we’ll need to be at our best, be competitive, and make sure we stay in the game at all times to get anything from it.
“We’ve had a good run as well, with two wins from three, and only one goal conceded. We’ve always been putting the performances in and it’s been nice to get the wins to go with it. We stayed focused throughout that difficult period and managed to get ourselves to 50 points, but we want six more points from these last two games to finish the season off and make sure we’re in League 1 next year.
“It would be a major achievement – this club hasn’t survived in League 1 since 2002/03 – and we know it’s in our hands. The last three games have put us on a high and now we just need to look after ourselves, not worry about anyone else, and go out there and do it.”
Ainsworth says his side have had the opportunity to catch breath and recover from the busy Easter weekend, ready for one final push against Wimbledon and Fleetwood.
“Our philosophies are always there, we know how we play, so there’s only so much training we can do in that respect. It’s more a case of making sure we can get the energy back into the boys’ legs for these two huge battles in front of us.
“Our medical team do a fantastic job of getting the boys recovered and prepared for the next match, and we’ll be doing everything we can to make sure everyone’s in top condition.”
And his team will be spurred on by a sold-out away end as well as a packed Caledonian Suite back at Adams Park, watching a live beamback of the crucial match.
“The fans have been brilliant all the way through, coming out in their numbers to support the team. When that goal went in against Walsall, it was one of the biggest roars of the season. We can feel their support, and I just want to say thank you to everyone who’ll be there at Wimbledon getting behind us. Hopefully there’ll be a big turnout at home as well the following week against Fleetwood, and we’ll be able to show the mutual respect and appreciation for everyone who’s played their part in what’s been a fantastic season for the club, whatever happens.”