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It is Monday morning at AFC Wimbledon’s training base and as the squad filter up the clubhouse stairs to the sound of the 80s before a team meeting, it is hard to believe they lost their last match. An eclectic playlist of songs picked by all players and staff, from Rapper’s Delight to Bob Marley’s back catalogue, booms from the speakers and last week the head coach, Mark Robinson, added another hit into the mix. “I was listening to Heart 80s and Kool & The Gang’s Let’s Go Dancin’ came on,” he says.
“In the office everyone just started dancing. I thought it might make a bit of an anthem, win a game, get that playing after. I want people to enjoy coming to work.”
Wimbledon are on the fringes of the League One play-off places after an impressive start but have this week shifted their focus to their visit to Arsenal in the Carabao Cup third round. If they score at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday there is a good chance it will stem from a set piece.
They have managed nine goals from set pieces so far this season – more than any other team in the top four tiers – and it is no coincidence. One of Robinson’s first decisions on taking permanent charge in February was to appoint the academy coach Andy Parslow as restarts coach, a role focused on throw-ins, free-kicks and corners, for and against.
“Make sure you give me a shout out,” Will Nightingale says, grinning, as he heads on to the training pitches. The defender is a shining example of hard work coming to fruition. He has four goals from set pieces this season, eclipsing his tally of three across the previous six years. “My missus is sick of me pausing corners on TV, rewinding and then watching them back,” Parslow says, smiling.
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Inspired by Liverpool’s throw-in coach, Thomas Grønnemark, he spent the first lockdown analysing Wimbledon’s corners on InStat – he watched every one from the halted 2019-20 season – and compared their conversion rate (just under 2.5%) with their league rivals’.
Whenever Wimbledon or the opposition have a set piece, Parslow can be seen orchestrating things from the technical area. “We are not wild and wacky, it is just about being effective.”