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  • By Yann Tear at Plough Lane

Dons' gratitude overlooks dubious morals behind Iraqi striker's visit to Russia

Iraqi international Ali Al-Hamadi returned earlier than expected from international duty in Russia to help earn his club side a precious win that ended a frustrating run of 11 without a win.

For most at Plough Lane, there is only relief and gratitude that the 21-year-old striker raced back to London to help his team beat Walsall 2-0 on Tuesday night - not least his boss.

Yet while Johnnie Jackson commended Al-Hamadi for his professionalism in returning to the fold so quickly, there ought to be some disquiet at the player helping to add legitimacy to Russian sport at a time when Europe is taking a stand against a pariah nation for the invasion of Ukraine.

Representing his nation is an honour. Representing them in a match in St Petersburg at a time when both UEFA and FIFA have banned Russian clubs from official competition is morally controversial to say the least.

There is some extra irony in this too, because as Al-Hamadi was jetting off to Russia, the Dons were hosting the Ukraine national team at the Cherry Red Records stadium ahead of their match at Wembley against England.

Jackson, though, wanted to focus on the positive of his player's dash back to the UK - which would not have involved direct flights.

The Dons coach said: "He's done great to get back to us because originally we thought he wouldn't be back for tonight - that he wouldn't get back in the country until tomorrow - but he managed to get himself back after the game as quick as he could.

"He landed yesterday, having played 70 minutes on Sunday, so we had to be careful with him tonight. The temptation was to throw him in but Saikou [Janneh] did a great job for 60-70 minutes, so we were able to hold him back and obviously he came on and had an impact. It was a busy week for him.

"He's been brilliant. Not only his goals but his work-rate, his work ethic and his attitude. He's an unbelievable lad whose brought a lot to the changing room and to the pitch.

"He hasn't scored a load of goals in his career to date because of the various loans that he's had and the lack of opportunity. But we knew he'd be one who could score goals for us."

Al-Hamadi had to go off before the end, having taken a knock but could be involved against Rochdale at the weekend.

"He got a whack to his hip. It's a bit sore, but because it's impact, hopefully it's not too bad," Jackson said.

Will Nightingale's first goal for 18 months set the ball rolling and Jackson also had good things to say about the central defender, whose contribution was unambiguous - in contrast to Al-Hamadi.

"I'm delighted for Will too," the Dons boss said. "He deserved that. He's been through thick and thin with this football club. He epitomises what Wimbledon's about. He's had some tough moments, being out of the side injured but tonight he stepped up. A proper centre half, a proper man's performance."

Jackson was understandably relieved that the monkey is off the club's back after such a long fallow period without a win.

He said: "We'd waited a while. We needed it. There's no getting away from it. I think we've been incredibly unlucky at times. It's hard to believe we haven't picked up more points than we have in this run. We've been competitive in pretty much every game, even in defeat at times.

"I'm just pleased for everyone involved with the club because we needed the lift.

"We stuck to our game plan and continued to press and create and got the goals that we deserved. And I thought we defended our lead really well and I thought it was a deserved win tonight."


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