In Focus: AFC Wimbledon striker Joe Pigott

By br

What’s the best way to hit the ground running at a new football club? How about scoring just four minutes into your debut.  

Well that’s exactly what AFC Wimbledon striker Joe Pigott did when he found the back of the net in the Dons’ 2-0 home victory over Blackpool, following his move from National League side Maidstone United.

Joe’s 14 goals for The Stones this season made him a target amongst a host of league clubs, with Neal Ardley winning the race for the 24-year-old.

And although he may only be one game in, the League One outfit seem to have made a very wise investment.

THE EARLY YEARS

Charlton Athletic were the first club to spot Joe’s talents but he entered the academy set-up later than the majority of players in the professional game.

“I’ve always been quite a late bloomer,” said Joe. “I joined the club at 16 and went on from there.

“I got picked up, playing for my local side called Corinthians playing in the Kent League as a striker.

“I guess becoming a professional was always a dream as a kid; isn’t it every kid’s dream? But I was just having fun and playing football with my mates and I was lucky enough to make it my career. Hopefully it continues!

“I can’t say everything clicked one day, it’s just been a gradual build-up. As I said, I was quite a late bloomer, and was late coming in to the academy. I just focused on improving every day.”

The 6ft forward performed well at youth level for The Addicks where, under the guidance of now Luton Town boss Nathan Jones, his abilities were rewarded with a professional contract in 2012.

Joe had to wait until the start of the following season to get his chance in the senior side but he passed it with flying colours by scoring in a 4-0 win against Oxford United in the League Cup on his professional debut.

LEARNING THE GAME

Despite a perfect start, opportunities became difficult to come by at the South London club so, like a number of young players, Joe started to seek game time elsewhere.

This kick-started a string of mixed loan moves to a number of League Two clubs, including Gillingham, Newport County, Southend United and Luton Town.

“I enjoyed the experiences, but they were definitely tough.

“I guess they were beneficial when I look back now but there was quite a bit of frustration there when I wasn’t amongst the goals and not playing as much as I wanted to.

“I was just learning the game, and managed to play under different managers and coaches which helped me a lot.”

When discussing strikers you often hear phrases such as ‘minutes on the pitch’ and ‘a good run of games’, things that were clearly very important to Joe in the early part of his career.

In order to be able to achieve those goals, he had to willingly ply his trade further down the footballing pyramid. But after benefiting from his experiences, the goal-getter urges more young prospects to follow in his footsteps.

“I feel that I always want to play somewhere and dropping down the leagues was a good way to do it because it really benefited me to get the game time,” he said.

“Hopefully more people will look at me and are willing to do the same.”

The highlight of those temporary deals no doubt came at Southend United where, it’s fair to say, the name Joe Pigott will live long in the memory of Shrimpers fans.

Following a successful four months at Roots Hall, Joe jumped off the bench in the 2015 League Two Play-off Final against Wycombe Wanderers at Wembley.

With the Seasiders 1-0 down the fox in the box popped up with a goal in the dying seconds of extra-time, taking the game to penalties, where he smashed home in the 7-6 shoot-out win – a moment the hero admitted put him in “dreamland”.

HEADING HOME

Joe’s desire to contiute playing as many matches as possible saw him leave The Valley on a permanent basis in 2016, joining Cambridge United.

But following another successful loan spell – this time at his hometown club Maidstone – the striker leapt at the chance to sign for the National League side in the summer of 2017.

At the Gallagher Stadium the local boy hit the ground running, scoring on his league debut in August. After that, he didn’t look back.

By January, the 24-year-old scored 13 goals in all competitions and was looking the goal poacher many tipped him to be in his Charlton days.

“I don’t think Pigs should be at this level,” The Stones manager Jay Saunders told KentOnline in December.

“He’s a league player and I’m sure if he carries on doing what he’s doing there’ll be clubs looking at him.

“I’m sure there’ll be interest because he’s a young lad who’s scoring goals and he’s
got a bit of everything.”

A NEW CHALLENGE

Saunders was proved right when a deal was struck for Joe to step back up to the Football League with AFC Wimbledon – a switch his new boss, Neal Ardley, was delighted with.

“I’ve gone to watch Joe twice in the last 10 days and he has certainly got the quality for this level,” the Dons boss told the club’s website.

“He seems to have developed his all-round game massively from box to box. Inside the box has never been an issue; he looks to score goals and get in there.”

The frotnman is equally as excited to be now working under the experienced Ardley and showing the club’s loyle fanbase that he’ll be a positive addition.

“The lure of playing League One football at a big club, with a great manager was too much to turn down.

“I don’t have any personal goals, the only goal for me is to contribute and help the team stay in League One.”

Although relishing the big challenge now in front of him, Joe is full of gratitude to the club that allowed him to move to Kingsmeadow.

“I love Maidstone Football Club and I had a really good time there.

“I haven’t got a bad word to say about anyone at the club. They have been very good to me, especially the manager.”

 

And despite his recent on-pitch exploits making headlines in the Kent and South London area, the down-to-earth character is not getting too far ahead of himself.

“I’m probably in the best form of my career, but I put that down to the continuation of matches and getting on the team sheet.

“I do feel my game has come on personally in the last couple of seasons. I’ve basically played in every league now except the Premier League and I have learnt from those experiences.”

An interesting young player who is reaping the rewards of not being afraid to take himself out of his comfort zone, Joe Pigott’s aim now is to keep banging in the goals that will fire AFC Wimbledon to League One safety.

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