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Ardley managing AFC Wimbledon in 2013
|Full name||Neal Christopher Ardley|
|Date of birth||1 September 1972|
|Place of birth||Epsom, Surrey, England|
|Height||5 ft 9 in (1.75 m)|
|AFC Wimbledon (manager)|
* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only.
Neal Christopher Ardley (born 1 September 1972 in Epsom) is an English former professional footballer who played as either a right-back or right midfielder. He is currently the manager of AFC Wimbledon, a position he has held since 10 October 2012. He was capped at Under-21 level by England. Ardley spent the majority of his career with Wimbledon, making his debut for them on 20 April 1991 at the age of 18 in a 2–1 away win over Aston Villa in the Football League First Division. He went on to make over 100 appearances for Watford before having spells at Cardiff City and Millwall. Ardley announced his retirement from professional football on 30 August 2007 after suffering a series of injuries. On the same day, Ardley announced that he would return to former club Cardiff City having been appointed manager of the Cardiff City Youth Academy.
Signed by Wimbledon as a youngster, whilst at Ashburton Community School, he made his way through the youth set up until breaking into the first team. Ardley made eight league appearances for Wimbledon in the 1991–92 season, featuring more prominently in the 1992–93 campaign, in which he played in 26 games and scored four goals in the inaugural season of the FA Premier League as the Dons finished 12th. Wimbledon finished 6th in the FA Premier League in 1993–94, matching the record highest ranking achieved by the club during their first ever season in the top flight during 1986–87. Ardley's contribution was more limited during this season, however, as he was selected to play in just 16 games. He scored just once in a 2–1 win over Sheffield Wednesday on 15 January 1994. He was in and out of the side for nearly a decade afterwards, remaining with the Dons after their relegation at the end of 1999–2000. Two more seasons followed as he unsuccessfully tried to help them regain their Premier League place, before he signed for Division One rivals Watford on a free transfer on 9 August 2002.
By the time Ardley left the club in 2002 he had played a total of 245 league games for Wimbledon, scoring 18 goals. He was their longest serving player by the time of his departure. His best campaign was arguably the 1996–97 season, where he missed just four league games, helped the Dons reach the semi-finals of both the FA Cup and the Football League Cup, and oversaw an excellent season in the league where they were rarely out of the top five until having to settle for 8th place in the final table.
Ardley announced his retirement from professional football on 30 August 2007 after a series of injuries. The same day he was appointed as manager of the Cardiff City academy. Ardley had started preparing for a manager's role at the early age of 24, when he took his first coaching badges before completing his training for the UEFA Pro coaching qualification in 2010. He impressed in the role by guiding several players through to the first-team squad, including highly rated pair Joe Ralls and Theo Wharton making the step-up. Ardley remained with the club for five years before being appointed as manager of Football League Two side AFC Wimbledon on 10 October 2012, with former Watford teammate Neil Cox being named as assistant manager on the same day.
On 2 December 2012, Ardley managed AFC Wimbledon in their first ever meeting with MK Dons, the football club formed via his former side Wimbledon's relocation to Milton Keynes. An injury-time goal saw AFC Wimbledon lose 2–1.
Ardley made additions to his squad during the January transfer window with Alan Bennett being the most notable. In March 2013, Ardley was nominated for npower League Two Manager of the Month following Wimbledon's unbeaten run. Going into the last match of the season Wimbledon were in 23rd place with only Aldershot Town below, however a 2–1 win at home to mid table Fleetwood Town saw Ardley lead Wimbledon to safety instead sending Barnet down.
For the start of his first season in charge he added a number of new faces which included the likes of Charlie Sheringham. The 2013-14 season started off very brightly for the Dons beating Wycombe Wanderers, Scunthorpe United, Fleetwood Town and Burton Albion in their first four home matches leaving AFC Wimbledon sat in a Play-Off position in September. Ardley saw his side slip further down the league in the coming months which included a run of one win in eight leading into the New Year, however it still saw the Dons in a remarkably more comfortable position then when Ardley first took charge.
Ardley strengthened his squad during June and into July with the signing of Matt Tubbs, Adebayo Akinfenwa and James Shea amongst anothers. AFC Wimbledon's first preseason friendly of 2014-15 was against Margate which saw Ardley come up against his predecessor Terry Brown. The match finished with a 3-0 defeat for Ardley's side.
As the season began, Ardley put faith in his summer signings with James Shea replacing last seasons number one Ross Worner. AFC Wimbledon began the season brightly with a draw at home to Shrewsbury Town which was succeeded by fine wins over Luton Town and Southend United both of which came away from home. The clubs first defeat in the league came after his side squandered a 1-0 lead at home to Hartlepool United to lose 2-1.
Ardley also managed AFC Wimbledon to their first ever victory against MK Dons on the 7th October 2014. They met for the third time in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy with goals from Adebayo Azeez, Sean Rigg and Adebayo Akinfenwa securing a 3-2 win for the Dons. It would become the season of cup run after he led the club to the FA Cup Third Round after beating Wycombe Wanderers. The reward for reaching the Third Round for the first time in the newly formed clubs history was a home game against Liverpool
- As of 24 November 2015
|AFC Wimbledon||10 October 2012||Present||163||50||49||64||30.67|
- "Sporting-Heroes". sporting-heroes.net. Retrieved 9 September 2013.
- "Leicester 1–1 Cardiff". BBC. 19 April 2005. Retrieved 17 January 2010.
- "Veteran midfielder Ardley retires". BBC Sport. 30 August 2007. Retrieved 30 August 2007.
- "New Appointment". Cardiff City. 30 August 2007. Retrieved 9 September 2013.
- "Former Dons player is back as our new boss". AFC Wimbledon. Retrieved 10 October 2012.
- "MK Dons 2–1 AFC Wimbledon". BBC Sport. 2 December 2012.
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