Joe Pigott interview: AFC Wimbledon striker discusses impressive form, Plough Lane return and cycling regime

Sky Sports exclusive: Joe Pigott discusses his impressive form this season, AFC Wimbledon's return to Plough Lane and his hopes of taking his career to the next level

Joe Pigott knows a thing or two about scoring important goals.

The striker is in the form of his career for AFC Wimbledon at the moment, but our conversation first turns back to six years ago to a big day at Wembley.

Then aged 22, Pigott was on loan at Southend when he came on in the League Two play-off final in 2015, scoring an equaliser with virtually the last kick of the game.

"I was a bit annoyed I didn't start the game!" he tells Sky Sports. "But I came on after about 60 minutes and managed to sneak the equaliser in the last second of extra-time.

"It was a huge moment and we went on to win on penalties. The atmosphere was incredible."

Image: Pigott celebrates winning the League Two play-off final with Southend in 2015

Fast forward to late 2020 and Pigott was celebrating another milestone goal for his current club - grabbing the first at the new Plough Lane.

It was in November that Pigott struck against Doncaster on Wimbledon's return to their spiritual home. It should have been a moment almost as big as a last-gasp Wembley final equaliser, but on this occasion there were no fans there to see it.

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It's been a tough year for all clubs in the Football League, and the absence of fans is felt keenly everywhere. But this felt a particularly cruel moment for a fan base that has been through more than most to be denied of.

"When you look back at moments of your career the thing you remember most is the atmosphere at that time, but unfortunately there wasn't much of one," says Pigott.

"It was obviously a really nice moment to score the first goal at the ground, but it would have been so different. Still, it's a nice thing to have on my CV!

Image: Pigott scored the first goals for AFC Wimbledon back at Plough Lane

"We have moved into a brand new stadium but it still has not had any fans in it. It's been a major disappointment in that way. It's great to play there because we know what it means to the club, but it will not feel right until the fans are back.

"You have not got the crowd urging you on in the final minutes. It benefits some teams and not others. The intensity does come out of the game sometimes when you do not have fans there. More teams are sitting off this season rather than going at it and pressing. We need the fans back and the atmosphere."

The goals Pigott scored that night against Doncaster were two of 11 he mas managed this season. An impressive return for a club currently sat in the League One relegation zone.

Pigott is essential to AFC Wimbledon's fortunes. The four assists he also has means he has been involved in 57.7 per cent of their goals this season, a significantly higher ratio than any other player in the third tier.

He is currently well on track to beat his own personal best tally for a league season - the 15 he scored in 2018/19 - and puts his improvements this campaign down to the work he did during the first national lockdown last year.

"I got really into cycling," he says. "I was going out for rides in the Kent countryside nearly every day on some really nice routes. I was doing about 130 miles a week.

"There was not much else to do other than get as fit as I can. It was a massive thing for me. Not that I was in bad shape physically before! But I think it has brought another 10-20 per cent out of my game this season."

Pigott started his career in the Championship with Charlton, but by 2017 - not long after his play-off final heroics - he had dropped down to Maidstone in the National League in search of first-team football.

He sees that period as the making of him in many ways, though. It got him his move to AFC Wimbledon and now he believes he has what it takes to kick on even further. The confidence is there in his own ability to play at as high a level as he can.

"My numbers are the best they have ever been at this stage of a season," he says. "I think I am playing the best football of my career now, but I know I have got a lot more to give and improve upon. I'm 27 now but I think I will still be getting better right into my 30s as a player.

"As a striker you have got to be as adaptable as possible to the team you are playing in. I just have to put myself about and play to the way the team suits.

"At Wimbledon it is quite direct so it's about staying in the box and occupying centre-halves. But I think I could play any role a striker needs to play, whether it's as a No 9 or a No 10.

"I love scoring, but I also love creating and taking risks on the ball. It might not be as good as scoring a goal, but there is a real satisfaction in playing the right pass at the right time and setting up a team-mate."

For now he is hoping to get AFC Wimbledon out of trouble. He also hopes the fans will be back at Plough Lane one day seeing them play at League One level.

"The start of the season was really positive," he says. "We were good going forward, and I hope we can get back to that as soon as we can and have a good second half of the season.

"It seems like lapses of concentration are costing us at the moment and we keep giving easy goals away. We just need to go on a run and see where it takes us. The league is so tight at the moment that winning a few on the bounce would put us right back in mid-table. That's the aim.

"For me I would just like to get past 15 goals and see what happens. Hopefully, as a team we can improve and obviously that will help me, too."

If Pigott does reach his goals then AFC Wimbledon will have every chance of doing the same.

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