A much-improved second-half display from Wimbledon was not enough to avoid elimination from the Checkatrade Trophy tonight.
The Dons were 2-0 down at the break and though Tyrone Barnett reduced the deficit, Brighton held on for a 2-1 victory after having Kazenga Lua Lua sent off with two minutes left.
It meant that Wimbledon exited the competition at the last-32 stage in front of a crowd of 497 spectators.
Despite making changes for this tie, every outfield player selected in Wimbledon’s starting 11 had featured in League One this season. Championship club Brighton’s starting 11 contained a mixture of players from their Under-23 side and more experienced first-teamers including Kazenga Lua Lua and Rohan Ince.
The Dons made a bright start and there was a chance inside 10 minutes to open the scoring when Tom Beere got down the right and crossed for Dominic Poleon, but his shot from close-range was deflected just wide. Brighton took time to warm to the task, but they did have a decent effort on goal just before the half hour when Richie Towell tried his luck from just outside the area, but Joe McDonnell watched it flash wide.
Seth Owens, who was gaining more first-team experience after making his senior bow in the competition, produced a brilliant cross from the left that deserved a goal, but Tyrone Barnett’s header was deflected wide by Rob Hunt. Brighton had started to offer more threat as the first-half wore on and Lua Lua struck an effort on goal that McDonnell did well to hold. However, there was no chance for McDonnell in the 39th minute when Will Collar crossed from the right and Elvis Manu swept the ball home from close-range.
Wimbledon had a great chance to equalise almost immediately when Poleon was put clean through, but Brighton keeper Niki Maenpaa saved superbly. With the match entering first-half injury-time, a 1-0 half-time deficit would have been far from insurmountable, but the task became much harder when Brighton were awarded a penalty. Though no one appealed for it, referee Charlie Breakspear spotted an infringement in the box with Ben Hall apparently fouled and Towell converted from 12 yards.
With the Dons needing to find more attacking momentum to get back into it, Neal Ardley made a double change with Tom Elliott and Jake Reeves replacing Dominic Poleon and Dean Parrett. The changes breathed new life into Wimbledon and the hosts pushed Brighton back deeper and deeper. Pressure started to yield chances midway through the second-half and it was young midfielder Alfie Egan who so nearly brought Wimbledon back into it. The Dons academy product struck a fine effort from just outside the area that was deflected and Maenpaa tipped it onto the crossbar.
Fresh from his vital contribution at Curzon Ashton, Barnett was full of confidence and he struck a brilliant volley that Maenpaa did well to save. However, Barnett did not have to wait long to make it two goals in as many games when he was in the right place to tap home after great work down the right by Elliott. A decent Dons move created a chance for an equaliser when Chris Whelpdale headed on for Elliott and he crossed for Tom Beere, but his shot was wide. At the other end, Brighton threatened to seal it when Lua Lua powered forward and tried his luck with a fierce drive that was just over the crossbar.
With two minutes to play, Brighton were reduced to 10 men with Lua Lua given his marching orders for dissent. A chance to equalise followed almost instantly when Barnett found space inside the area, but he volleyed over the crossbar. Despite late pressure, Wimbledon were unable to draw level and exited the competition at the last-32 stage.
AFC Wimbledon: Joe McDonnell, George Francomb, Will Nightingale, Sean Kelly, Seth Owens, Tom Beere, Dean Parrett (Jake Reeves), Alfie Egan, Tyrone Barnett, Dominic Poleon (Tom Elliott), Chris Whelpdale.