Andy Barcham marked his first start in over a month with a goal as AFC Wimbledon secured a place in the second round of the London Senior Cup tonight.
Wimbledon won 2-1 to hold off a plucky challenge from Corinthian Casuals, a header from Toyosi Olusanya proving to be decisive, and there was also the bonus of Darius Charles coming through 70 minutes after two months out with a thigh injury.
In a side containing several players with first-team experience, Barcham (pictured) showed that he was well over his hamstring injury, building on his substitute appearance in the 4-0 win against Port Vale.
During a well-contested match, The Dons had to survive a late scare to go through with Mahrez Bettache missing a penalty to equalise 11 minutes from time.
Both Barcham and Charles wasted no time getting involved early on as they sought to increase their fitness levels after putting injury problems behind them. Charles was in commanding form at the back, offering plenty of advice to younger players and showing his aerial prowess. At the other end, it was Barcham’s intervention that secured an opening goal for Wimbledon in the 11th minute. A good move involving Seth Owens and Olusanya provided an opportunity for Barcham to show his trademark qualities down the wing. Showing a good turn of foot, Barcham beat his marker, before sending over a teasing cross that beat goalkeeper Danny Bracken and a Casuals defender was unable to stop it crossing the line.
Wimbledon enjoyed plenty of possession in the first half an hour, without creating the chances to match good approach play. Neset Bellikli tried his luck with a shot from 25 yards that had plenty of venom, but it was just over. Then Barcham showed lovely skill to leave three players trailing in his wake, but this time his final ball was lacking. A lovely move involving Alfie Egan and Bellikli created a shooting opportunity for Toyosi Olusanya, but he delayed his shot and the chance was gone.
Out of nothing, Casuals snatched an equaliser in the 37th minute. A through ball from Ben Checklit caught the Wimbledon defence out and Shaun Okojie showed good composure to round trialist Michael Sibley, before firing home smartly from an acute angle. However, Casuals were not level for long as Wimbledon produced a moment of real class to go back in front. Neset Bellikli sent over a lovely cross from the right to pick out Olusanya and he headed home via a post. As we approached half-time, Wimbledon were now starting to show good quality in midfield with Egan and Beere getting on the ball. Beere was confident enough to try his luck with a deft chip that Bracken did well to get back and save. As the half-time whistle sounded, it had been a good half of football with both teams having their moments.
Wimbledon attempted to seal the match with a third early in the second-half and Egan had an opportunity to get on the scoresheet again after his hat-trick for the development squad last week, but he shot just wide. Just after the hour, Casuals had a chance of their own when Cheklit sent over a lovely free-kick to the back post, but a header from Jack Strange was well held by Sibley. Then Barcham produced a lovely run and cross to pick out Olusanya at the back post, but he was unable to connect with a volley. That was Barcham’s last meaningful contribution as he departed with 25 minutes left, Nathan Wood replacing him on the left.
With 70 minutes on the clock, Darius Charles was withdrawn after a solid return to match action, Toby Sibbick replacing him at the heart of defence. Hosts Casuals refused to give up the fight, continuing to give Wimbledon a good test, and Max Oldham had a decent shot on target that Sibley did well to hold.
With 11 minutes remaining, there was big relief in the Wimbledon ranks as Casuals missed a golden opportunity to equalise. Paul Kalambayi was adjudged by referee Sam Perkins to have handled a shot by Checklit just inside the box. Mahrez Bettache stepped up and struck a chip that beat Sibley, but was it was just over the crossbar. It was one of those moments when he could have been hailed a genius if it had been a few inches lower, but it was not to be. In a frantic end to the game, Nathan Wood had an effort just deflected over and Casuals even threw their goalkeeper up in search of an equaliser, but Wimbledon held out.
AFC Wimbledon: Michael Sibley, Johnville Renee-Pringle, Seth Owens, Dan Gallagher, Paul Kalambayi, Darius Charles (Toby Sibbick), Andy Barcham (Nathan Wood), Alfie Egan, Toyosi Olusanya (Jayden Antwi), Tom Beere, Neset Bellikli.