AFC Wimbledon's opening match of the season in the Leasing.com Trophy ended with a defeat against Brighton Under-21s tonight.
A bizarre first goal handed Brighton the initiative with a rash back pass from Mitch Pinnock beating Nik Tzanev to put the visitors in front and Bojan Radulovic sealed a 2-0 victory in the closing minutes.
Wally Downes selected a strong side for this match with Will Nightingale, Terell Thomas, Anthony Hartigan, and Paul Kalambayi retained from the side that started on Saturday versus Wycombe Wanderers. However, it was a Wimbledon side full of youth that faced a young Brighton side, though 35-year-old Andrew Crofts certainly boosted the average age of their team!
The first chance came Wimbledon’s way in the fourth minute when Paul Kalambayi found space in the box to meet a corner, but he headed over the crossbar. At the other end, Brighton fashioned their first chance when Australian Peter Gwargis swung in a free-kick that was met by Crofts, but his header flashed wide of the far post. Brighton’s young talents started to put together fine attacking moves as the first-half wore on. Several passes through the Dons midfield ended with Steven Alzate picking out Taylor Richards, but his shot was well held by Nik Tzanev. Richards was aiming to make an impression in a Brighton shirt after signing from Manchester City for £2.5 million earlier this summer.
In a first-half full of good football from both sides, Michael Folivi came so close to breaking the deadlock before the half hour mark, the striker just denied by a brilliant save from Brighton keeper Jason Steele. The Dons came even closer eight minutes before half-time. Folivi’s fine movement earned him a run on goal and though he was forced wide by Steele, his cut-back was met by Adam Roscrow, but his close-range effort was cleared off the line by Antef Tsoungui. As we headed towards half-time, Wimbledon continued to bang on the door and the breakthrough almost came a few minutes before the break. Mitch Pinnock curled in a free-kick that Nightingale met with the slightest of touches, but his header bounced off a post.
The half-time score-line was perhaps a surprising one considering the number of chances created. Wimbledon had created more clear-cut opportunities, but Brighton had impressed with fluent football at times during the first-half.
Though Brighton started the second-half well, they were given a big helping hand to take the lead in the 53rd minute. Mitch Pinnock sent a looping back pass towards Nik Tzanev, who misjudged it and the ball bounced into the empty net. It was a fortuitous way for Brighton to take the lead and it was a test of character now for Wimbledon to get back into it after conceding a goal in such circumstances.
The Dons came so close to an equaliser midway through the second-half when Nightingale had a header cleared off the line and Folivi was just unable to scramble the ball home. Substitute Jack Rudoni then curled in a fine free-kick from the right side that Steele did very well to gather. With Wimbledon still trailing with 15 minutes to play, Wally Downes made a double change with Joe Pigott and Tommy Wood replacing Folivi and Kalambayi.
Rudoni injected a bit of life into Wimbledon by getting on the ball in the final third and one move involving him ended with Stabana sending over a fine cross, but no one was able to get on the end of it. Brighton effectively sealed victory in the 89th minute when Richards showed good awareness to set-up Bojan Radulovic, who finished superbly with a shot that left Tzanev with no chance. Though Roscrow came close late on, there was no consolation for Wimbledon and a result will be needed in the next match versus Leyton Orient to have a realistic chance of staying in the competition.
AFC Wimbledon: Nik Tzanev, Will Nightingale, Terell Thomas, Anthony Hartigan, Adam Roscrow, Mitch Pinnock (Jack Rudoni), Kyron Stabana, Shane McLoughlin, Michael Folivi (Joe Pigott), Paul Kalambayi (Tommy Wood), Paul Osew.
Pic credit: Matt Redman, Pro Sports Images.