The young Dons head into this Saturday's Youth Alliance clash, at FA Youth Cup opponents Gillingham, having found form at the right time.
Despite missing several key players and having suffered a heavy defeat the week before, Wimbledon showed real character at an important stage in the season. They threatened to take maximum points at home to high-flying Stevenage in last weekend’s 1-1 draw. Striker Zach Robinson (pictured right above with Reuben Collins) netted a second-half equaliser as the Dons had to settle for a point.
With the League and Cup matches against Gillingham looming, assistant James Oliver-Pearce took charge of the team as Academy Head of Football Mark Robinson scouted the opposition.
Wimbledon were without skipper Jack Rudoni, so midfield colleague Finlay Macnab took over the captain's arm band. There was also some game time for former captain and last year's Academy Player of the Year Tom Scott, partnering Reuben Collins at centre-back. Scott continued on the route back to full fitness after a long term injury, under the watchful eye of Neil Cox.
As the game settled down, the young Dons imposed themselves on second place Stevenage. Zach Robinson and Ayoub Assal had chances inside the first twenty minutes. Stevenage responded with a looping effort which forced goalkeeper Bert White to see it over the crossbar.
Wimbledon had the better of the opening half hour, without scoring and managed to contain and deal with what the visitors had to offer. On the bench, the coaching staff identified that Stevenage were stopping them from finding the opening and the young Dons needed to find other ways to open up the opposition.
Three minutes before the break, White produced a good double save to deny Stevenage, while at the other end Robinson remained a threat. At the break, Wimbledon worked on maintaining a clean sheet and being more effective in front of goal.
However, it was Stevenage who took the lead inside two minutes of the restart, as though White blocked an initial effort from close in from a free-kick, the follow up was put away by Liam Smyth. Minutes later, White denied Stevenage a second as he clawed away a chance close to the post.
White pulled off another save to deny Stevenage again as the game opened up. Robinson was finally rewarded for his efforts in the 56th minute. He raced in on goal and finished to level the scores, low and into the corner of the net, following good work by Assal who won the ball and turned provider.
With just over a quarter of the game to go, Donte Lodge-Francis came on for Bobby Mills up front. With the game becoming more competitive again, the young Dons became more tenacious with their tackling.
Stevenage benefited from a couple of referee decisions, but were unable to capitalise from set-piece opportunities. Both sides were going for the win with 10 minutes remaining.
Robinson shrugged off a knock after treatment. Macnab had a couple of opportunities from free-kicks on the edge of the box and Lodge-Francis had a header on goal from the resulting corner.
Scott produced a great cross field ball in the last minute of regular time and Lodge-Francis's shot across goal resulted in another corner. Wimbledon continued to push for the winner, but the Dons had to settle for a point.
Afterwards Tom Scott gave an encouraging team-talk to the squad regarding preparation, as the night under the lights in the FA Youth Cup draws closer.
AFC Wimbledon: Bert White, Huseyin Biler, Reuben Collins, Tom Scott, Paul Osew, Ayoub Assal, Finlay Macnab (c), KJ Osu, Zach Robinson, Bobby Mills (Donte Lodge-Francis), David Fisher.
Second Professional Development Phase Coach James Oliver-Pearce gave his post-match thoughts, which can be seen via the link below to our YouTube channel.
Highlights of the draw with Stevenage at our training ground can be viewed below.