Development side start with a win at Merstham
Wimbledon made it two wins out of two in the Final Third Development League Cup with a hard-fought victory against Luton tonight.
It was a welcome return to Merstham – a venue where Wimbledon played in Combined Counties League days - with a 1-0 win that came courtesy of a goal from trialist Jamal Branker.
The Dons were full value for the win based on chances and possession, but just as impressive was that Wimbledon’s young defence - including 17-year-olds Ryan Sweeney, Callum Wilson and Ben Harrison - defied a Luton development side that had been in prolific form this season.
Wimbledon selected a strong side for this quick re-match against Luton with Harry Pell among the first-teamers to start the game. Harrison, Jake Nicholson, George Oakley and Ade Azeez were the other players with first-team experience to feature in Alan Reeves’ side.
Having drawn 1-1 last Tuesday in an evenly matched game at Kenilworth Road, there was little between the two sides once again during the opening exchanges. However, Wimbledon started to dominate as the half progressed. Tricky winger David Fitzpatrick (pictured) provided a spark and he showed what he could do with a lovely run down the right, before he cut inside and unleashed a drive that drifted wide.
The Dons came closest before the break through Azeez, who latched onto a cross from Fitzpatrick and cracked a shot against the crossbar. Fitzpatrick also had a goal-bound shot blocked as Luton’s defending became more desperate. Wimbledon goalkeeper Joe McDonnell never had a save to make in the first-half as his defence, led by 19-year-old captain Will Nightingale, held firm and dealt well with the threat of Luke Rooney, who featured for Luton’s first-team earlier this season.
Wimbledon ended the half well on top and they came close to taking the lead just before the interval. Harry Pell won possession just in Luton’s half, before picking out Fitzpatrick, and his pass put Azeez through, but the striker had his shot well saved by Luton goalkeeper Craig King.
Luton finally tested McDonnell shortly after half-time when the young Dons goalkeeper spread himself well to save a powerful drive from Jake Howells. However, that failed to change the pattern of this game as Wimbledon continued to dominate. Sweeney met an Azeez corner brilliantly and his header was just wide of the target.
Chace Jacquart twice came so close to making the breakthrough for Wimbledon with excellent efforts. First, the midfielder shot just wide from an acute angle and then he came even closer with a lovely curler from just outside the penalty area that King got down well to save.
However, there was no denying Wimbledon 14 minutes from time when Oakley rose highest to get on the end of a corner and former Southampton trainee Branker steered home emphatically from close range. Jacquart had a goal-bound effort blocked in the latter stages and Pell struck a powerful drive from 20 yards that King did well to hold. However, one was enough for Wimbledon on the night to earn a victory that puts the Dons in a strong position in the group phase of the development competition.
AFC Wimbledon: Joe McDonnell, Callum Wilson, Ben Harrison, Jake Nicholson, Will Nightingale, Ryan Sweeney, David Fitzpatrick, Harry Pell, George Oakley, Chace Jacquart, Ade Azeez (Jamal Branker).