Dons push Gillingham all the way
Shaun North believes that his young squad will be better for the experience of today’s narrow defeat at the hands of a Gillingham side that boasted striker Adam Birchall among their ranks.
Though first-team coaches Ashley Bayes and Neil Cox bumped up the average age of AFC Wimbledon’s development squad by making cameo appearances in a 2-1 defeat, it was a youthful squad selected by Shaun for the match at New Malden.
A total of eight Under-18s were included in the squad and Wimbledon’s Under-21 Development Coach was pleased with the desire of his players on the day.
“It was a difficult game for us to be fair because we had a very young squad out there today,” said Shaun. “But they stuck to the task and it’s all about the learning phase for them. Games like this are fantastic for us because it helps to judge our youngsters against older players. It provides a taste of it and if we play Gillingham in a year then these players have to be able to cope with it better.
“In the first-half we started really well and scored a good goal. That showed bits and pieces that we had worked on in training. Gillingham worked out our system out a bit and put us on the back foot, but they did not cut us open much. The two goals we conceded were silly mistakes and you can’t legislate for those.”
George Oakley (pictured) again showcased his rich potential by scoring an early opener and producing an impressive overall display. The young striker finished clinically after being put through by Chace Jacquart and Harry Cooksley also hit the upright from a free-kick.
minute. The experienced striker, who has first-team experience with Gillingham and has previously played for Barnet and Dover Athletic, beat Ashley Bayes from 25 yards out with a powerful drive. Bayes did pull off one fine save to deny Birchall and excellent defending from the impressive Oluseyi Daley also kept Gillingham at bay.thHowever, Gillingham gradually came into it as the first-half wore on and Birchall fired them level in the 36
At the other end, Dan Pearse had a free-kick saved and Cooksley also struck over from just outside the area. But Wimbledon slipped behind on the stroke of half-time when they were caught out by a ball through the middle and Aaron Millbank’s strike left Bayes with no chance.
Wimbledon threatened to hit back in the second-half after a superb bit of skill by substitute Billy Frost. The midfielder put through a fine defence-splitting pass for Oakley, but his finish was just wide of the target. Cooksley also had the ball in the net after the break, but it was ruled out for offside.
It needed Billy Bishop, a half-time substitute for Bayes, to make two fine saves to deny Gillingham a third, the best of them when he stopped Millbank from notching his second. The experience of 42-year-old Neil Cox, a defender of Premier League class in his pomp, helped shore things up for the Dons as he guided his much younger team-mates through the remainder of the match.
However, another Gillingham goal would have been harsh on Wimbledon and it was a more than useful exercise for Shaun North’s youngsters.