Under-18s play their part in a thriller
AFC Wimbledon Under-18s produced a performance in defeat that augers well for the future as they pushed Fulham all the way yesterday.
The young Dons were eventually beaten 4-2 after they had threatened to earn a share of the spoils when Dan Agyei (pictured) put them within a goal with six minutes to play. Despite Fulham sealing victory right at the death, it failed to take the shine off an encouraging pre-season display from Wimbledon’s youngsters.
Fulham are renowned as one of the best academies in the country after winning the Barclays Under-18 Premier League title three seasons in succession and reaching the FA Youth Cup Final last season.
Buoyed by a prolific pre-season so far, Wimbledon marched into the lead at Motspur Park after just a minute when Agyei drove through the Fulham ranks and set-up Egli Kaja, who finished clinically. That produced a spirited response from the hosts and they restored parity in the seventh minute when they caught out Wimbledon from a set-piece.
Fulham seized the initiative after that and earned a lead their fightback perhaps deserved. However, Wimbledon started to produce the attacking flair that had been such a feature of their pre-season. Callum Overton, Kaja and Agyei all came close to equalising after good moves, but the Dons went in 2-1 down at half-time.
With Overton and Agyei continuing to look dangerous after the break, Wimbledon were causing Fulham problems. Under-18s manager Mark Robinson then decided to offer experience of taking on quality opposition to young scholars Alfie Egan, Dan Anu, Reece Batchelor, Jason Stripp and college player Ian Smith. Those changes failed to disrupt Wimbledon’s rhythm and they produced their move of the match with six quick passes exchanged before Stripp released Anu, but the ball got stuck under his feet after he’d left players trailing in his wake.
Fulham appeared to have killed off Wimbledon’s challenge when they earned a 3-1 lead with 15 minutes to play, but the visitors refused to give up. They were back in the game in style when Callum Wilson produced a wonderful long pass that picked out Agyei and he turned inside and produced a superb curler into the bottom corner from 18 yards.
Though Wimbledon conceded again with virtually the last kick, they emerged with credit from an entertaining match.
Mark Robinson said: “We had this fixture pencilled in for a while and we decided to go toe to toe with Fulham so that it gave us an indication of where we are as a group. Apart from the first 15 minutes, I was very pleased with the outcome. The statistics show that apart from the first 15 minutes we edged possession and more importantly we created quite a few good chances. Of course, Fulham showed plenty of quality, but I can’t remember them carving us open too often.
“It’s clear to me now what we need to do better, but we’re doing a lot of things very well and we have the ability to punch above our weight. It was our first defeat in 16 games, but I feel that the boys are in a very good place and nothing should hold any fears for them in the future.”
Callum Wilson earned the man of the match award for Wimbledon.