Young Dons march on in FA Youth Cup
A stunning winner from Ben Harrison secured an FA Youth Cup third round tie for AFC Wimbledon Under-18s at home to Burnley.
Harrison (pictured), who made five first-team appearances earlier this season, drove home a cracking goal to earn a 2-1 win at Gillingham last night that answered manager Mark Robinson’s call for an improved display after a disappointing run of results.
Both sides battled hard to establish early supremacy at Priestfield Stadium, a venue where the first-team had secured vital points in years gone by. The young Dons shaded the opening exchanges and they could have been in front before the half hour mark when a fine cross from in-form striker Dan Agyei provided a chance for Egli Kaja, but he just failed to convert from six yards out. At the other end, Gills created their first real chance when Greg Cundle found Harry Stannard, but his first time effort was brilliantly blocked by Callum Wilson.
The Dons started to get on top by the midway point of the first-half with influential midfielder Danny Gallagher pulling the strings. With greater control now, Wimbledon started to fashion chances and Billy Frost, Alfie Egan and Kaja all had efforts on goal. However, the Dons were unable to make a first-half breakthrough and Gills looked slightly more assured at the start of the second-half.
Wimbledon broke the deadlock in style 11 minutes after half-time through Neset Bellikli, who picked the ball up 30 yards out, before beating one challenge, and then finishing superbly from just outside the area. The visitors failed to build on their opener though and it was a short-lived lead with Cundle equalising on the hour after Wimbledon’s defenders had failed to deal with a cross.
Just when it appeared that Gillingham had taken a grip on the match, Wimbledon took the lead in great style. Agyei was the instigator as he beat a couple of defenders and picked out the run of Harrison, who hit a superb strike from 22 yards that flew into the bottom right corner.
There was a blow 23 minutes from time when Agyei had to go off injured, but Dan Ano made an instant impact to continue Wimbledon’s threat as he linked-up well with Frost. Kaja, Ano and Frost all came close to sealing it and Alfie Egan had an effort ruled out for a tight offside call. Manager Mark Robinson introduced another attacking option with 15-year-old Reece Williams-Bowers entering the fray for Bellikli, but the Dons had to defend stoutly near the end to deny Gillingham.
Though Wimbledon’s back four and goalkeeper Billy Bishop had to deal with several crosses from Gillingham in the latter stages, the Dons maintained a steely edge right through to the final whistle with centre halves Ryan Sweeney and Taylor Roles producing admirable performances.
It was enough to set-up a third round tie at home to a Premier League club’s academy with Burnley lying in wait and manager Mark Robinson hopes his players will relish that challenge.
“It was a typical FA Youth Cup tie last night as it was full of endeavour, but also nervous passes from both sides,” said Mark. “We had a couple of spells when we got into a rhythm, particularly after our second goal and based on chances created we deserved the victory.
“I thought the work-rate of our players was very good, in particular from Alfie Egan, who put in a tremendous effort when everyone was tiring. We can play a hell of a lot better than this though. We will work hard over the next couple of weeks to ensure we produce a footballing performance of quality against a Premier League club’s academy and also try to earn a positive result.”
Man of the Match for Wimbledon was Ben Harrison.
AFC Wimbledon: Billy Bishop, Callum Wilson, Taylor Roles, Ryan Sweeney, Ben Harrison, Danny Gallagher, Billy Frost (Jason Stripp), Alfie Egan, Neset Bellikli (Reece Williams-Bowers), Egli Kaja, Dan Agyei.