Game of two halves for young Dons
AFC Wimbledon under-21s coach Alan Reeves hopes his new-look side will learn quickly from a disappointing end to their second Final Third Development League game on Tuesday.
Having been in a commanding position at half-time, thanks to two goals from Ade Azeez, the Dons fell away in the second-half to lose 3-2 at hosts Cambridge United.
Manager Neal Ardley and under-18s coach Mark Robinson travelled with the squad to support the youngsters looking to make the challenging transition from youth to first-team football, and they would have been encouraged by what they saw in this game.
Defender Ben Harrison, midfielder Tom Beere, winger Kevin Sainte-Luce and striker Adebayo Azeez, who have all figured for the Dons in League Two this season, started against a Cambridge line-up with a sprinkling of first-team experience themselves.
In an energetic opening period, Wimbledon gained the upper-hand by moving the ball around quickly. The break-through came after only ten minutes when Sainte-Luce found an opening down the left hand-side, sprinted half the length of the pitch and crossed for Azeez to slot past captain Will Norris in the Cambridge goal.
Harrison looked fired-up and determined for the Dons to build-on their lead and he set about initially firing some searching, accurate efforts from the back for the attacking players to feed off.
Ryan Bird put a looping header over from close range after 19 minutes, but Wimbledon’s defence looked well-marshalled by captain Will Nightingale alongside Ryan Sweeney, with Taylor Roles making up the back four.
Wimbledon asserted their dominance and increased their lead as Azeez, with time and space on the right, finished comfortably from the edge of the area.
Beere again looked the stand-out figure in midfield in the first-half – just as he did in the Dons opening league game at Leyton Orient - and just before the break George Oakley knocked the ball back to him but his shot curled over the crossbar.
The Dons lost the services of their skipper Nightingale after he took a stud to the foot from a heavy challenge with half-time looming. Reece Batchelor was thrust into action at the start of the second-half for his first under-21s appearance, with Roles moving to partner Sweeney in the middle.
In the second half, Cambridge responded to their half time team talk by raising their game and the Dons saw their lead slip, despite such a promising opening.
Ten minutes into the half goalkeeper Joe McDonnell made a brave save at the feet of Bird, but all of Wimbledon’s good work was undone shortly afterwards when Harry Lennon reduced the score with a header on 58 minutes from a set-piece from the right.
Around the half-way mark of the second period, Cambridge had a golden opportunity to level the scores but Bird directed the ball the wrong side of the upright.
On 72 minutes Dan Agyei, top scorer for the under-18s with fourteen goals so far this season, came on for Oakley. A couple of minutes later, the Dons were dealt a further blow as midfield influence Beere was forced to depart due to cramp and replaced by Billy Frost.
This occurred shortly before Cambridge equalised after the Dons defence failed to deal with a set-piece from the right;this time Sam Whittall was the grateful beneficiary.
Sainte-Luce looked to get Wimbledon back on top, but his surging runs came to nothing. Wimbledon’s best chance of the half came three minutes from time as Chace Jacquart found Azeez, but he was denied a hat-trick and the ball was put behind for a corner. The resulting goal-bound effort was then adjudged not to have gone over the line.
In time added on, the visitors were punished when they failed to clear and this time Bird made no mistake and put the ball away after a goalmouth scramble. This was a hard lesson for the Dons but nonetheless Alan Reeves had much to be positive about from the performance.
AFC Wimbledon: Joe McDonnell, Taylor Roles, Ben Harrison, Danny Gallagher, Will Nightingale (sub Reece Batchelor), Ryan Sweeney, Kevin Sainte-Luce, Tom Beere (sub Billy Frost), George Oakley (sub Dan Agyei), Chace Jacquart, Ade Azeez.