Pair return in stalemate at Merstham
James Shea and Andy Barcham both staked claims to be back in the first-team reckoning as AFC Wimbledon were held by Cambridge United in the Final Third Development League.
In a keenly-contested match that ended 0-0, Shea performed with credit for the full 90 minutes and made two excellent saves, one in each half. Barcham (pictured) also had a satisfactory return after two months out with a serious knee injury as he played for 77 minutes in front of the watching Neal Ardley.
Both clubs took this match very seriously with plenty of players having Football League experience. The inclusions of Shea, who had also been out since October with a groin injury, and Andy Barcham bumped up Wimbledon’s average age and it was a strong Dons starting line-up against Cambridge. Though only Shea and Barcham were over the age of 21, eight of Wimbledon’s 11 had played in League 2. Cambridge included experienced trio Josh Coulson, Liam Hughes and Ryan Donaldson in their side.
Cambridge showing plenty of attacking threat early on and Shea was almost picking the ball out of the net after just 10 minutes when Ryan Horne struck a fine effort that bounced back off a post. Young defender Callum Wilson showed good attacking qualities when he made a good block to stop former Blackburn striker Jordan Slew and Shea was very vocal in organising the defence on his return.
minute when Ryan Sweeney rose superbly to meet a corner from Egli Kaja and his header flashed just wide of the target. David Fitzpatrick, who scored a hat-trick against Bournemouth a week ago, then pounced after a half cleared free-kick and struck a shot just wide.thAs the first-half progressed, Wimbledon gradually came into it and the Dons came so close to an opener in the 16
There was a setback just before the half hour for the Dons with full-back George Pilbeam having to go off injured and he was replaced by Paul Kalambayi, who slotted in at centre-back with Wilson switching to right-back.
Barcham produced one of his trademark lung-bursting runs down the left in the first-half and showed plenty of desire to track back whenever required, but it was all about fitness for the winger after two months without a game.
Toyosi Olusanya, who starred in AFC Wimbledon’s FA Youth Cup win on Friday, once again showed his pace down the flank when he burst past two or three challenges, but his cross was too close to Cambridge goalkeeper Chris Dunn. During an evenly-contested first-half, Horne got behind Wimbledon’s defence, but dragged his shot wide from close range. Kalambayi, who looks so assured at this level for one so young, then showed good anticipation to stop Slew going through on goal.
Just before half-time, Shea showed the goalkeeping qualities that had made him AFC Wimbledon’s number one when he dived full stretch to his right to tip Robbie Simpson’s free-kick around a post.
The second-half started with Cambridge on the front foot and Shea had to be alert to palm away a dangerous cross from the right. Wimbledon made another substitution on the hour with Olusanya replaced by his Under-18 team-mate Dan Ano.
As we reached the hour mark, chances had been few and far between in the second-half, but Wimbledon’s defence, marshalled well by Sweeney, had to stay resilient. And there was certainly no holding back from Barcham after so long out as he demonstrated by one crunching challenge on Simpson.
It had certainly been a competitive second-half with neither side willing to back down. Christian Toonga started to get on the ball more in midfield after the break, but chances were proving tough to come by for Wimbledon. Barcham was withdrawn with 13 minutes to play and he could be well satisfied with his return as he produced a hard-working display that certainly blew away the cobwebs. Neset Bellikli entered the fray in place of Barcham.
The Dons were fortunate not to concede with 10 minutes left when Cambridge captain Coulson met a corner with a glancing near post header that bounced off the far post. In the latter stages, Shea was required to pull off an excellent point-blank save to deny Coulson and that was the last meaningful action in a draw that was perhaps a fair result in the end.
AFC Wimbledon: James Shea, George Pilbeam (Paul Kalambayi), Ben Harrison, Dan Gallagher, Ryan Sweeney, Callum Wilson, Egli Kaja, Christian Toonga, Toyosi Olusanya (Dan Ano), David Fitzpatrick, Andy Barcham (Neset Bellikli).
Picture credit: Micah Crook.