Under-18s beat Watford on a proud day for academy
AFC Wimbledon Under-18s coped brilliantly without several key players to earn a hugely encouraging victory against Watford on Saturday.
On a proud day for the academy with home-grown defender Will Nightingale making an impressive first-team debut, Wimbledon earned a 1-0 win at home to a Watford side flying high near the top of Football League Youth Alliance South East.
Dan Ano struck the winner and his strike partner Jayden Antwi, an Under-16 player, impressed manager Mark Robinson with his forward play. Neset Bellikli (pictured) continued his rich vein of form with a man of the match display.
Wimbledon included Under-16 players due to the development squad having a match at Portsmouth today. However, they needed the relative experience of defenders Taylor Roles and Callum Wilson to stop highly-rated Watford striker Ogo Obi, who is already on a professional contract and is said to be attracting interest from higher level clubs.
Following a frantic start, Wimbledon gradually started to keep the ball better with Alfie Egan and Tayshan Smith pulling the strings in midfield and full-backs Bellikli and Reece Batchelor getting forward well. The Dons had a half chance midway through the first half when Antwi had an effort blocked, but at the other end goalkeeper Billy Bishop had to be alert to keep out Obi.
Bishop’s intervention proved to be crucial as Wimbledon made the breakthrough just after the half hour mark. Jason Stripp and Smith combined to find Reece Batchelor in space and the full-back’s superb delivery was stabbed home by Ano after Watford goalkeeper Nathan Gartside had failed to collect.
With Wimbledon’s midfield – led by captain Billy Frost – controlling midfield and Antwi, Ano and Bellikli causing problems going forward, the Dons retained supremacy in the second half. Antwi had two efforts saved by Gartside and Jason Stripp was just foiled after a well-worked free-kick. Under-16 Antonio Walker was introduced for the latter stages in place of Ano, but Wimbledon had to be solid at the other end after failing to kill off their opponents.
In the closing stages, Bishop dealt brilliantly with dangerous crosses from Watford and he pulled off a great save to tip an effort from Obi over the crossbar.
Mark Robinson said: “We had an excellent defensive shape and even though we did not pass the ball well early on, we grew into the game and looked in good control for long spells. We had a lovely 30 minutes after half-time when we played very good football and it was clear that the players were enjoying themselves. We had a very young side out, but I thought that Jayden Antwi got better and better and I can’t wait to work with him full-time next season.
“For a bit of experience I had to play Callum Wilson out of position as a left-sided centre-back with Taylor Roles. They coped brilliantly with a Watford attack that included Ogo Obi, who has been scoring goals for fun this season.”