Narrow defeat at Norwich offers promise for future
AFC Wimbledon Under-18s showed plenty of promise by pushing Norwich City all the way, but manager Mark Robinson said there was plenty of room for improvement in their overall performance.
Jayden Antwi, Paul Kalambayi and Nathan Wood got the goals in a narrow 4-3 defeat against a Premier League club’s academy and it offered good preparation for Wimbledon’s competitive season, which starts on 8 August away to Cambridge United.
Mark Robinson said: “We do not get to play clubs of this standard very often and they have facilities and investment that we can only dream of right now. But we are not going to pat ourselves on the back for a good showing. I know that the boys are good enough to get results and I expect them to get them. My job is to develop players, but being brave in our play does not mean we have to sacrifice results. They just need to be more pro-active in their learning so that the messages stay in.
“We were very good for 35 minutes. Our shape off the ball was excellent and our intelligence of knowing when to press and when to hold shape was pretty much spot on. We lost our way for a 20-minute spell in the second half, which I am not happy about. After going 2-1 down some players played with emotion, rather than with intelligence. They need to be more grown up so that they can carry out instructions off the ball.”
It was always going to be a tough task for the young Dons against a category one academy club with a fine reputation, the Canaries having won the FA Youth Cup as recently as 2013.
However, Wimbledon controlled the first half hour and earned the lead through a fine team goal. With Wimbledon’s back four of Emmanual Mensah, David Omperon, Kalambayi and captain Dom Bongo dealing well with Norwich attacks, the visitors made a good impression at the other end. Alfie Egan and Judah Chapman were in commanding form in the centre of the park and the latter shot just wide with Wimbledon’s first chance. Neset Bellikli then delivered a dangerous cross that just eluded everyone in the box.
minute with a fine team goal. Egan, Chapman and Reece Willams-Bowers combined to find Antwi and he finished superbly with an 18-yard strike that arrowed into the top corner.thBellikli showed his quality early on and was denied by the Norwich goalkeeper, before Chapman struck a post. At the other end, it needed 14-year-old goalkeeper Joe Bursik to make a brilliant save to deny Norwich an opener. However, Wimbledon’s pressure yielded reward in the 26
Norwich restored parity seven minutes before half-time, punishing Wimbledon for failing to secure a second, in particular when Bongo shot straight at the goalkeeper from eight yards.
Wimbledon made eight changes at half-time with Seanan McKillop, Jason Stripp and Louie Cockle all showing what they could do in midfield. Dan Ano and Nathan Wood both came close to putting the Dons back in front, but Norwich showed greater potency in front of goal and earned a 2-1 lead. A lovely goal from a free-kick meant Wimbledon had a mountain to climb at 3-1 down. However, a swift counter-attack involving Ano and Antonio Walker set-up Woods and he reduced the arrears with his third goal in three games.
Though Norwich made it 4-2 with 20 minutes to go, but the Dons were back in it again with four minutes left. A quickly taken free-kick released Kalambayi and he exchanged passes with Ano, before showing the finishing prowess of a striker to make it 4-3.
It was so nearly 4-4 when Ano struck a fine effort that was brilliantly tipped over by the Norwich goalkeeper and Mark Robinson said it was a good sign that his players were disappointed afterwards.
“The boys are cheesed off that we did not get a result and rightly so,” he added. “We should have been in a more comfortable position after 30 minutes. At that point we had the best players on the pitch, but when you play quality teams they will always have their moments. In those stages you need discipline and you need to love defending as much as you do attacking. A few of our lads are going to find that love of defending very quickly!”
The young Dons are back in action this Sunday when they take on the FAB Academy at Bisham Abbey (11 am kick-off).