Dons U-21s in gallant display against senior men
Victory was snatched from AFC Wimbledon’s grasp right at the death against Merstham yesterday, but it was another encouraging display from the young Dons.
The Under-21s looked set for a morale-boosting victory against Merstham’s first-team on their own patch after a penalty from trialist Charles Weston-Hayles, but Junior Kaffo equalised in the final minutes.
Coach Alan Reeves was pleased with his side’s efforts against the Ryman Premier new boys.
We could have won 1-0 and soaked up the pressure. Instead we went gung-ho with four or five players in their box and they got a breakaway goal. “We worked our socks off again,” said Alan. “We were probably the better side for the most of it. It was disappointing to concede right at the end. We had a few young lads out there and I’ve had a word with a couple of them about how we could have prevented the equaliser. We didn’t need to try and win 2-0.
“They were a big, physical side, but I thought George Oakley was different class. He didn’t lose a header and I was really pleased with him.”
Reeves made one change to the starting line-up with another trialist Hatim Bentaleb given an opportunity to impress, Neset Bellikli included on the bench.
Merstham started strongly with Aaron Rhule breaking clear of Dons right-back Callum Wilson after eight minutes, but his effort flashed across goal. At the other end, the lively Weston-Hayles fired into the side netting.
The home side got players back behind the ball in an attempt to combat the physical presence of captain Oakley up front for Wimbledon.
Dan Webster impressed again for the Dons when he stopped a goal-bound effort from forward Tommy Hutchings. Midway through the first-half, danger man Rhule fell over the ball when gifted a one-on-one chance with young goalkeeper Will Mannion. Shortly afterwards, trialist
Egli Kaja (pictured) was at the heart of a decent Dons move on 34 minutes. He produced a well-worked effort from a corner that was not far away after an exchange with Dan Gallagher. From the counter-attack, Callum Wilson got in a crucial intervention.
Wimbledon’s best effort of the first-half came six minutes before the break. While Dan Gallagher was still on the deck afer a whole-hearted challenge, Wimbledon pressed on and produced two chances in quick succession. First, Oakley struck a post and then Merstham keeper Brannon Daly struggled to hold Kaja’s follow-up.
A fourth trialist appeared in the Dons defence at the start of the second-half as giant Rhys Greenedge replaced Webster. Wimbledon made a lively start after the interval as they tried to force the opener in the first five minutes.
Merstham responded on 54 minutes as Will Mannion was required to save well from Hutchings and another effort was just wide from Rhule. At the other end, Oakley flicked a header wide of the upright.
The breakthrough arrived in the 77th minute for Wimbledon courtesy of Weston-Hayles, who picked himself up after being fouled in the box and he finished clinically from 12 yards past substitute goalkeeper Jack Howard.
But there was a spirited response from Merstham, starting when Hutchings stung the palms of Mannion with a powerful drive while Wilson was down on the deck. Wilson was helped off and Weston-Hayles also departed as Jayden Antwi and Jason Stripp were given the last five minutes.
There was a sting in the tail for Wimbledon in the dying moments of this game though. The sizeable frame of substitute Kaffo had the beating of Ben Harrison on the left and he fired across Mannion for the equaliser.
AFC Wimbledon: Will Mannion, Callum Wilson (Jayden Antwi), Ben Harrison, Dan Gallagher, Dan Webster (Rhys Greenedge), George Pilbeam, Egli Kaja, Alfie Egan, George Oakley, Charles Weston-Hayles (Jason Stripp), Hatim Bentaleb (Neset Bellikli).