George keeps his cool to earn late leveller
Wimbledon produced a highly encouraging display against Premier League Watford and snatched a share of the spoils right at the death.
In front of a decent pre-season crowd of 2,988, the Football Manager Cup was shared with a late penalty from George Francomb (pictured) earning a 2-2 draw.
David Fitzpatrick, Ben Harrison and Joe McDonnell were the other members of Alan Reeves’ U-21 squad to step-up, the latter in from the start due to an injury to goalkeeper James Shea. With 13 players on the bench, the plan was to field a completely different outfield 10 for the second-half. Manager Neal Ardley had promised in the build-up that he would mix it up in terms of team selection and the Dons started with 17-year-old Christian Toonga in midfield.
minute. Elliott was quick to pounce on a slack Watford pass at the back and he was brought down in the box by Ikechi Anya. Callum Kennedy confidently stepped up and sent Gomez the wrong way from 12 yards.thThe Dons started brightly with winger Fitzpatrick showing early promise and new signing Tom Elliott making his presence felt up front. Watford had plenty of experience in their defence with record signing Etienne Capoue marshalling their defence and former Spurs goalkeeper Heurleho Gomez behind him. However, the Dons stunned their Premier League opponents in the 11
Watford put together a few decent moves in response, but there was little cutting edge and the visitors had barely threatened in the first half hour. Indeed, Wimbledon’s young centre-back pairing of Will Nightingale and Ben Harrison had produced steady displays against top Watford striker Troy Deeney. It could even have been 2-0 when another superb cross from Kennedy picked out Bayo Akinfenwa, but he headed over the crossbar.
However, the Hornets drew level against the run of play. It was a fortuitous goal as McDonnell’s attempted clearance bounced off Watford striker Odion Ighalo and looped into the net.
Despite that setback, the Dons continued to look a threat in attack with Elliott as Wimbledon’s stand-out performer. The pacy striker caught the eye with one lovely run, before striking a shot that Gomez had to palm away at his near post. At the other end, McDonnell redeemed himself with a fine save to deny Ighalo a second goal. Neal Ardley’s men could be well pleased with their first-half efforts after matching Watford and showing plenty of attacking threat.
With a completely different outfield 10 for the second-half, it was understandable that the Dons were a little disjointed and Watford took full advantage. Watford manager Quique Sanchez Flores made just two changes at half time and his side came so close to taking the lead when a superb free-kick from Almen Abdi crashed off the underside of the crossbar and away to safety. There was no reprieve for Wimbledon shortly afterwards though when Deeney got on the end of a cross and Fernando Forestieri made no mistake from close range.
The Dons almost conjured up an instant response when Francomb swung over a deep cross that Watford’s substitute goalkeeper Giedrius Arlauskis failed to gather, but Andy Barcham’s header was cleared off the line. Barcham showed signs of promise on the left with a couple of speedy runs down the flank. And substitute Azeez thought he had found an equaliser after winning possession and striking home, but referee Tim Robinson blew up for a foul.
The second-half was disrupted by a raft of Watford substitutions and not as many chances were created at either end after the break. But one final rally paid dividends for Wimbledon when Juan Carcos Paredes brought down Barcham and Francomb made no mistake from 12 yards.
With new signings making a good impression and youngsters gaining useful experience, Wimbledon could certainly take plenty from the game moving forward for the rest of pre-season and beyond.
AFC Wimbledon first-half team: Joe McDonnell, Barry Fuller, Ben Harrison, Dannie Bulman, Will Nightingale, Callum Kennedy, Christian Toonga, Tom Beere, Tom Elliott, Bayo Akinfenwa, David Fitzpatrick. Second-half team: Joe McDonnell, George Pilbeam, Karleigh Osborne, Ryan Sweeney, George Francomb, Jake Reeves, Jon Meades, Sean Rigg, George Oakley, Andy Barcham, Ade Azeez.