Goalkeeper is the hero in shoot-out victory
A crucial save by Will Mannion and five well-taken penalties booked AFC Wimbledon’s place in the next round of the Football League Youth Alliance Cup.
Wimbledon U-18s and Plymouth Argyle couldn’t be separated in regular time, with the score 0-0 after 90 minutes, and it was straight to penalties with Mannion emerging as the hero in a 5-4 shoot-out win.
David Omperon, Jason Stripp, Reece Batchelor, Dom Bongo and Jayden Antwi all successfully converted to finally earn a win this season for AFC Wimbledon against Plymouth this season with two defeats at first-team level and a loss for the Under-21s at Home Park.
Manager Mark Robinson said: “As a manager, I think it is the first time I’ve gone to penalties and won! To be honest, it wasn’t the best game of football in terms of style of play, but it was a proper game of football with both defences doing well.
“We didn’t pass the ball well first half, but we did at the start of the second-half. The game went through spells where each side were on top and in the end a draw in normal time was a fair result. Then we had penalties and it was a great save by Will and five very good penalties from us.”
Wimbledon started with a 4-4-2 formation to begin with and Dom Bongo returned to a side on a four-game unbeaten run. He also wore the captain’s arm band again and looked a tower of strength at centre-back throughout.
The first effort of note came in the fifth minute from a well delivered ball down the wing, Antwi shooting from an acute angle and firing wide. Wimbledon gradually settled into their shape and grew in composure as they kept the visitors at bay, while Alfie Egan and Dan Ano attempted to create at the other end.
Mannion caught Plymouth’s first real effort, which came from outside the box midway through the first-half. Mark Robinson offered words of encouragement from the technical area to David Omperon and Toby Sibbick, still relative newcomers to his defence.
The hosts managed to contain Plymouth, but came under pressure just before the break. Four minutes before half-time, the visitors squandered a good opportunity when they broke free of Omperon from a free-kick. With a minute to go, Mannion had to get down to an advancing attacker’s feet to save at close range. A lapse in communication was pinpointed in the manager’s half-time team talk.
The young Dons came under more pressure in the early stages of the second half, but they responded as Neset Bellikli at last began to figure more. He blasted a shot from distance at the Plymouth goalkeeper midway through the second period.
Seanan McKillop, who is also now well on the road to recovery after long-term injury, made way for Cockle. Jason Stripp replaced Nathan Woods on the hour, Reece Williams-Bowers came on for Ano with a quarter of an hour to go, and Louie Cockle continued his return to full fitness with six minutes left.
Both sides threatened to win it in the final stages. Egan picked up on a loose ball in midfield and his resulting shot forced a corner, but at the other end Mannion was forced into action again as both sides looked to avoid what seemed the inevitable.
They couldn’t and Mannion’s confident block from Plymouth’s first penalty set-up Mark’s instruction from the touchline. “Score our five and we win” was the message and the young Dons delivered with Omperon, Stripp, Batchelor, Bongo and Antwi all making no mistake.
“Winning football matches at any age is a great habit,” concluded Mark. “But it’s so important we go and reflect and don’t just get carried away by results. We need to look at what we could have done better. We have to create a platform where players can express themselves and I don’t think that was quite there, but it was a cup game.”
Man of the Match for Wimbledon was Will Mannion.
AFC Wimbledon: Mannion, Batchelor, Omperon, Sibbick, Bongo, Egan, Woods (Stripp), McKillop (Cockle), Antwi, Ano (Williams-Bowers), Bellikli.