Under-21s beaten at Luton Town
It was a tough start for AFC Wimbledon’s youngsters in the Final Third Development League Cup this afternoon at Kenilworth Road.
Taking on a vastly experienced Luton side for this level, the Dons suffered a 3-0 loss just four days before a first-team fixture between these two clubs at the same venue.
It did though offer valuable experience for a crop of players from Mark Robinson’s Under-18s squad with 16-year-old Paul Kalambayi among those to earn an opportunity.
Facing a side made up almost entirely of first teamers, it was always going to be difficult and the closest Wimbledon came to a goal was when Dan Ano (pictured) had an effort saved near the end. A positive for first-team manager Neal Ardley was that Callum Kennedy increased his match fitness after a spell out by playing for 65 minutes at left-back.
The likes of Ryan Hall, Paul Benson and Danny Green also offered experience for Luton. Coach Alan Reeves talked in the build-up about it being a big test for his side and one look at Luton’s team sheet suggested that would be the case. The home side had several first-teamers involved, including Alex Lawless, who was in Luton’s team on the memorable day four years ago when Wimbledon returned to the Football League. Indeed, Lawless missed a penalty during the shoot-out on that magical day for AFC Wimbledon in Manchester.
Having won the Final Third Development League South title last season, Luton had built-up a strong reputation at this level with first-teamers often being utilised. Luton made a strong start in the first group match of this competition at Kenilworth Road. Will Mannion was forced into a fine full stretch save inside two minutes to deny a 20-yard effort from Nathan Doyle.
However, for the next 20 minutes Wimbledon started to boss possession and good movement up front threatened an opening goal for the visitors. Good hold-up by George Oakley set-up a sight of goal for David Fitzpatrick, who struck a low drive that Luton goalkeeper Elliot Justham managed to hold. Full-back Callum Wilson, who had enjoyed a fine start to the season, then put through a lovely ball that George Oakley so nearly reached, but Justham claimed at the second attempt.
minute when Hall let fly with a thunderbolt that beat Mannion and bounced in via a post.rdEgli Kaja also had a shot that was just close to Justham after more good work by Oakley in attack. However, Luton’s attack was not short of quality and they made that count in the first-half. Ryan Hall was at the heart of their best forward moves and he struck a fierce drive that Mannion did brilliantly to save. Lawless also curled just wide as pressure from Luton started to build. There was no reprieve for Wimbledon in the 33
Wimbledon’s first-half display featured plenty of attractive approach play, without testing Justham enough. One fine team move involved good combination play between Tom Beere and Oakley to set Fitzpatrick free, but his cross was cut out at the near post. The Dons had to stay alert at the back though and Ben Harrison made a brilliant last-ditch tackle to stop Jack Marriott going clean through on goal.
Wimbledon had been forced onto the back foot at the start of the second-half, but they did produce a fine move on the break when Dan Gallagher and Ibby Akanbi combined to find Fitzpatrick, who shot just wide with a low drive. It didn’t take long into the second-half for the lively Hall to once again cause problems with Mannion making another fine save to deny him. An even better save followed from Mannion as he reacted brilliantly to make a fingertip stop from Doyle.
Luton continued to create chances and it should really have been 3-0 when a long ball put Marriot in behind, but he shot wide with the goal gaping. The Dons had a mountain to climb shortly afterwards though when Luton doubled their advantage. A cross from Lawless picked out Dan Potts and he flicked on for Paul Benson to steer home. Alan Reeves made a change designed to earn more possession in the centre of the park with midfielder Jason Stripp replacing striker Akanbi.
With 65 minutes on the clock, 16-year-old Paul Kalambayi was given valuable experience at this level in place of Kennedy, who had a steady game at left-back on his return. It did not take long for talented Under-18 player Kalambayi to make an impact as he produced a superb individual run that was only just stopped as he bore down on goal.
The Dons refused to give in and the deficit was almost halved eight minutes from time after lovely play by Stripp. The midfielder sent through a defence-splitting pass for substitute Dan Ano, who did well to beat the offside trap and hold off his marker, but Justham reacted well to save his low shot.
It was effectively all over five minutes from time when James Justin crossed from the right and Lawless took one touch, before finishing clinically. It meant that AFC Wimbledon began with a defeat in the cup competition that starts with a regionalised group phase.
AFC Wimbledon: Will Mannion, Callum Wilson, Callum Kennedy, (Paul Kalambayi), Dan Gallagher, Reiss Greenridge, Ben Harrison, Egli Kaja, Tom Beere (Neset Bellikli), George Oakley (Dan Ano), Ibby Akanbi (Jason Stripp), David Fitzpatrick.