REPORT: Development team avenge last week's defeat
Bayo Akinfenwa boosted his match sharpness with a 75-minute run-out for the development side in a hard-fought victory against Luton Town this afternoon.
Akinfenwa, who is available for Friday’s League 2 match at Hartlepool after serving a two-game ban for being sent off at Bristol Rovers, partnered the impressive Toyosi Olusanya up front in a match played at the training ground.
Neset Bellikli, who showed some silky touches throughout, struck the only goal from a free-kick in a 1-0 win that kept alive Wimbledon’s hopes of winning the Final Third Development League South Division.
Both clubs fielded younger teams on this occasion, certainly in comparison to last Tuesday’s 3-2 win for Luton when the Hatters included a clutch of experienced players and Wimbledon had James Shea, Callum Kennedy and Ade Azeez in their ranks.
None of the above trio featured today, Akinfenwa as the only player in Wimbledon’s starting 11 over the age of 21, while Luton called on several players who had helped the U-18s to the last-eight of the FA Youth Cup.
However, it was the stars of Wimbledon’s own FA Youth Cup run that came to the fore today. Following a slow start with no clear-cut chances, Wimbledon grew into the game and it was Toyosi Olusanya who provided the spark. The speedy forward launched one blistering foray forward down the right, leaving several Luton defenders trailing in his wake, before producing a fine angled drive that Luton goalkeeper Liam Gooch beat out and Akinfenwa just failed to reach the rebound.
Olusanya was also offering an outlet down the left as he attempted to drag Luton defenders all over the place and he so nearly got through again after a fine ball from Ben Harrison. However, a response followed from Luton and it needed Will Mannion to make a brilliant save to deny Zane Banton an equaliser. That was the second time Mannion had denied Banton during an evenly balanced first-half.
Wimbledon made the breakthrough two minutes before half-time with what turned out to be the winner. Bellikli curled in a lovely free-kick from the right that eluded everyone in the box and an unsighted Gooch had little chance of stopping it.
The Dons were much-improved after half-time and Alan Reeves’ side produced spells of fine football during the second-half. Olusanya so nearly latched onto a flick from Akinfenwa, before David Fitzpatrick broke down the right and dragged the ball back for Bellikli, but he shot over the crossbar.
Wimbledon’s best move of the match followed when Bellikli’s through ball sent Fitzpatrick racing down the wing and his cross was headed just over by Akinfenwa. Bellikli showed his quality once again when he put through a good ball for Olusanya, who showed a fine turn of foot to go through on goal, but he shot just wide.
With 15 minutes to go, Alan Reeves made a double change with Akinfenwa and Olusanya replaced up front by Jayden Antwi and Alfie Egan. Shortly afterwards, Dan Ano also entered the fray for Bellikli. The changes so nearly paid off instantly. Antwi won possession himself before striking a fine effort that Gooch beat out and the Luton goalkeeper made it a triple save with Ano and Egan both denied.
At the other end, Mannion was untested in the second-half with Wimbledon’s back four of Callum Wilson, George Pilbeam, Paul Kalambayi and Harrison faring much better after the break. The victory moved Wimbledon up into second spot in the Final Third Development League and just three points behind AFC Bournemouth with three games in hand.
AFC Wimbledon: Will Mannion, George Pilbeam, Paul Kalambayi, Ben Harrison, Callum Wilson, Neset Bellikli (Dan Ano), Dan Gallagher, Jason Stripp, David Fitzpatrick, Bayo Akinfenwa (Jayden Antwi), Toyosi Olusanya (Alfie Egan).