AFC Wimbledon Under-18s in good form before Rovers clash
Anthony Hartigan struck a superb lob from just inside Gillingham’s half to set-up the perfect confidence boost for AFC Wimbledon Under-18s ahead of Wednesday’s FA Youth Cup tie.
The young Dons marched to a 3-0 victory in the Football League Youth Alliance South East with the other goals coming from Jayden Antwi and Reece Williams-Bowers (the pair are pictured right and left respectively above with Hartigan).
Defender Dean Perana also figured strongly as a trialist on a day of many positives for manager Mark Robinson. Coach Mark Robinson experimented with a 3-4-3 formation and successfully shuffled the backline and there was the bonus of goalkeeper Edward Ogebor-Onaiwu keeping a clean sheet on debut.
"After eight of the boys started for the under-21s during the week, we rotated the players again to try and keep everyone fresh for Wednesday night and I must say I was very pleased with the performance," said Mark.
"We played with good intensity and our organisation was much better. Once we got the first goal we never looked in any danger of losing the lead and we went on to score another two excellent goals. We also played a completely new system in preparation for Wednesday's game and bearing in mind we only got to work on it on Friday, I was happy with the players’ understanding of the game."
"When we play with intensity and good communication - no matter what side I put out in whatever system - we are a formidable group. The consistency in which we produce those two key factors is our issue. I would to think performances like this will reinforce what they need to do, not just for the good of the team, but for their own personal development.”
There was a lively start from both teams, but without too many actual opportunities inside the first quarter of an hour. The Gills looked to test the new Dons keeper with a couple of set-pieces, from a corner and a free-kick, which forced the Nigerian stopper to stay alert early on.
The young Dons threatened an opener when Nick Akoto, who looked promising breaking down the wing, flashing the ball across the face of goal, but no one was there to convert.
With 27 minutes gone, the skilful touch of Hartigan became more apparent, the midfielder combining good movement on the flank with switching into a central position. Throughout the game he formed an influential partnership with Judah Chapman in the middle.
Skipper Paul Kalambayi used his physical power and strength to almost great effect, shortly before 30 minutes were on the clock, with two decent headers on the Gills goal from Hartigan’s set-piece deliveries.
Even with new faces at the back, Wimbledon had made a much-improved, solid start to the game and Perana certainly warranted another look, having already figured for Metropolitan Police In the FA Youth Cup this season
Wimbledon took the lead on 37 minutes with a well delivered cross from Callum Phillip setting up Antwi, who opening the scoring by converting the opportunity at the far post when he drove the ball home.
There was even better to come in the second-half when Hartigan caught the Gills keeper off his line with a fantastic 50-yard lob. It wasn't the first time the talented midfielder had attempted this, and on this occasion it immediately became a very worthy contender for the Academy goal of the month!
Toby Sibbick replaced Kalambayi and took over the captain's arm band with 56 minutes on the clock, and just after the hour mark, Nathan Wood replaced Akoto, who could be pleased with his effective display.
Tino Carpene and man-of-the-match Ethan Nelson-Roberts combined to great effect with 25 minutes as they looked to fashion a third goal. Mark Robinson made further changes with Wednesday in mind as Antonio Walker, Williams-Bowers and Great Nii Okai Evans replaced Phillip, Carpene and Antwi.
Substitute Wood showed his qualities on the wing, getting dangerous crosses in and with eight minutes left it was one of his deliveries that set-up the third goal. Fellow substitute Williams-Bowers got on the end of it to put the icing on the cake.
AFC Wimbledon Under-18s: Ogebor-Onaiwu, Perana, Kalambayi (Sibbick), Bird, Akoto (Wood), Chapman, Hartigan, Nelson-Roberts, Phillip (Walker), Carpene (Williams-Bowers), Antwi (Nii Okai Evans).
AFC Wimbledon Under-18s face Bristol Rovers on Wednesday night at the Cherry Red Records Stadium (7.30 pm kick-off). Admission is just £5 for adults and free for Under-18s.