REPORT: Under-18s made to pay for defensive lapses
AFC Wimbledon Under-18s paid the price on Saturday for an opening spell that manager Mark Robinson described as “awful”.
The young Dons were 2-0 down to Luton after half an hour and that’s the way it stayed with Wimbledon’s youngsters only able to show glimpses of what they are capable of.
First-year professionals Paul Kalambayi and Toby Sibbick – regulars for the development squad this season – both started for the Under-18s at the heart of defence.
The Hatters capitalised on defensive errors with first-half goals from Geo Craig and Freddie Hinds punishing Wimbledon on home territory, condemning them to yet another Football League Youth Alliance defeat.
"We were awful in the first 15 minutes, but after that there were a lot of positives," said Mark Robinson afterwards. "Once again, our opponents have not had to work hard enough for their goals. As far as I can remember, they had one corner and my keeper said afterwards he did not have a save to make. We are getting a lot right on the bulk of the pitch, but not enough right in the key areas, which are the two penalty boxes.
"I will continue to challenge and stretch the boys with the style of football we play because if they want a career they need to be able to make good decisions on the ball in different situations.
"I left two lads out who had been doing well. I just wanted them to see what goes on from off the pitch because sometimes when you observe the game you see it better. They could see what I'm trying to get at. Both Sean Bird and Anthony Hartigan came on and effected the game excellently, which is a positive. Luton have an excellent academy and they have been producing professional players for many years. We always look at them as a bit of a benchmark for how we are progressing."
Inside the first minute, the visitors flashed an effort across Jack Wingate's goal. It was a warning for Wimbledon as a minute later the Hatters took the lead through Geo Craig. It was a fine finish as Craig threaded a shot past Wingate at his near post, but Wimbledon’s defence switched off and allowed him time to open the scoring.
After much organising and encouraging from the manager, Wimbledon had better shape and created more opportunities of their own with Nathan Wood (pictured), Reece Williams-Bowers and Callum Phillip proving more effective.
With 28 minutes gone, it was 2-0 though as the Dons conceded another cheap goal. The home defence failed to deal with another straight ball and Freddie Hinds punished them with a clinical finish. With quarter of an hour to go until the break, it was clear that Kalambayi and Sibbick were struggling to deal with the switch back from Under-21 football.
The young Dons had created far more promising opportunities up front, compared to just the two chances for Luton, but the telling difference was the finishing prowess.
Further chances fell to Ethan Nelson-Roberts, Tino Carpene and Kalambayi before half-time, but they failed to find the target. Tom Scott, Man of the Match for the Dons, once again stood out in a disappointing defensive line.
A strong half-time team talk from the coaching staff aimed to engineer a response from Wimbledon and a sublime free-kick delivery from Scott gave Luton goalkeeper Ciaran Gordon-Stearn a difficult time. In a decent spell for the hosts, Williams-Bowers tested Gordon-Stearn and as Judah Chapman attempted to follow up, the Luton keeper went down in the area requiring treatment.
Sean Bird replaced Kalambayi shortly before the hour mark and Sibbick took over the captain's arm band. On the hour mark, Nelson-Roberts and Phillip made way for Anthony Hartigan and Kinetic Academy trialist Anhwar Tran-West, who impressed in their recent friendly victory over the young Dons.
Mark Robinson sensed a change up front could still bring a way back into the game with a quarter of the game left and that meant Jayden Antwi was introduced for Carpene. Nick Akoto and Williams-Bowers posed an increasing threat down the wing.
With 15 minutes left, Osaze Urhoghide replaced Akoto and five minutes before the end, Luton finally switched their injury-stricken keeper, but Wimbledon still failed to take advantage of the situation.
Despite a slightly improved second-half performance from Wimbledon, mistakes and finishing in front of goal proved to be the difference between the two teams.
AFC Wimbledon under 18s: Wingate, Akoto (Urhoghide), Kalambayi (Bird), Sibbick, Scott, Wood, Chapman, Nelson-Roberts (Hartigan), Phillip (Tran-West), Williams-Bowers, Carpene (Antwi).
AFC Wimbledon Man of the Match: Tom Scott.