By Chris Slavin
Second-half goals from Keston Davies and Jake Gray eliminated AFC Wimbledon from the Checkatrade Trophy tonight.
League 2 Yeovil Town proved too strong with the hosts earning a 2-0 victory. A total of 74 travelling Dons watched an experienced Wimbledon side start the game, but Dons academy players Great Nii Okai-Evans, Ethan Nelson-Roberts, and Ossama Ashley were all handed their first-team debuts in the second-half.
Though Wimbledon threatened to get back into it midway through the second-half, a late goal from substitute Gray sealed it for Yeovil.
Neal Ardley decided to retain two players from the side that started the Emirates FA Cup win against Charlton Athletic with Cody McDonald and Harry Forrester both included. There was plenty of experience in the Dons side with Paul Robinson, Callum Kennedy, George Francomb and Jimmy Abdou supplementing youngsters Paul Kalambayi, Toby Sibbick and Egli Kaja. Yeovil Town made five changes to their starting 11 from the side that started a 1-1 FA Cup draw at Port Vale.
Following a 2-1 victory against Plymouth in their final group game, Yeovil came into this game confident of adding another League One scalp and they started this match on the front foot. Connor Smith turned inside smartly with less than two minutes gone, but his shot was comfortably over the crossbar. With 13 minutes gone, Yeovil had a penalty appeal turned down after Sibbick's challenge on Sam Surridge, but it appeared to be the correct decision from referee Antony Coggins.
Kaja was bright early on and he won a free-kick that was well delivered by Francomb, but Yeovil keeper Artur Krysiak got away with a fumble as no one was there to capitalise. In a first half hour dominated by the hosts, they did find clear-cut chances hard to create with Wimbledon's defence standing firm. When Jordan Green did find space in the area after beating Will Nightingale, his shot lacked power and Joe McDonnell got down well to save it.
In a first-half when Wimbledon struggled to find any attacking fluency, the best Dons move came in the 33rd minute when Forrester and McDonald combined to find Francomb in space on the right, but his well struck shot was gathered by Krysiak. At the other end, Robinson showed alertness to hack clear from just a couple of yards out after Surridge had headed across the face of goal. As we approached half-time, Yeovil built up a head of steam and Wimbledon were fortunate to go in 0-0 at the interval. Joe McDonnell made a brilliant flying save to turn away a free-kick from Thomas James. Then a free-kick from Otis Khan was almost turned in by Omar Sowunmi, but McDonnell got down well to collect. Wimbledon managed to stay on equal terms, but much better was needed if Neal Ardley's men were to avoid slipping out of the competition.
Yeovil made a bright start to the second-half and they were rewarded with the opening goal in the 48th minute. A corner was swung in by Khan and a header from Keston Davies bounced off the far post and in, the match officials adjudging that it had crossed the line before McDonnell's valiant attempt to save it. Yeovil continued the pressure after making the breakthrough with Wimbledon having to show resilience to hang on. With half an hour left, Wimbledon made a double change and it was hugely significant for Dons academy players Ethan Nelson-Roberts and Great Nii Okai-Evans. Nelson-Roberts and Okai-Evans were rewarded for their promising displays at Under-18 level with first-team debuts, the pair replacing McDonald and Forrester.
Wimbledon improved as the second-half progressed and Francomb almost created a chance for himself after a great run down the right, but the ball was forced out for a corner. Francomb's subsequent delivery was met by Paul Robinson, but his header was saved by Krysiak. Evans was lively after his introduction and he produced an impressive run down the left after being released by Kennedy, but his cross failed to find anyone in the box. The changes on the half hour had certainly injected fresh energy into the Wimbledon team with Roberts and Evans eager to make an impression. With 10 minutes left, Wimbledon made a third and final change with Ossama Ashley coming on for his debut in place of Kennedy.
Though Wimbledon had shown improvement, it was effectively all over when Jake Gray found space on the right and struck a fierce drive that left McDonnell with no chance. It was effectively game over and Wimbledon's Checkatrade Trophy challenge was up for another season. Next the Dons travel to Bury on Saturday and that League One match is perhaps much more important in terms of Wimbledon's overall season.
AFC Wimbledon: Joe McDonnell, Toby Sibbick, Paul Robinson, Paul Kalambayi, Will Nightingale, Callum Kennedy (Ossama Ashley), George Francomb, Jimmy Abdou, Cody McDonald (Great Nii Okai-Evans), Harry Forrester (Ethan Nelson-Roberts), Egli Kaja.
Pic credit: Graham Hunt, Pro Sports Images.