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Gallant cup exit for Dons

1 February 2017

Under-18s eliminated from national competition in thrilling match

AFC Wimbledon bowed out of the FA Youth Cup in gallant fashion tonight with an extra-time defeat at Deepdale.

A goal from Anthony Hartigan had swept Wimbledon into the lead in the first period of extra-time, but goals from Melle Meulensteen and Alex Wood earned a 3-2 victory for Preston North End.

 It was a thrilling last-16 tie, which was a great advert for the competition, and Wimbledon’s main gripe surrounded the award of a penalty that allowed Meulensteen to level at 2-2.

The Dons started brightest with Nathan Wood forcing a save from Preston goalkeeper Callum Roberts inside two minutes. With Hartigan and Reece Williams-Bowers getting plenty of the ball, Wimbledon dominated possession early on as Preston sat back to soak up early pressure. However, the hosts served warning that there was better to come from them when Dylan Davidson struck a shot over the crossbar.

Wimbledon almost gifted their opponents a goal when Joe Bursik was deceived by a Paul Kalambayi back pass and he nodded it against the woodwork, before finally gathering the ball. It was a moment of relief for the Dons, but there was better from the visitors at the other end when a good move ended with Toby Sibbick having a goal-bound shot blocked.

minute as Preston made the breakthrough. Melle Meulensteen managed to wriggle away from Paul Kalambayi’s challenge, before producing a clinical finish that left Dons goalkeeper Joe Bursik with no chance.thAs the first-half progressed, Preston were starting to come more into it and Sean Bird was required to make an impressive last-gasp interception to stop Jack Burgoyne from going through. However, there was no reprieve for Wimbledon in the 28

Showing the battling spirit that had served them so well during this FA Youth Cup run, Wimbledon fought back into the match. With Hartigan picking up the ball a lot and spreading the play effectively, getting a grip on possession was not a problem for Wimbledon. It was proving difficult though to break down a Preston defence showing trademark resilience at the back, a characteristic that had defied Everton in the last round.

As the first-half neared a conclusion, Preston almost doubled the advantage when Joshua Earl headed just over the crossbar. The attacking play of Williams-Bowers appeared to be the best bet of changing things for Wimbledon and he twice had decent efforts saved by Roberts. Both of those were struck from outside the box and when the Dons did get in behind through Jayden Antwi, his cross just evaded Wood and Antonio Walker.

Wimbledon knew that better was required in the second-half if they were to stay in it, but Preston continued to be stubborn opponents. Though the Dons had plenty of possession, creating chances was another matter and Preston came closest before the hour when Michael Howard drove wide after a quick breakaway.

With 20 minutes to go, Wimbledon had made little impression, but that all changed in dramatic fashion. A free-kick was lofted into the Preston penalty area and Jayden Antwi’s strength earned him possession in the area, before he was sent sprawling by a challenge from Burgoyne. The referee pointed to the spot and Antwi had no hesitation in taking responsibility. Composing himself for a few seconds, Antwi stepped up to deliver a lovely spot-kick into the bottom corner, sending Roberts the wrong way.

All of a sudden, it was game on and Wimbledon poured forward in search of a winner. Kalambayi rose highest in the box to meet a header, but Roberts held on well to gather. There was a moment of drama shortly afterwards when Wimbledon were denied a second by the offside flag. Antwi’s cross was knocked back by Judah Chapman and substitute Nick Akoto appeared to have put Wimbledon ahead, but his celebrations were cut short. In a frantic finale with both sides searching for a winner, Dons goalkeeper Joe Bursik did brilliantly to get down low and deny Howard with his feet. Sean Bird also showed impressive defensive quality to deny Preston as they sought a goal that would have proven decisive. With neither side able to conjure up a late winner, the final whistle signalled extra-time.

Having beaten Everton in extra-time to reach this stage, Preston were going to be a tough nut to crack, but Wimbledon certainly had the momentum after coming back into it with such force. It didn’t take long for the Dons to come close again. Antwi, who had shown so much energy in leading the line, powered through and struck a fine effort that Roberts got down well to save. Antwi was everywhere, showing no signs of tiredness, and he so nearly put Wimbledon in front. A fine move ended with Akoto’s cross picking out Nathan Wood, who pulled the ball back for Antwi, but he scooped over.

Wimbledon marched into the lead for the first time with 10 minutes of extra-time having been played. It was a goal of real quality too as Hartigan, who has earned a reputation for scoring from long-range, picked his spot from 20 yards with a lovely strike into the bottom corner. The first-half of extra-time ended in the worst possible fashion for Wimbledon though as the referee pointed to the spot for a foul on Preston substitute Tom Barry. It appeared to be a harsh decision with minimal contact on Barry, but Meulensteen made the most of the opportunity by firing home emphatically from 12 yards.

 It was completely up for grabs now as we entered the second-half of extra-time with both sides going all out for victory. Preston earned what turned out to be the winner when a fine team move ended with substitute Alex Wood curling home superbly. Despite late pressure from Wimbledon with two corners in the last few moments, an equaliser eluded the Dons. However, Mark Robinson’s side could hold their heads high after a run in the competition featuring plenty of spirit and no shortage of quality. Once again, the club’s youngsters had shown that the academy is in fine shape and that will be a great source of pride to everyone connected with AFC Wimbledon.

AFC Wimbledon: Josef Bursik, Toby Sibbick, Tom Scott, Paul Kalambayi, Sean Bird, Antonio Walker (Ethan Nelson-Roberts), Anthony Hartigan, Judah Chapman, Nathan Wood (Tino Carpene), Jayden Antwi, Reece Williams-Bowers (Nick Akoto).

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