By Rob Cornell
Joe McDonnell pulled off a string of great saves on a miserably wet night at Aldershot Town which proved a good test for a young Wimbledon side.
Will Nightingale, Paul Robinson, Liam Trotter, Dean Parrett and Kwesi Appiah (pictured) added experience to a youthful Dons starting line-up at the EBB Stadium, against National League opposition, as former Basingstoke keeper McDonnell kept the Shots at bay in a 1-1 draw after Appiah's equaliser, which was his first goal back in a Dons shirt.
"We learned loads from it," said Neal Ardley afterwards. "It was a bit 'kamikaze' at times. I thought they were the better team. There were loads of chances and I thought it could have been five all in the end."
"There was loads of stuff that obviously we don't want to take into next week and there were some bits that we do, but the main thing is you learn from it. We learned you have to find moments of getting through games, so when the opposition press you high we need to know how to deal with that and what our options are and we've done work on the training field.
"On this occasion we became a little disjointed at those moments, but there was some pleasing things as well. Second half though we became particularly disjointed and we gave away moments that we shouldn't be giving away. It was tough because it was skiddy and wet and they handled that a lot better than us, so it was a good test and they are a good team."
"We'll take some stuff from Aldershot and see what happens at Ebbsfleet (Saturday, kick-off 3pm) and we'll make sure we cover as much as we can in training and be as ready for the first game as much as possible."
It took just 54 seconds for Aldershot to open up the Dons with a quick, flowing move that Bobby-Joe Taylor drove low across McDonnell for the opener. Seconds later the home side went close again as the Dons made the worse possible start.
Three minutes later though, Appiah saved Wimbledon's blushes as he fired in from close range to level the scores.
After nine minutes, the Dons could have taken the lead when the ball dropped to Jayden Antwi who had the chance for his second senior goal after his great strike against Burton last Friday, but on this occasion he put the ball over.
Neset Bellikli then produced a good save from distance out of former Dons loanee Jake Cole in the Shots goal.
The first quarter of the game had a lively start to it in wet and windy conditions. While the Dons had chances to take the lead, their approach to the start of the game left Neal Ardley far from impressed and he took the opportunity to reorganise the set up of the side during a break in play.
McDonnell stood tall to deny an Aldershot opportunity when the hosts found themselves one-on-one with the keeper after 27 minutes. As the half wore on though, the young Dons grew in confidence as they tightened up and created better opportunities that lacked an end result.
With just under ten minutes to go in the first-half, an Aldershot back pass presented Wimbledon with another opportunity to take the lead, but first Appiah forced a save out of Cole and Antwi's follow-up effort was blocked.
The lively Taylor caused further difficulties for the Dons when, exactly four minutes from half-time, his curled shot on the edge of the box produced another good save out of McDonnell. It remained level at the break, in front of a crowd of 982.
Aldershot again started brightly as McDonnell twice came under pressure inside the first five minutes of the second-half.
In awful weather conditions, the Dons weathered the storm coming at them with the wind, rain and as Aldershot continued to press in attack. Taylor threatened again, just after the hour mark, as McDonnell pulled off a one handed tip over.
Bellikli had a great opportunity to put Wimbledon in front, but blasted over the cross bar from just inside the area. It did offer the Dons some respite after a third quarter of the game, after a spell when they had largely been contained to their own half.
Academy striker Great Nii Okai Evans made his first senior appearance for the Dons when he was given just over a quarter of an hour, coming on for Antwi, as Wimbledon made what was to be their only substitution. McDonnell was called into action again with 13 minutes to go, making another flying save in deteriorating conditions.
Sibbick earned Wimbledon a free-kick on the edge of the box with just over ten minutes to go, amid calls for a penalty.
With three minutes to go another marauding run from the impressive Sibbick again tested the Aldershot defence as they gave away another free-kick in the same position, but a late Dons rally failed to produce a winner.
It had been a useful test for Neal Ardley and his coaching staff and one which those involved will learn from, ahead of the League One opener at Scunthorpe United.
AFC Wimbledon: McDonnell, Nightingale, Robinson, Appiah, Trotter, Parrett, Sibbick, Hartigan, Bellikli, Antwi (Evans), Owens.
Pic credit: Graham Hunt (Pro Sports Images).