By Chris Slavin
A late goal from substitute Alfie Egan earned a morale-boosting victory for AFC Wimbledon against Premier League Watford today.
In an entertaining pre-season friendly, Egan struck with just two minutes left to secure a 3-2 win and the Football Manager Cup, an accolade that was shared two years ago.
Egan, who scored for Wimbledon against Watford two seasons ago in the FA Youth Cup, capped another fine display at senior level with the winner.
His goal came after an encouraging display from Wimbledon with new faces impressing, particularly Cody McDonald, who scored twice in his first match for the Dons.
With Watford manager Marco Silva selecting a strong starting 11 full of Premier League experience, it was a tough test for a Wimbledon side containing a clutch of new players. Of course, Callum Kennedy and Deji Oshilaja were both back in familiar surroundings, but goalkeeper George Long and striker Cody McDonald were also straight in from the start. Neal Ardley also handed opportunities to midfielders Raoul Esseboom and Lewis Maloney with the manager having intended to take a look at them at Eastleigh, but that match was called off.
The Hornets had a chance to open the scoring after just a minute when Etienne Capoue latched onto a through ball from Abdoulaye Doucouré, but his lob was just too high. On plenty of occasions last season, it was Andy Barcham who provided a spark for Wimbledon, and he aimed to get his side going once again. A power-packed 20-yard run ended with a fierce drive, but Watford keeper Heurelho Gomes was relieved to watch it go over. It provided the launchpad for Wimbledon to almost take the lead. After Cody McDonald had won a corner, it was taken short and a lovely ball from Francomb ended with a glancing header from Lyle Taylor that bounced off a post.
Unsurprisingly against top-flight opposition, Wimbledon had to concentrate on their work off the ball and retaining a solid shape with Watford dominating possession. Oshilaja wasted no time showing just why he became such a favourite in his last spell here. First, he made a vital interception to stop Watford fashioning a clear-cut chance and then a powerful run down the left earned applause from the Dons faithful. In a 15-minute spell before half-time, Wimbledon needed new keeper George Long to show all of the qualities that made him a priority signing for Neal Ardley. Just after the half hour, he reacted superbly to save a close-range effort from Miguel Britos.
As we approached the break, Watford really started to turn the screw and Long was required to stay alert. Following a fine run by Isaac Success, Long was off his line quickly to deny him and then the keeper on loan from Sheffield United also stopped Stefano Okaka. A free-kick from Jose Holebas was also turned away by Long and that meant Wimbledon went in level at the break.
Neal Ardley made two changes at half-time with Dean Parrett and Anthony Hartigan entering the fray for Esseboom and Maloney. Though Wimbledon had ended the first-half on the back foot, it was a completely different story at the start of the second-half. Only 16 seconds had elapsed when Taylor's cross allowed McDonald to score in his first match for Wimbledon at the Cherry Red Records Stadium. There was no let-up from Wimbledon after taking the lead and the advantage was doubled two minutes later. Parrett played a lovely short pass to Barcham, who took it in his stride before picking out McDonald in space and he made no mistake to put Wimbledon 2-0 up.
Watford produced a stirring response with a spell of pressure that earned a goal back. Holebas found space down the Watford left and his cut-back fell perfectly for Ben Watson, who produced a lovely low finish. It was so close to being 2-2 when Steven Berghuis crossed for Capoue, but he dragged his shot just wide. At the other end, Wimbledon continued to show plenty of threat with substitutes having an immediate effect after the hour mark. Kwesi Appiah, who replaced McDonald, latched onto a fine ball from Oshilaja, before attempting a curler that flashed just wide. Barry Fuller's return to action after five months out ended with a valuable 66 minutes under his belt, the Dons captain replaced by Toby Sibbick.
With 13 minutes left, Watford levelled the score through a fine finish from Steven Berghuis, who steered home clinically after a cross from Brice Djadjedje. In a finale that saw both sides going for a winner, Watford keeper Daniel Bachmaan stayed alert to turn away an effort from Sibbick and he then did even better to deny Appiah, who had gone clean through on goal. However, there was nothing he could do to stop Wimbledon netting a late winner. Egan, who had entered the fray for Barcham on the hour, struck a clinical low effort from just inside the box that beat Bachmaan to earn a fine victory for the Dons.
AFC Wimbledon: George Long (Joe McDonnell), Barry Fuller (Toby Sibbick), Callum Kennedy (Seth Owens), Paul Robinson (Will Nightingale), Deji Oshilaja (Paul Kalambayi), Raoul Esseboom (Dean Parrett), Lewis Maloney (Anthony Hartigan), George Francomb (Egli Kaja), Lyle Taylor (Jayden Antwi), Cody McDonald (Kwesi Appiah), Andy Barcham (Alfie Egan).
Pic credit: Jonathon Bromley, Pro Sports Images.