By Chris Slavin
A cracking strike from Andy Barcham meant that Neal Ardley's men secured a hard-fought victory in their final pre-season match.
Barcham curled home superbly in the 69th minute to earn a 2-1 win against Danny Kedwell's Ebbsfleet United and now it's onto the real action with just seven days until the League One opener at Scunthorpe United.
A rare goal from captain Barry Fuller – just his second in a Dons shirt – had earlier been cancelled out by Jack Powell's stunning free-kick.
Neal Ardley selected a strong starting 11 for this final game of pre-season against an Ebbsfleet side promoted to the National League in 2016/17.
An image of Dons hero Danny Kedwell adorned the front of the matchday programme, but he started the game on the bench. Seeking a morale-boosting victory before the real action begins, Wimbledon came out all guns blazing and had a chance to take the lead inside five minutes. George Francomb sent over a lovely corner from the left that picked out Paul Kalamabyi at the back post, but he headed just wide.
The Dons put together some flowing moves in the first 10 minutes, creating several promising opportunities, without quite getting the final ball right. Egli Kaja had the right idea when he put through a searching ball that split the Ebbsfleet defence, but an Ebbsfleet defender just got there before Andy Barcham. Kaja also struck wide from just outside the area as Wimbledon dominated the first 20 minutes. Kaja was instrumental in Wimbledon's best moments in the first half an hour and lovely play by the young midfielder on the right ended with a fine cross that fell nicely for Andy Barcham, but his shot was deflected just wide. From the subsequent corner, Kalamabayi again got on the end of Francomb's cross, but he headed just wide.
There had been little to trouble the Wimbledon defence in the first 30 minutes, Ebbsfleet struggling to get a share of possession. The hosts did attempt to unsettle Wimbledon with crosses into the box, but the Dons defence dealt well with them. Jack Connors put in a lovely ball from the left, but Deji Oshilaja did really well to head away from danger. Then a corner from the right gave Luke Coulson a chance at the back post, but Kalamabayi did just enough to put him off and he was unable to direct it goalwards.
Kalambayi had produced an assured display at the heart of defence so far for one so young, showing good aerial ability and composure on the ball. At the other end, Wimbledon fashioned a good chance when Callum Kennedy put over a deep cross to the back post, but Barry Fuller headed over. The half-time score of 0-0 showed that Wimbledon had just fallen short with the final ball after dominating possession for long spells.
Ebbsfleet made a half-time change with a familiar face entering the fray as Danny Kedwell came onto play against his old club. Neal Ardley made no substitutions at the interval with the objective of getting 90 minutes into players as the priority. Following a slow start to the second-half, Wimbledon had a great chance to open the scoring after Coulson handled Cody McDonald's flick just inside the area. McDonald took it himself and struck the ball well, but it was at a nice height for Nathan Ashmore, who dived to his left to save. However, Wimbledon did take the lead on the hour when Francomb's corner was met by Barry Fuller, who got just enough power on his volley for it to beat a man on the line.
Wimbledon's lead did not last long though with Ebbsfleet making the most of a free-kick opportunity. After Deji Oshilaja was penalised for bringing down Myles Weston just outside the box, Jack Powell curled a superb effort into the top corner. As Ebbsfleet attempted to take the game by the scruff of the neck, it needed Dons keeper George Long to save brilliantly from Darren McQueen.
Following a spell of Ebbsfleet pressure, Wimbledon stepped up the tempo again, a high press forcing the hosts into mistakes. A goal of real quality edged Wimbledon back in front with 20 minutes left. Jimmy Abdou found Andy Barcham in space on the left and he cut inside, before curling a lovely effort into the top corner with his right foot. Shortly afterwards, there was a big moment for teenager Osaze Urhoghide as he entered the fray for Oshilaja. The young defender was straight into the thick of the action and he shot into the side netting with a decent chance.
As we entered the last 10 minutes, Ebbsfleet started to put pressure on in search of an equaliser, but Wimbledon had a good chance to seal it when Kaja cut the ball back and it was only half cleared into the path of Urhoghide, but his shot was just wide. Long had stayed alert in the Wimbledon goal, showing good qualities when called upon, and he did brilliantly to stop another free-kick from Powell finding the net as he made a fine fingertip save. Despite late Ebbsfleet pressure, two was just enough for Wimbledon to round off the pre-season schedule on a high.
AFC Wimbledon: George Long, Barry Fuller, Callum Kennedy, Deji Oshilaja (Osaze Urhoghide), Paul Kalambayi, George Francomb, Jimmy Abdou, Cody McDonald, Alfie Egan, Andy Barcham, Egli Kaja.
Pic credit: Matt Redman, Pro Sports Images.