By Chris Slavin
AFC Wimbledon continued the pre-season momentum in style tonight with an impressive performance brushing aside Championship club Burton Albion.
First-half goals from Dean Parrett and Cody McDonald put the Dons well in charge and substitute Jayden Antwi put the icing on the cake with a lovely strike.
The 3-0 victory – a repeat of the score-line in 2014 when Burton were beaten here in a League 2 fixture – was fully merited.
Neal Ardley's team selection included plenty of youth for a game against Championship opposition. Anthony Hartigan started at first-team level for the first time, joining the experienced Jimmy Abdou, signed last week, in the centre of the park. Joe McDonnell, Toby Sibbick, and Egli Kaja were other young players handed opportunities.
Wimbledon made a bright start and created a chance in the fourth minute when Dean Parrett picked out Andy Barcham charging through the middle, but his shot was too close to Burton keeper Stephen Bywater. The Dons came even closer minutes later when Kaja cut inside from the left and unleashed a shot that flashed just wide. The forward momentum continued for Wimbledon, another move ending with Hartigan striking a volley that Bywater claimed well.
As we approached the half hour mark, there had been little to trouble Wimbledon's back four of Sibbick, Paul Robinson, Will Nightingale and Deji Oshilaja. Very promising moments ensued at the other end when Cody McDonald and Barcham linked up. Having played together at Gillingham, the pair had shown signs on Saturday of combining effectively again and that continued here. Barcham put through a lovely ball that McDonald came close to taking in his stride. Just minutes later, Barcham did pick out his same team-mate and McDonald took the ball in his stride, before having his shot deflected just wide.
There had been plenty of positive signs for Wimbledon in the first-half. Hartigan certainly did not look out of place, the young midfielder played his part as the Dons made life difficult for Burton as they attempted to get their passing game going. Three minutes before half-time, Wimbledon earned the lead that the first-half performance had deserved. Dean Parrett showed plenty of perseverance to charge through the middle and he produced a fierce drive that picked out the bottom corner and left Bywater with no chance. On the stroke of half-time, a second goal came out of nothing. Joe McDonnell's long kick bounced over the top and fell kindly for McDonald, who produced another lovely finish, lobbing the ball over Bywater to make it 2-0.
Neal Ardley made no half-time changes as he sought to increase the fitness of those players who started the game. And they started with plenty of determination to continue the first-half momentum as Burton continued to be pressed back. There was a half chance to make it three 10 minutes into the second-half when Parrett sent over a lovely free-kick from the right to the back post that Nightingale met, but his header from an acute angle was off target.
With just over an hour gone, Burton threatened to get one back when a free-kick was swung in deep and Liam Boyce headed over from close range. Matty Lund also tried his luck with a shot from outside the box, but it was well over. With 20 minutes left and the Dons still 2-0 up, Neal Ardley made his first changes with Barry Fuller and George Francomb entering the fray for Sibbick and Abdou. Further changes were made with Neset Bellikli and Jayden Antwi handed opportunities in place of McDonald and Barcham.
Though the impressive attacking movement of the first-half was not replicated, Wimbledon worked hard to restrict Burton to very little and that will have pleased the manager. There was so nearly a third goal for Wimbledon fans to cheer with nine minutes left when Oshilaja's effort was deflected onto the crossbar. However, there was not long to wait for that third goal to arrive and it came in some style too. Substitute Antwi slipped his marker superbly and then powered through on goal, before an unstoppable shot that bounced off a post and into the net. The home faithful erupted and it was a great way to seal another fine pre-season victory.
AFC Wimbledon: Joe McDonnell, Toby Sibbick (Barry Fuller), Deji Oshilaja, Paul Robinson, Will Nightingale, Dean Parrett, Anthony Hartigan, Jimmy Abdou (George Francomb), Egli Kaja, Cody McDonald (Neset Bellikli), Andy Barcham (Jayden Antwi).
Picture credit: Matt Redman.