By Chris Slavin
A young AFC Wimbledon team produced a battling display to earn a deserved victory at Carshalton Athletic tonight.
It was far from pretty, particularly the manner of Wimbledon's winner through Jayden Antwi (pictured), but no one in blue and yellow cared as the young Dons earned a hard-fought 1-0 verdict that was fully merited on the night.
Coach Alan Reeves selected a very youthful team at Carshalton Athletic with six Under-18s named in the starting line-up. Nick Tzanev, Seth Owens, Paul Kalambayi, Chris Whelpdale and Jayden Antwi were the five players out of the 11 too old to be eligible for this season's FA Youth Cup.
The Dons made a bright start on a 3G pitch against a more experienced Bostik League South side, dominating possession in the early exchanges. Wimbledon came so close to an opening goal in the 20th minute after Ethan Nelson-Roberts found Whelpdale in space and his chipped cross bounced off the far post with Carshalton keeper Liam Beech beaten. Midfielders Dean Perana, Ossama Ashley and Nelson-Roberts were seeing plenty of the ball in the first half an hour as Wimbledon showed plenty of promise.
In a half an hour that mainly consisted of midfield battles, neither side had created a clear-cut chance with Wimbledon showing strength at the back, but struggling to create opportunities for the front pairing of Jayden Antwi and Tino Carpene. Chances had been few and far between as we approached half-time with only an Antwi strike from an acute angle - saved by Carshalton keeper Liam Beech - threatening to break the deadlock. At the other end, Nik Tzanev had nothing to do in the first-half, the Dons keeper well protected by the solid back three of Osaze Urhoghide, Kalambayi and Seth Owens. The half-time score of 0-0 was hardly a surprise considering the lack of goalmouth action in the first 45 minutes.
Alan Reeves made two changes at half-time with Whelpdale replaced by Tyler Burey on the right and Great Nii Okai Evans on up front in place of Tino Carpene. Whelpdale had shown glimpses of the class that made him a Championship player not so long ago as he made his way back from an injury-plagued 2016/17 season. Wimbledon came so close breaking the deadlock just before the hour when Antwi produced a sharp turn on the right and sent over a fierce cross that Nelson-Roberts came close to connecting with at the back post. Just after the hour, Wimbledon were forced to defend in numbers for the first time in this match. Though the hosts poured forward, the Dons remained resilient at the back. Jordan Cheadle twice tried his luck, firstly with a shot that flashed wide, and then Tzanvev had to react well to turn his powerful drive wide.
A set-piece proved decisive in the 68th minute with Wimbledon taking the lead. Substitute Tyler Burey delivered a lovely cross to the back post and after a goalmouth scramble, Kalamabayi back-heeled into the path of Antwi, who forced the ball home. The young Dons visibly grew in confidence after taking the lead with wide-man Burey really catching the eye. He produced a great run down the right to create space, before picking out Antwi and his shot was well saved by Beech. When Wimbledon did come under pressure, keeper Tzanev was a reliable presence between the sticks. As well as showing good handling skills when tested from crosses, Tzanev reacted well to stop a deflected close-range shot from Carshalton substitute Myron McKenzie from finding the net.
With two minutes to go, Wimbledon came close to doubling the advantage with a fine move creating space on the left for Okai Evans, but his shot was just wide. However, Antwi's goal was enough for Wimbledon to earn a fully deserved victory and a priceless one for a group of youngsters aiming to be a part of the club's future.
AFC Wimbledon: Nick Tzanev, Seth Owens, Tom Scott (Reuben Collins), Osaze Urhoghide (Jamil Awogego), Paul Kalambayi, Chris Whelpdale (Tyler Burey), Ethan Nelson-Roberts (Finley McNab), Ossama Ashley (Richard Mbele), Tino Carpene (Great Nii Okai Evans), Jayden Antwi, Dean Perana (Donte Lodge Francis).