Match report: Young Dons defeat MK
Late goals from Reuben Collins and Nick Akoto ensured that AFC Wimbledon under-18s rounded off another memorable campaign on a high.
The 4-2 Youth Alliance Merit League 2 victory against Milton Keynes was a fine way for several squad members to bow out with manager Mark Robinson paying tribute to their contributions afterwards.
Having already recorded 4-0 victories, both home and away in the South East section earlier this season, Wimbledon went into a third meeting as strong favourites to complete the hat-trick over Milton Keynes. However, a poor start by their own standards left them chasing the game.
"All coaches will tell you, due to the way people now communicate generally in life, that getting young players to communicate effectively on the pitch is becoming an ever increasing problem," said Mark.
"As an Academy, we are continually looking at ways to educate the players about how important verbal communication is. We started with a formation that needs constant communication to make it work - especially against a side who pass the ball well and quickly.
"We always offered a threat in the first-half and created a lot of chances, but we also looked too exposed at times and certain players were having to work over-time due to our failure to communicate properly. Despite coming in 2-1 up, we discussed this at half-time. We were very dominant early in the second half, but the fact we did not kill the game off - missing several chances - gave them hope and they had a decent 10 minute spell before and after their equaliser. The boys got back on top though, finished strongly, and we were worthy winners."
Milton Keynes started strongly and a powerful finish from the edge of the box by Joe Evans put the visitors 1-0 up after just four minutes.
In response, Wimbledon got back into their stride with a succession of corners. Great Nii Okai Evans went close after ten minutes and an Anthony Hartigan effort had the visitors on alert two minutes later. Evans twice more came close to an equaliser before the half hour mark and at the other end, Wimbledon keeper Edward Ogebor-Onaiwu gathered up a Milton Keynes free-kick.
Ogebor-Onaiwu pulled off a vital save just after the half hour after Dean Perana had been out-muscled. Wimbledon were finally back on level terms on 37 minutes after a well-directed Nathan Wood cross found Perana in the box and the ball fell to Urhoghide, who was fouled in the area. Judah Chapman stroked the ball home from the penalty spot. A fine first-half turnaround was complete when promising centre-back Osaze Urhoghide had just enough space to steer home from a tight angle.
Jack Wingate took over in goal for the second-half and five minutes later Tino Carpene came on for Callum Phillip. Wimbledon adapted well to the 3-5-2 formation on the first-team training ground pitch and pressurised Milton Keynes at the back.
However, with Wimbledon pushing for a third, Ethan Nelson-Roberts had to come to the rescue of Wingate as he cleared off the line. Nick Akoto replaced Nelson-Roberts with the last quarter of the game to go.
It had been a warning sign. Wimbledon failed to turn their possession and opportunities into goals and were made to pay as a rare breakaway resulted in an equaliser from Brandon Thomas Asante.
With a quarter of an hour to go, Wimbledon brought on towering Reuben Collins at the back for Perana and new signing Ossama Ashley for captain Williams-Bowers, who typically had given everything for the cause yet again.
It appeared that Wimbledon had let victory slip through their fingers, but a late rally in the final five minutes changed all that. Firstly, the powerful Collins determinedly finished off man-of-the-match Wood's corner to restore the goal advantage .Then, just a minute later, Akoto stayed alert in a goal mouth scramble to net a decisive fourth goal.
At last, the hosts were in full control and Wood was even able to turn on the skills, compounding further frustration for Milton Keynes by the final whistle, as Wimbledon wrapped-up the points and a third successive victory over their opponents.
"We were not at our best today, but it was always going to be quite emotional with it being the last game for some players at AFC Wimbledon," added Mark Robinson.
"Reece Williams-Bowers has been here since he was eight years old. Our Academy was very much built around players like Reece, who had the opportunity to move to a Premier League club when he was 14, but stayed with us because he believed in what we were building. This kind of attitude helped us keep our better players and attract better talent, so we will always be so grateful for their genuine loyalty to the club."
"I would like to thank players leaving us on behalf of everyone at the club for their service and attitude and for, once again, raising the bar in what we expect from our young players. So, a big thank you to Jack Wingate, Sean Bird, Nick Akoto, Antonio Walker, Nathan Wood, Callum Phillip, Judah Chapman and Reece Williams-Bowers. We wish them every success in the future."
AFC Wimbledon: Edward Ogebor-Onaiwu (Jack Wingate), Ethan Nelson-Roberts (Nick Akoto), Dean Perana (Reuben Collins), Osaze Urhoghide, Tom Scott, Callum Phillip, (Tino Carpene), Anthony Hartigan, Judah Chapman, Nathan Wood, Reece Williams-Bowers (Ossama Ashley), Great Nii Okai Evans.