By Rob Cornell
A goal from Ethan Nelson-Roberts was not enough to prevent an opening day defeat in the Central League Cup for our development squad.
A determined second-half rally ultimately proved in vain for Alan Reeves' side, who succumbed to a 2-1 loss against Bristol Rovers in their first group game in the competition.
Dominic Telford, on-loan from Stoke City, struck a goal in each half in the match at Merstham FC to win it for Rovers. Nelson-Roberts (pictured) notched a first-half equaliser for the young Dons.
The Dons, skippered by Paul Kalambayi, included Toby Sibbick, Alfie Egan and Jayden Antwi, with Alan Reeves also giving opportunities to trialists Ola Ogunwamide in defence and Richard Pingling up front. Rovers had experience in goal with Adam Smith between the sticks.
New Zealander Nik Tzanev was required to keep Wimbledon level after a scrappy start. He managed to foil a Rovers attack after the Dons defence were caught out of position. Just under ten minutes later, Telford gave the visitors the lead with a deflected shot that beat Tzanev, as it went in off the keeper's near post. Shortly afterwards, Rhys Kavanagh fired a shot into Tzanev's grasp.
Having struggled to trouble Smith at the other end for the first quarter of the game, Wimbledon got back on level terms after 24 minutes. Ethan Nelson-Roberts fired the ball home with a fine finish from inside the box.
Wimbledon were quickly back on their guard though, as defender Dean Perana hooked clear from his own goal-line a minute later. Ten minutes before the break, Ryan Broom produced a stinging strike that pinged off the framework of the goal for Bristol Rovers.
The game now had a competitive edge to it with tackles flying in from both sides, as Neal Ardley watched on from the stand. Wimbledon's attacking intent mainly stemmed from Sibbick down the right hand side. Egan tried to force matters by going through the middle, but he was just unable to break through.
Ossama Ashley's corner in time added on was headed by Osaze Urhoghide into the arms of Smith and that was the last action of the first-half. The visitors had edged it and Wimbledon needed to work harder to break down the Rovers defence.
Great Nii Okai Evans was brought on at the start of the second-half for Ogunwamide, partnering Antwi up front, as the Dons went in search of the lead. Twelve minutes in, Antwi shot wide after a well-worked short corner routine.
Despite a more combative effort from the young Dons, Telford restored the lead for Rovers with a header beating Tzanev after a good cross field pass from Michael Kelly.
Wimbledon again tried to dig deep for a second equaliser and it almost came when Antwi fired a shot at Smith and Rovers managed to scramble the ball clear.
Perana picked up a late yellow and was replaced by Reuben Collins and there was another chance for Nathan Wood, who came on for Ashley. Wood wasted no time getting into the thick of the action when he tested Smith late on to earn a corner that came to nothing.
The Dons ran out of time to take anything from the game, Telford's clinical finishing, proving to be the difference between the two sides.
AFC Wimbledon: Tzanev, Sibbick, Ogunwamide, (Evans) Urhoghide, Kalambayi, Perana (Collins), Nelson-Roberts, Egan, Ashley (Wood), Pingling, Antwi.