Jack Rudoni's well-taken penalty came too late to prevent defeat for AFC Wimbledon Under-18s at Dagenham & Redbridge.
With only four first year scholars available, it was an opportunity for Under-16s to step-up, along with two Under-15s. Despite the young Dons suffering a 2-1 defeat in the final league fixture of 2017/18, Under-18s assistant manager James Oliver-Pearce highlighted the positives for the future.
"Due to 10 of the squad still being at school, we were not able to prepare as much as we would have liked, but the boys showed excellent versatility to be able to adjust to different systems and still be clear on their roles and responsibilities," said James. "On another day the result might have gone our way, but the squad will take plenty of lessons from what could have been done better. We have a good platform to build on, ahead of next season."
The young Dons started well on Saturday and it was not long until Donte Lodge-Francis and David Fisher linked up well, but the Daggers managed to clear. After 10 minutes the dons were forced into their first change of the morning with the in-form Reuben Collins forced off with an injury. The hosts started to gain momentum and created good openings, but the impressive back three of Jamil Awoyejo, Jack Madelin and Archie Procter coped well. With the sun beaming down, it certainly did not prevent both sets of players playing with an impressive intensity to try and gain the advantage.
Though the excellent Julian Sarmiento-Ramirez and Tristan Abldeen-Goodridge came close for Wimbledon, the score remained 0-0 at half-time. Once again, the young dons were quick out of the blocks and it was not long until a Lodge-Francis effort went narrowly past the post. Dagenham took the lead on the hour though when a long free-kick from Daggers goalkeeper Louie Chapman took an unfortunate bounce over the onrushing Albert White, leaving Sam Salis the easiest of tasks to tap home. There was nothing fortunate about Dagenham's second goal though with Blue Gallagher driving home a spectacular shot from 25 yards in the 72nd minute.
With the Dons now chasing the game, a change in shape resulted in Wimbledon regaining momentum and with 10 minutes to go, a bursting run from Finlay Macnab put him clean through, but he shot narrowly wide. There was still time though for a late Wimbledon consolation with centre-back Madelin's surging run brought to a halt by a foul in the box and Man of the Match Rudoni tucked home the subsequent spot-kick.