By Chris Slavin
AFC Wimbledon failed to build on a fine equaliser from Alfie Egan tonight with an in-form Havant & Waterlooville striking three second-half goals to earn an impressive victory.
The hosts triumphed 4-1 at Westleigh Park, scoring three in 17 minutes after Egan had levelled the score in the 54th minute. The defeat for Wimbledon came just six days after Neal Ardley's men had beaten Premier League Brighton & Hove Albion. The manager fielded a team that combined youth with experience for this match, this friendly coming less than 24 hours before the final pre-season match at Boreham Wood. Five players that started against Brighton were retained with Tom King between the sticks again.
Newly promoted National League side Havant & Waterlooville had beaten Wycombe Wanderers in their last pre-season friendly and they started on the front foot. Former Dons Ed Harris and Paul Robinson teamed up at the heart of Havant's defence and they were not really tested early on. Instead, all of the action was at the other end. The first hint of a chance came for the hosts when Alfie Pavey found space in behind, but Jon Meades got back well to clear the danger. Then King was required for the first time when he showed good composure to grasp a cross into the box.
The hosts had started with a really high tempo, offering a completely different test to what Wimbledon had faced against higher level opposition so far in pre-season. The Dons did start to gain a foothold midway through the first-half and a good move forward ended with a shooting opportunity for Joe Pigott, but he blazed over the crossbar. Wimbledon came even closer shortly afterwards when another good move ended with Andy Barcham powering through on goal, but Havant keeper Ryan Young did well to tip his shot wide. However, the hosts fashioned the best chance so far when Andreas Robinson got in behind, but his shot was superbly saved by King. Paul Robinson rose highest to get on the end of the subsequent corner, but his header was over the crossbar.
Havant had the lead they deserved on the balance of play in the 37th minute when a cross was flicked on before Tom King could get there and Nicke Kabamba was left with a simple task to score from close-range. No more first-half chances followed for either side in the first-half with the half-time score at 1-0 to the hosts.
Wimbledon started the second-half with a lot more conviction and a much greater urgency. Hartigan attempted to provide a spark when he fired in a shot from 25 yards that was well saved by Havant keeper Ryan Young. There was no let-up from Wimbledon and Pigott shot just wide, as Havant showed signs of buckling under the pressure. It was a different game now with Barcham starting to find space on the left wing and Hartigan pulling the strings in midfield. It was no surprise when the equaliser arrived in the 54th minute. Barcham showed good pace to get down the left and though Tommy Wood was unable to make the most of his cross, the ball fell nicely for Alfie Egan and he struck a superb low effort that left Young with no chance. The Dons almost turned it around completely when Hartigan sent through a lovely ball for Pigott, but his lob fell short after beating Young.
As the pressure from Wimbledon continued to build, this match only appeared to be going one way. Egan came so close when he was denied by the keeper after good work by Wood, before Nightingale's header was cleared off the line. However, it all swung Havant's way again midway through the second-half. Tom King made an absolutely brilliant save to tip Kabamba's header over, but there was no reprieve from the subsequent corner. The Dons failed to deal with a routine cross and Havant substitute Alfie Rutherford bundled home from close-range in the 67th minute. It wasn't long before Havant extended their advantage with Theo Lewis volleying home superbly to leave King with no chance. Neal Ardley decided to make his first change with Jon Meades replaced by Neset Bellikli, but that failed to change the course of this match. It was 4-1 six minutes from time when Rutherford exposed space in behind on Wimbledon's right side and he cracked home emphatically to leave King with no chance.
The Dons attempted in vain to get back into it and Pigott had a shot well saved by Young, but it was not to be for Wimbledon with Havant adding another notable scalp after beating Wycombe Wanderers in their last pre-season game. Next up, it's that final pre-season match at Boreham Wood on Saturday, which comes just a week before the big kick-off.
AFC Wimbledon: Tom King, Toby Sibbick, Will Nightingale, Terell Thomas, Jon Meades (Neset Bellikli), Tom Soares, Anthony Hartigan, Alfie Egan, Andy Barcham (Tyler Burey), Tommy Wood, Joe Pigott.
Pic credit: Adam Rivers, Pro Sports Images.