By Rob Cornell
Wimbledon made a positive start to pre-season with a good base for Neal Ardley to build on after they put four past Championship opposition.
Kwesi Appiah and Joe Pigott gave the Dons a deserved two-goal advantage before the break against Paul Clement’s Reading. Although the Royals fought back to level the scoreline in the second-half, Wimbledon’s promising Academy produced players helped restore the two-goal cushion, with further strikes from Egli Kaja and Kane Crichlow for a 4-2 victory.
Goalkeeper Tom King and midfielder Mitch Pinnock, two of the Dons summer signings, figured in the starting line-up. Fit-again Will Nightingale partnered Player of the Year Deji Oshilaja at the centre of defence and Tom Soares took the captain’s armband. There was also a start for Academy product Toby Sibbick at right-back.
Former Newcastle and Port Vale centre-back Remie Streete was named among the Dons substitutes, along with new under-23 addditions Tommy Wood and Kosta Sparta, looking to make an impact against his previous club. There was also a place for promising winger Tyler Burey, making the step up from Mark Robinson’s under-18s squad.
Pinnock was keen to make an impression from the start on the right. He provided a useful early corner that Nightingale headed just over Vito Mannone’s crossbar after six minutes. Eight minutes later, Pinnock whipped in a free-kick that Oshilaja headed wide.
Wimbledon again started the better after a drinks break midway through the first- half. First, Andy Barcham produced a stinging save out of Mannone after 26 minutes and two minutes later Joe Pigott floated in a free-kick that again tested the Reading keeper.
Sone Aluko and Yakou Meite looked the main threat for the visitors, but Wimbledon worked hard to contain them, with King looking commanding on debut in goal.
The breakthrough came nine minutes before half-time with Pinnock and Nightingale again involved. From Pinnock’s free-kick, Nightingale headed on and Appiah turned and fired the ball past Mannone from close range for the opener.
Six minutes later, Pigott (pictured) doubled the Dons lead again from close range after another well worked move. It could have been three for the Dons before half-time, as Appiah had a couple of other chances.
Oshilaja came to King’s rescue and preserved his clean sheet on debut, by getting an important challenge in on Meite before he could reduce the arrears. Wimbledon deserved their two-goal lead at the break in the sweltering conditions.
Joe McDonnell took over from King and Liam Trotter, who took on the captain’s role, replaced Alfie Egan at the start of the second half.
Having changed their eleven, Reading looked sharper after the restart and Adrian Popa pulled a goal back with a bullet header past McDonnell. Reading were back on level terms after 56 minutes, as Sam Smith capitalised when McDonnell struggled to keep hold of the ball and despite Sibbick’s attempts to keep it out.
On the hour, Neal Ardley made further changes to the Dons line-up as Sibbick, Jon Meades, Nightingale and Oshilaja came off and Remie Streete, Neset Bellikli, Kosta Sparta and Paul Kalambayi were given half an hour. For Bellikli it was his first game back, having been ruled out for eleven months through injury.
More changes followed three minutes later when Soares, Pinnock, Barcham, Pigott and Appiah departed and Egli Kaja, Tommy Wood, Kane Crichlow, Ossama Ashley and Tyler Burey were given their chance to shine.
The injection of youth to the Dons line-up paid off in the heat with sixteen minutes to go, as Kosta Sparta crossed for Kaja who netted confidently to put the Dons back in front. Six minutes before the end, Crichlow dispatched a well placed finish, which restored the two-goal advantage and ensured a deserved victory for the Dons.
AFC Wimbledon: King, Sibbick, Meades, Nightingale, Oshilaja, Soares, Egan, Pinnock, Barcham, Pigott and Appiah.
Second-half substitutes: McDonnell, Trotter, Streete, Bellikli, Sparta, Kalambayi, Kaja, Wood, Crichlow, Ashley and Burey.
Photo credit: Stephen Wright (Pro Sports Images).