By Chris Slavin
AFC Wimbledon's Under-23 development squad suffered a narrow loss against Merstham's first-team tonight with the all-important cutting edge eluding the young Dons.
On a night full of positives in terms of approach play and work outside the box, Wimbledon failed to make the most of several promising situations in the 1-0 defeat, most notably when Tommy Wood headed agonisingly wide late on. Despite putting on late pressure, Wimbledon failed to find an equaliser with a goal inside the first two minutes for Bostik League Premier Division side Merstham enough to win it.
Alan Reeves was able to call on players that had featured in first-team friendlies during the summer with Alfie Egan, Paul Kalambayi, Tyler Burey, Tommy Wood, and Neset Bellikli (pictured) all involved in the match played on a 4G pitch at Carshalton. Taking on a Merstham first-team that included former Dons Ben Harrison and Richard Pingling, the young Dons conceded after just 75 seconds. Wimbledon failed to defend a routine set-piece delivery from Kershaney Samuels and the ball fell nicely to Ollie Cook, who made no mistake from close-range.
Wimbledon attempted to get back into the game by spreading the ball about well with Alfie Egan trying to establish possession. However, the Dons came up against a Merstham side that spread the ball around well in the opening exchanges and they showed plenty of bravery in playing out from the back. That made it a test for a young Wimbledon side to press effectively and win enough possession to get back into the game. Pacy winger Tyler Burey caused problems with his dribbling ability early on and he turned inside well, before curling a shot over the crossbar.
By the half hour mark, Wimbledon had failed to really test Merstham goalkeeper Chris Haigh, despite putting plenty of forward moves together. At the other end, a quick Merstham break ended with Calum Davies put clean through, but his shot was just too high. As we approached half-time, Wimbledon put together a lovely move involving Egan, Bellikli and Bobby Mills, but Burey had his shot blocked. Egan twice tried his luck with long-range efforts before half-time, but his first shot was saved and then he drove wide. Wimbledon went in 1-0 down at half-time with Alan Reeves's side having not found the cutting edge to match their promising approach play.
The second-half started with Wimbledon on the front foot and Tom Scott put in a lovely cross from the left that deserved a good finish, but no one was able to get on the end of it. With five minutes gone in the second-half Wimbledon created a decent chance when Tommy Wood sent over a lovely cross from the right, but Ossama Ashley headed it over the crossbar. Just before the hour, Wimbledon failed to make the most of another good cross when Bellikli sent over a lovely delivery from the right that just eluded Bobby Mills and Paul Kalambayi.
Wimbledon enjoyed plenty of possession in the second-half, but Nik Tzanev was required to make a good save when he reacted well to deal with a well struck effort from Ben Harrison. Alan Reeves made a double change midway through the second-half with Archie Proctor and Jack Rudoni introduced for Tom Scott and Bobby Mills. With 20 minutes to play, Alfie Egan attempted to take the game by the scruff of the neck, injecting an energy that promised to finally get the equaliser. His perseverance created a hint of an opening when Ossama Ashley was scythed down just outside the area, but Bellikli struck the subsequent free-kick straight at Merstham keeper Haigh. Wimbledon had shown plenty of promising build-up through midfield, but too often the final pass failed to match the quality of the approach play.
With 11 minutes to play, Wood showed good vision to pick-out Bellikli on the right wing, but his cross was well collected by Haigh in the Merstham goal. With time running out, Wimbledon increasingly worked the ball out to Bellikli and substitute Weekes on the flanks, but no one was able to get on the end of their crosses. Wimbledon's best chance of the match came four minutes from time when Weekes put in a superb cross from the left that picked out Tommy Wood, but he headed wide from close-range. That perhaps summed up Wimbledon's night with the young Dons playing plenty of attractive football, but lacking the finishing prowess to make it count. The final chance for Wimbledon came when Egan cut inside smartly to create space, but his curler was just over the crossbar and it was just not to be for the young Dons on the night.
AFC Wimbledon: Nik Tzanev, trialist, Tom Scott (Archie Proctor), Ossama Ashley, Paul Kalambayi, trialist, Tyler Burey (Reece Weekes), Alfie Egan, Tommy Wood (Donte-Lodge Francis), Bobby Mills (Jack Rudoni), Neset Bellikli.