By Rob Cornell
Hard work on the training ground and taking control of a game paved the way to victory for AFC Wimbledon under-18s. That was the verdict of James Oliver-Pearce after their latest Youth Alliance success.
Skipper Ethan Nelson-Roberts (pictured), who made his first-team debut at Yeovil in the Checkatrade Trophy in December, struck before half-time against the visitors from Somerset - as the young Dons maintained their unbeaten start to the Merit League with a 1-0 win.
“It started from the warm-up, you could see the boys were really focused and they were on it,” said assistant coach James Oliver-Pearce. “They led the way, without any input from any members of staff, so their focus was fantastic.
“I’m really happy as we felt it was a team performance, The boys carried on with things we’d worked on in training, We’ve started to look a little bit more tight-knit, which is a real positive considering where we’ve come from earlier in the season. Its taken time, but they are looking like a group and there was a clean sheet too which was a huge positive
“I don’t think we ever really looked like conceding, as Tom Miles didn’t have much to do in terms of shots saved. We looked a threat in the first-half, but in the second-half they came at us a bit more, the pitch started to tare up slightly and it became a bit scrappier. Even at the very end though, Donte Lodge-Francis hit the underside of the crossbar on his return and it didn’t go in. There was a lot to be pleased with; there were a lot of first-year scholars out there, a couple of second years and one under-16 and again they did very well.
The winning goal was down to time well spent on the training ground in the build-up to the game, coming from a fresh perspective.
“They boys had a good finishing session with Joe Roberts (Lead Foundation Phase Coach),” said James. “They were really positive earlier in the week and the session seemed to go really well. It’s great for Joe to come and work with under-18s and gain experience, but also for our players to hear a different voice.
“He did genuinely put on a really good session and that seemed to pay dividends. Ethan came up with a goal from the exact range and the exact angle that Joe was working on and that gave us the win ultimately.
Tom Miles released the ball quickly for striker Bobby Mills to have a low attempt on goal for the Dons opening effort of the game.
Yeovil moved the ball quickly though and forced a save out of Miles from close range, showing no sluggishness after their long journey up and on a heavy surface. Wimbledon responded with a well crafted move in increasingly muddy conditions that resulted in Finlay Macnab's effort blocked close in.
Set piece specialist Jack Rudoni tried to trouble the Yeovil keeper, but required greater accuracy in the awkward conditions. Man-of-the-match Macnab stood out though as he worked hard to win the ball for the side across the pitch.
Just past the midway point of the half, the young Dons released Mills who forced another low save out of the keeper. With 15 minutes to go before the break though Yeovil had another good spell, as they moved the ball quickly again and presented a challenge.
The young Dons again responded as on form Tino Carpene shot across goal, forcing a good save out of the Yeovil keeper with eleven minutes remaining.
Persistence paid off with five minutes to go, when Nelson-Roberts fired the Dons in front just inside the box following a second wave of attack. Wimbledon deservedly held the lead at the break, with the coaching staff only left to offer further encouragement for the second-half.
Rudoni's corner two minutes after the restart was met by Osaze Urhoghide and the keeper tipped over for a corner to prevent the hosts from doubling their lead. Increasing frustration from the Yeovil dugout became more evident, as they battled to get back on level terms, but Wimbledon proved more than a match for their work rate and contained any potential threat.
Macnab was withdrawn with just over a quarter of an hour to go, having again caught the eye. Lodge-Francis came on up front for the creative Rudoni for the closing stages and he smashed the ball off the underside of the bar in injury time.
A single goal proved to be enough at the final whistle, as Wimbledon stretched their unbeaten run to three games under the format for the second half of the season.