Our Under-23 development squad are unbeaten since September and coach Alan Reeves has challenged Wimbledon’s youngsters to end the season strongly.
Though a win at Leyton Orient yesterday made it 13 without defeat, Alan is more focused on guiding young players towards league football with Paul Kalambayi, Tommy Wood, Kyron Stabana, and Alfie Egan having all travelled with the first-team recently.
"It's no surprise that some of the lads are getting their rewards in the first-team squad," said Alan. "You never know when the opportunity will come and I say that to them all of the time. When you get that opportunity you might only get one and therefore you have to be ready. The young players have to work hard in every training session and do their best.
"As well as Paul Kalambayi, Tommy Wood and Kyron Stabana (pictured above right with Alan) have also travelled with the first-team squad. They are lads that came in at the start of the season and I said to them that there was an opportunity for them here. If they take it, then who knows? In a few months' time if they've consistently played well they might get a chance. When they get that opportunity they have to take it though. You have to be physically and mentally ready by applying yourself in training every day."
"Young players always have little dips in form here and there. As they get older, they get more fluidity in their game and they know what's expected week in and week out. Some of them will still be growing both physically and mentally. They are going to have peaks and troughs. When they have down periods in performance levels they have to dig in. The players who can do that will be the ones that go onto have good careers. They need to show that they are determined to come out of the other side. Everyone has periods when they are not playing well and you have to roll your sleeves up and come out of it. Ultimately, it's down to you as a player to come out of it. Coaches and members of staff can help you as much as possible, but when you get on the pitch it's down to you."
Alan added that this season's unbeaten run has built confidence. Highlights have included a draw at AFC Bournemouth and convincing wins against Peterborough United and Portsmouth. Overall, it's 13 without defeat in the Central League, Surrey Senior Cup, Central League Cup, and friendlies. With Wally Downes showing that he's prepared to give youngsters opportunities if they are ready, there's plenty of incentive to finish the season strongly.
"We've had a settled group for the first time in a while. More often than not they give me everything: they know what's expected from a Wimbledon team and a side that I put on the pitch. The results this season have shown that. The results are not the be all and end all, but they are for the lads. They want to go home and tell their peers and their parents that they've won. It's good for their confidence if we get a good result against an Under-23 side from a Premier League club club.
"The manager has been quite forthright in giving the young players a chance. He obviously hasn't seen them all properly yet, but he's asked me questions about them, and I've given him honest answers. The manager is prepared to give the young players a chance if they are ready."
The development squad's next match is a Central League away fixture at Milton Keynes on Monday (1.00 pm kick-off)