AFC Wimbledon Under-18s won the EFL Youth Alliance Cup with a bizarre last-minute goal by keeper Matt Cox, but it was a fully deserved victory for Rob Tuvey’s side.
A long kick from just outside his own area by England Under-17 international Cox deceived his opposite number Elliot Ellis in the final minute of normal time to secure a dramatic 1-0 victory against Rotherham. Despite the farcical nature of the winner, it took nothing away from a Dons display that merited national glory. Travelling all the way up to South Yorkshire on the day, Wimbledon took the game to the hosts at the AESSEAL New York Stadium and had the better chances, before a second-half rally from Rotherham. The post-match celebrations from Wimbledon's players and staff showed what it all meant, a real spirit of togetherness at the heart of a cup victory that they had to wait nine months for after winning the Southern Area Final in February.
Rob Tuvey made just one change to his starting line-up from the side that performed so well in the FA Youth Cup victory against Oxford United. Dylan Adjei-Hersey was restored to the team to offer extra attacking threat with Josh Hallard having to settle for a place on the bench. The Dons dominated early on, starting when Julian Sarmiento-Ramirez won a corner in the very first minute, though the visitors failed to make the most of that opportunity. Shortly afterwards Aron Sasu showed his sharpness in attack by striding into the penalty area with a fine individual run, but he delayed a chance to shoot and Rotherham were able to clear their lines.
Wimbledon created a really good opportunity in the 11th minute. Luke Jenkins, who had shown a real appetite to get forward from defence in the early stages, sent over a lovely cross from the right that picked out Sasu, but he was unable to get proper contact on the ball. The Dons tested Rotherham keeper Ellis for the first time a couple of minutes later. After Troy Chiabi had beaten the offside trap with smart movement, Ellis came off his line quickly to smother, and he was up quickly to made it a double save from Adjei-Hersey’s follow-up.
With Adjei-Hersey as a constant threat on the right side, the young Dons continued to be on the front foot. Kwaku Frimpong was winning plenty of ball in midfield, showing the tenacity that has made him a key part of this team, and Chiabi provided a good link between the attack and midfield. Obed Yeboah’s hold-up play in attack was particularly impressive, the striker providing a platform for attacks. Yeboah was shown a yellow card though in the 25th minute for stopping a breakaway Rotherham attack. Sarmiento-Ramirez was providing good attacking threat on the left side when he joined in the attack.
Wimbledon defended impressively in the first-half with Ethan Sutcliffe, Jenkins, and captain Isaac Ogundere providing real assurance. When Rotherham did get in behind to create their only hint of a chance in the first half hour, Matt Cox was out quickly to stop an attempted lob by Curtis Darose. Though Rotherham did show more attacking thrust in the latter stages of the first-half, the Dons prevented any real chances from being created. Wimbledon could take plenty of encouragement into the second-half after an impressive display in the first 45 minutes.
There was an early penalty shout in the second-half for Wimbledon when Chiabi appeared to be fouled in the box, but the referee thought otherwise. Then the breakthrough almost arrived when Sasu showed lovely skill in the box to find space, but his pass was just cut out before it could reach Chiabi at the back post. At the other end, Luke Jenkins was required to show his defensive qualities when he reacted well in the box to block a goal-bound shot by Bolton Makwedza. At this stage, the Dons had to stay strong at the back with Sutcliffe producing a commanding display in defence. In particular, a lovely piece of play from Sutcliffe really caught the eye when he made a fine interception before striding out of defence and picking out a pass, earning applause from Wimbledon’s coaching staff. With Rotherham having come into it at the start of the second-half, Rob Tuvey made his first change just before the hour. Josh Hallard was introduced for Chiabi, who had come close to breaking the deadlock.
Wimbledon started to take control of the match again midway through the second-half and Sarmiento-Ramirez found space in the box, but his subsequent shot lacked power, and appeals for a penalty fell on deaf ears. Wimbledon then had the ball in the net through Sasu, who beat the keeper with a lovely finish after being sent through by Yeboah’s fine ball, but the flag was up for offside. Wimbledon made another substitution in the 66th minute with Quaine Bartley introduced for Yeboah in attack. As we entered the latter stages of the match, the outcome was in the balance with both sides threatening to win it. First, the hosts came tantalisingly close when Matt Cox got down well to deny George Scott, before the follow-up shot by Jerome Greaves thudded off the crossbar. The Dons also hit the woodwork through Adjei-Hersey, who struck a brilliant effort against the woodwork. Ciaran McGuckin forced Cox into another impressive save as Rotherham ended the match strongly.
With the clock winding down to 90 minutes, there was a twist in the tale as Wimbledon won it in dramatic and bizarre circumstances. Cox struck a powerful kick from the edge of his own area that looped over his opposite number Ellis and towards the line. Though Ellis got back and got a touch on the ball, he was unable to prevent it crossing the line. Rotherham attempted valiantly to equalise during four minutes of injury-time, but there was no way back for the hosts and the final whistle signalled jubilant celebrations from the young Dons and academy staff. The winning goal was a strange way to secure silverware, but there was no denying that Wimbledon fully deserved the triumph.
AFC Wimbledon: Matthew Cox, Luke Jenkins, Ethan Sutcliffe, Isaac Ogundere, Dylan Adjei-Hersey, Julian Sarmiento-Ramirez, Abdi Alli, Kwaku Frimpong, Troy Chiabi (Josh Hallard), Obed Yeboah (Quaine Bartley), Aron Sasu (David Kawa).
Pic credit: Rotherham United FC.