AFC Wimbledon failed to score for the first time in a competitive match this season, as League 2 club Orient earned a deserved victory on the night.
The 2-0 score-line certainly didn't flatter the hosts as they made the most of their opportunities and really put their stamp on the match in the second-half, substitute Conor Wilkinson striking a fine goal to seal it in the 74th minute.
Wimbledon showed a lack of cutting edge in attack after a bright start to this match, a much-changed line-up unable to grab the game by the scruff of the neck. Despite the defeat, Wimbledon are still through to the last-32 of the EFL Trophy, though a chance to secure top spot in Group G was squandered.
Glyn Hodges had spoken in the build-up to this match about the importance of utilising his squad during a busy month of matches and just three players were retained from the side that started against Accrington Stanley. The Dons were bidding for a third successive victory in the EFL Trophy and a chance to go through as group winners. League 2 opponents Orient had only returned to match action on Saturday after two weeks with several squad members having to self isolate due to Coronavirus.
The Dons started brightly and came so close to taking the lead in the ninth minute when Paul Kalambayi got on the end of a corner at the back post and drilled a fierce shot past Orient keeper Sam Sargeant, but Lee Angol cleared off the line. Adam Roscrow, who had scored in both of our previous EFL Trophy matches so far this season, then tried his luck with a shot, but it was too close to Sargeant.
Wimbledon had put together fine moves in the first 20 minutes, without finding the breakthrough. Ryan Longman, who was showing the same sharpness in attack that we had become accustomed to since he joined on loan from Brighton, went through on goal, but the flag was up for a marginal offside. Cheye Alexander then showed good vision and passing ability to pick out Ethan Chislett on the right flank, but no one was able to get on the end of his fine cross.
The hosts started to come into it midway through the first-half and it was almost 1-0 when Jordan Maguire-Drew sent over a cross from the left that picked out Lee Angol, but he headed wide at the far post. Orient didn’t squander their big chance to take the lead though in the 32nd minute after Cheye Alexander was adjudged to have brought down James Brophy in the box. Angol stepped up and confidently placed the ball into the bottom corner from 12 yards.
In response to falling behind, Wimbledon attempted to strike back, but Orient were offering stubborn resistance. Chislett put through a defence-splitting pass that Ryan Longman almost reached, but it had just too much pace on the ball. The Dons ended the half by earning a free-kick on the right side that was swung over by Anthony Hartigan and Dan Csoka got his head to it, but Sargeant saved comfortably. Orient went into half-time holding a 1-0 lead and Wimbledon needed to find more cutting edge in attack to get back into this match.
Glyn Hodges made a double change at the break with Jack Rudoni and Zach Robinson entering the fray for Callum Reilly and Longman. It was a significant moment for Rudoni, who was featuring for the first time this season after suffering from concussion. The second-half opened with Wimbledon taking a grip on possession. Will Nightingale started to get a few moves going from the back with his distribution earning encouragement from Glyn Hodges. However, it was Orient showing the greater attacking thrust and Joe Widdowson thought he had doubled the advantage, but Nik Tzanev made a superb save.
A sign of Orient's growing confidence came when Josh Wright tried his luck from 30 yards with a fierce drive that flashed past the angle of post and bar. The hosts came even closer on the hour when Orient substitute Conor Wilkinson beat the offside trap and rounded Tzanev, but Paul Kalambayi got back well to make a last-ditch block that stopped a certain goal. Though Wimbledon enjoyed decent possession after the break, testing Orient keeper Sargeant was another matter, and Orient should have sealed victory when substitute Louis Dennis was left in plenty of space in the box, but he could only steer his shot wide.
There was no reprieve for Wimbledon in the 74th minute though as Orient struck a second in fine style. The Dons could have done better in the build-up as a simple ball over the top provided an opportunity for Wilkinson to run through on goal, but the finish was smart as he lobbed the ball over Tzanev and into the back of the net.
There was a great chance for Wimbledon with a minute to play when Zach Robinson powered through towards goal and showed good awareness to set up Rudoni, but he shot wide. It ended in a 2-0 defeat, as Wimbledon missed out on securing top spot in Group G, but those two previous wins in the competition were enough to earn a place in the last-32 of the competition.
AFC Wimbledon: Nik Tzanev, Dan Csoka, Will Nightingale, Cheye Alexander, Anthony Hartigan, Adam Roscrow, Ethan Chislett, Nesta Guinness-Walker, Ryan Longman (Zach Robinson), Paul Kalambayi, Callum Reilly (Jack Rudoni).