Shayon Harrison marked his return to action with the winning goal as Wimbledon earned a hard-fought cup victory tonight.
South East Counties Football League side Balham offered a stern test at Plough Lane as we had to come from behind to earn a 2-1 victory in the first round of the London Senior Cup. There were plenty of positives on the night for Mark Robinson, who watched on from the commentary box as Rob Tuvey took charge for this game. Corie Andrews struck Wimbledon's equaliser, the striker who joined us from Kingstonian taking his goal impressively and looking sharp throughout with his touch and movement.
Terell Thomas got half an hour of the action upon his return, entering the fray on the hour with Harrison. Though Harrison admitted afterwards that he didn't know much about his winning goal as he deflected Jack Madelin's close-range effort in, there was no mistaking his quality on the ball. It came against a club much lower in the league pyramid, but Harrison's display suggested that he could feature in the run-in, as displayed by his deft touches and skill when in possession.
Despite the presence of Thomas and Harrison in Wimbledon’s squad, it was a young Dons side that started at Plough Lane. Dan Csoka and Jack Madelin were the only two players in the starting line-up with first-team experience. Running out onto the pitch at Plough Lane was a particularly proud moment for midfielder Elliott Bolton, who was deemed fit enough to captain the side after injury. Elliott had been our mascot for the first AFC Wimbledon home league match versus Chipstead back in 2002. Balham FC were founded a year before our rebirth as Balham Blazers FC and they are the lowest ranked club to have won the London Senior Cup in the competition’s 139-year history. That came in 2018 when Balham beat the Dons along the way.
The visitors took a surprise lead in the 17th minute when James Murphy sent in a dangerous cross from the left that Dan Csoka could only head into his own net at the near post. There was almost an instant response when good play by Obed Yeboah ended with the ball falling nicely for Corie Andrews, but he was denied by Balham keeper Haydn Read. Wimbledon’s starting 11 included six players that had featured in the FA Youth Cup matches versus Burnley and Tottenham Hotspur. One of those players Dylan Adjei-Hersey attempted to spark Wimbledon with his lively runs down the right flank. One lung-bursting run down the flank by Adjei-Hersey was followed by a lovely cross into the box that picked out Jack Madelin at the back post, but he shot wide from close range.
As we approached half-time, the Dons had a great opportunity to equalise. Andrews put pressure on Balham keeper Read and his clearance only landed at the feet of Obed Yeboah, but his shot lacked conviction and it was cleared off the line. Though the young Dons had finished the half strongly, more attacking urgency was required to break a spirited Balham challenge as the visitors led 1-0 at the break.
Andrews came up with exactly what was needed in the circumstances in the 52nd minute. After latching onto Obed Yeboah’s clever pass, Andrews struck the equaliser in style. After rounding the keeper the chance appeared to have gone for Andrews as he found himself at an acute angle, but he showed good composure to turn back inside and finish emphatically. All of a sudden, it was a different game now as Wimbledon poured forward. Adjei-Hersey continued to impress and he sent over a fine cross from the right, but no one was able to get on the end of it.
With an hour on the clock, there was a key double change for Wimbledon as Terell Thomas and Shayon Harrison entered the fray for Elliott Bolton and Corie Andrews. Both Thomas and Harrison had been out long-term, so it was a welcome return for the pair. Harrison wasted no time getting into the thick of the action and he showed good quality with his first touches, hinting at plenty more to come. Thomas offered real assurance at the back upon his return, starting moves from the back with compsure on the ball.
It appeared that the plucky challenge from Balham was going to earn a crack at beating Wimbledon on penalties, but that all changed in the 87th minute. A corner was swung in from the left that Madelin met at the back post and it deflected in off Harrison for the winner. That proved to be decisive to make progress in a competition last won by Wimbledon in 2014 with the reward of Redbridge away in the next round.
AFC Wimbledon: Matthew Cox, Dan Csoka, Jack Madelin, Elliott Bolton (Shayon Harrison), Jack Currie (Julian Sarmiento-Ramirez), Corie Andrews (Terell Thomas), Isaac Ogundere, Ben Mason, Ethan Sutcliffe, Obed Yeboah, Dylan Adjei-Hersey.
Pic credit: Pedro Soares.