The Dons offered plenty of promising signs for the season ahead in a narrow defeat at the hands of Premier League new boys Brentford.
The 2,500 Dons fans in attendance watched new signings Luke McCormick, George Marsh, Zaki Oualah, and Darius Charles play the second 45 minutes in a 1-0 defeat against a side gearing up for their first Premier League campaign. All four showed that they will be real assets for next season when the proper action gets underway. McCormick has the makings of a real crowd-pleaser, showing his ability to run at opposition defences with his drive from midfield - and he almost marked his first match for the Dons with a goal.
Though both halves of this match were encouraging, the second was the more entertaining. Young talents Ayoub Assal and Huseyin Biler entered the fray and captivated the fans with their energetic exuberance, showing exactly why Mark Robinson has shown so much faith in them since nurturing their raw abilities at youth level. With a steely second-half display by Darius Charles rolling back the years to bring back memories of promotion in 2016, his experience could also prove to be invaluable and it's gearing up to be an exciting first season back at Plough with that all-important missing ingredient - supporters.
For just the second time since our return to Plough Lane, supporters were inside the stadium to cheer on the boys and they gave the team a rapturous welcome when they emerged from the tunnel. Indeed, for the writer of this article after a season of covering behind-closed-doors football it was nice to hear a supporter pointing out to his grandsons where the Dons previously played at Plough Lane – now a block of flats on the walk from Haydons Road train station.
Mark Robinson selected a team for each half in this match with new signings McCormick, Oualah, Marsh, and Charles saved for the second 45 minutes. Our Head Coach started with a 4-2-2-2 formation with Jack Rudoni and Ethan Chislett deployed as attacking midfielders behind Ollie Palmer and David Fisher.
As expected for a first pre-season friendly, the match got off to a slow start, but Brian Mbeumo swung in a dangerous free-kick that no one was able to get on the end of, as Brentford attempted to score the first goal of pre-season at Plough Lane. However, at the other end the Dons forced a corner and Ben Heneghan almost latched onto a cross that was well delivered by Anthony Hartigan. Chances were rare for either side in the first-half, but Jack Rudoni showed plenty of promise from attacking midfield, one of his sublime touches of skill earning applause from our supporters. Ollie Palmer, looking in lean condition this time around after missing the last pre-season, almost broke through the middle, but he was just stopped in his tracks by Jude Russell.
As we approached half-time, Brentford started to gain a bit of attacking momentum and Mbeumo’s dangerous free-kick was well gathered by Tzanev at his near post after Ivan Toney almost got a touch to guide the ball home. However, it was only a temporary reprieve for Wimbledon as the visitors opened the scoring three minutes before the break. Fin Stevens pounced on a loose ball just outside the box and struck a fierce shot that thudded against the crossbar and Joel Valencia followed up to head home. Despite that goal, the Dons had certainly held their own against Premier League opposition, matching Brentford for long spells.
For the second-half, Wimbledon changed the whole starting 11 and switched to wing backs with Paul Osew and Huseyin Biler flanking the three centre backs of Paul Kalambayi, Darius Charles and 18-year-old Isaac Ogundere. The Dons produced a bright start to the second-half with new signing McCormick showing his attacking qualities. The former Chelsea midfielder broke through the Brentford defence with a nice turn of pace, before trying his luck with a shot that was deflected just wide by Brentford defender Charlie Goode. Another lovely turn by McCormick earned applause from our supporters as he showed plenty of promising signs for the season ahead.
Midway through the second-half and Brentford had a good opportunity to double the advantage when Sergi Canos picked out Tariq Fosu, but he shot wide from close range. Wimbledon spread the ball around very well in the second-half with substitute Huseyin Biler offering useful width and drive on the right flank. He was involved in a fine move that almost produced the equaliser when he picked out Ayoub Assal, who released McCormick and he shot just over the crossbar. McCormick’s attacking play and skill certainly entertained our supporters and he broke through on another occasion, before shooting just wide.
Assal showed glimpses of the end of season form that tore League One defences to shreds and he almost equalised with a shot that was just saved 10 minutes from time. At the other end, Charles did very well to clear off the line as Brentford threatened to double the advantage. However, a two-goal defeat would have been harsh on Wimbledon after contributing so much to this game. Indeed, for a first pre-season match against top-flight opposition, this was certainly a fine start, offering a real platform to build on as Mark Robinson and his staff gear the squad up for 7 August at Doncaster.
AFC Wimbledon (first-half): Nik Tzanev, Alex Woodyard, Cheye Alexander, Anthony Hartigan, Ollie Palmer, Ethan Chislett, Jack Rudoni, Nesta Guinness-Walker, Ben Heneghan, David Fisher (Zach Robinson), trialist.
AFC Wimbledon (second-half): Zaki Oualah, George Marsh, Huseyin Biler, Luke McCormick, Elliott Bolton (trialist), Corie Andrews, Paul Kalambayi, Darius Charles, Isaac Ogundere, Paul Osew.