Our young talents bowed out of the FA Youth Cup in gallant fashion tonight.
With nothing to separate the Dons and Charlton after 90 minutes, it needed extra-time to decide it and the Addicks eventually triumphed 2-0 in front of a crowd of 415 spectators. Cheered on at Dartford FC by first-team management and players with Mark Robinson, Rob Tuvey, Bayzo, Alex Woodyard, and Ayoub Assal all watching on, the young Dons put in a performance full of spirit and determination.
Wimbledon gave absolutely everything against a talented Charlton side that showed what they were capable of in the first-half. And there was no shortage of talent too as our young Dons, managed by James Oliver-Pearce, more than matched a very good Charlton side. It was a display that offered real promise for the future of our club.
The young Dons came into this match aiming to bounce back after an 11-match winning streak was ended by Sutton United last time out. There was a familiar name on the opposition team sheet with Harvey Kedwell, son of Dons promotion hero Danny, in the Charlton starting line-up. It promised to be a closely contested affair with both sides currently top of their respective divisions, but it was Wimbledon that made the brightest start. Good hold-up play by Aron Sasu was followed by a pass to Morgan Williams, who struck a decent shot, but it was deflected wide. The early momentum continued when Sasu sent over a cross that landed on top of the net.
In a first-half that ebbed and flowed as it was played at a frenetic pace, Charlton had their first chance when Daniel Kanu got in behind, but Dons keeper Aaron Jones was out quickly to deny him. At the other end, Quaine Bartley produced a superb run down the right side and his cut-back was eventually picked up by Paris Lock. The forward showed a fine first touch and he appeared to be fouled in the area, but the referee thought otherwise.
By the midway point of the first-half Charlton were starting to put their stamp on this match. Ryan Huke went clean through on goal, but Jones was out quickly to foil him, the Dons keeper showing a willingness to come out of his area when it was required. A lot of Charlton’s threat came through Tyreece Campbell. The tricky left winger showed his class with a superb run down the flank before cutting the ball back for Harvey Kedwell, who shot just over the crossbar. The Dons needed Aaron Jones to be at his best when he reacted well to made a brilliant save with his feet after Daniel Kanu’s shot threatened to break the deadlock.
Jones was certainly kept busy in the first-half and he reacted well just before the break to deny Kanu once again. There was still time before the break for Bartley to provide another example of his strength and ability when he powered down the right before sending over a cross that Marcel Campbell was just unable to convert.
Charlton continued to be on the front foot at the start of the second-half, but the Dons stood firm. Reuben Mason made a superb last-ditch challenge to stop Charlton breaking through and his defensive partner Ethan Sutcliffe also made a vital block to stop a goal-bound effort. Right-back Ben Mason also summed up the collective spirit to stay in this game with resilient defending.
This match completely changed midway through the second-half as Wimbledon grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck. The introductions of Alfie Bendle, Archie Stevens, and Remi Onabanjo certainly proved to be a factor in rejuvenating the young Dons. All of a sudden, Wimbledon were driving forward at every opportunity. The breakthrough was tantalisingly close for Wimbledon with 20 minutes remaining. A superb free-kick delivery by Josh Hallard was met by the head of Reuben Mason, whose header was cleared off the line, and Ben Mason’s follow-up shot crashed off the top of the crossbar.
Onabanjo, who impressed during last season’s FA Youth Cup run, offered pace down the left and he almost put Wimbledon in front shortly afterwards. The 16-year-old was just denied by Charlton keeper James Beadle and he appeared to be brought down in the process of shooting, but penalty appeals were waved away. As the Dons piled forward, Charlton were forced back towards their own goal, restricted to breakaway attacks. That offered a different kind of threat and the Dons had to stay alert at the back. When Wimbledon were caught out at the back Abdi Ali, who was influential in the centre of the park, got back to make a brilliant tackle after racing back to stop Charlton.
As we entered the latter stages of a very entertaining second-half both sides threatened to win it. First, Bartley got down the right and sent over a lovely cross that Obabanjo just failed to reach when any touch would have resulted in a goal. Then Charlton almost snatched victory in the fifth minute of injury-time when Jason Adigun’s header flashed agonisingly wide.
With both sides continuing to go for the jugular in extra-time, a goal seemed inevitable. It so nearly came for Wimbledon through a superb move. Ali showed lovely skill to create space, before finding Marcel Campbell, who quickly switched the ball to Onabanjo and his shot rolled agonisingly wide. That was a real turning point as Charlton took the lead in the 97th minute. After breaking up a Wimbledon attack, a quick through ball sent Campbell racing clear on the left and his cross picked out Jason Adigun, who made no mistake.
On the stroke of half-time in extra time it needed Aaron Jones to make a fine fingertip save to stop Charlton substitute Mack Reilly from doubling the advantage. The outcome was still up for grabs as we entered the second half of extra time.
There was a vital incident in this match a few minutes after the restart when Onabanjo sped down the left and he seemed to be hacked down in the area, but the referee instead decided that it merited a booking for simulation. That decision turned out to be pivotal as Charlton sealed victory through Reilly, who headed home from close-range after getting on the end of a cross. There was still time for the Dons to almost earn a consolation, which would have been the least our young side deserved on the night. Hallard sent over another lovely cross that picked out Reuben Mason, but his header was just wide.
The manner of defeat was harsh on Wimbledon with our young talents contributing so much to this game, but there’s certainly no time to dwell on it as another big cup match awaits tomorrow. James Oliver-Pearce is sure to switch around his squad after the rigours of this extra-time battle, but it offers an opportunity to reach the area final of the Youth Alliance Cup, a competition we won last year. Based on the evidence of this spirited performance, you certainly wouldn’t bet against the young Dons pulling off another memorable cup victory.
AFC Wimbledon: Aaron Jones, Reuben Mason, Aron Sasu (Remi Onabanjo), Paris Lock (Archie Stevens), Morgan Williams (Alfie Bendle), Ben Mason, Abdi Ali, Ethan Sutcliffe, Marcel Campbell (Ibrahim Bangura), Josh Hallard, Quaine Bartley.
Pic credit: Kyle Andrews.