The youth team laid down the gauntlet to the senior side by reaching the Second Round of the FA Youth Cup, extending their record of reaching the competition proper for the first time this season. It took a lot of guts to make it through against a strong Sutton team who pushed them all the way, and will certainly be feeling sorry for themselves this morning having had a number of chances to win the game at the end of normal time.
As it was the young Dons did enough in extra time to win the game, a victory they just about deserved. The Dons looked like they would romp to victory following a dominant first half performance. As early as five minutes into the game a free kick out wide on the left was delivered in by skipper Harry Knock towards the far post. Sutton keeper Bettinson looked favourite but flapped at the ball, getting nothing on it to change its trajectory, and Dons forward Matt Harmsworth was perhaps taken by surprise that the ball reached him as he charged in behind the keeper, seeing his header smash against the Sutton bar from only yards out.
On twenty minutes, this time from a free kick wide on the left, and much deeper than the handball offence that it was originally given for occurred, was floated in to find Jordaan Browne with a free header ten yards from goal that he could unfortunately only guide over the bar.
Wimbledon were almost made to pay for a rare lapse in defensive concentration, as a Sutton player made an unopposed run down the left channel. Jack Turner was tempted to his near post only to see him square for the Sutton number nine James Page who had an open net to aim for. He went safety first and perhaps hit it a little too close to the centre of goal, but it would have beaten most young keepers. Turner however was like a man against boys, almost like an extra man advantage, and covered the ground to pull off an amazing save.
Every time I see Jack Turner he gets better and better. Plus its amazing that he still qualifies for this tournament, we forget that despite his contracted status he is still so young. If the club manages to hold onto his services we can expect big things from this boy, and should he decide to go on to bigger and better things (bear in mind he turned down a chance to join Readings youth academy during the summer) the fact he is under contract should see the club rewarded with a Hussey-like fee.
Wimbledon snatched the lead they had threatened on 38 minutes. A corner from the right curled in by Jordan Bird wasn’t cleared, a bit of pinball in the six yard box saw the ball find its way to Matt Harmsworth who guided the ball home. Some of the interplay between Harmsworth and his strike partner James Cottee had really impressed me over the course of the half, and Matt himself is another who has come on over the last six months even since seeing him play in the Suburban Cup Final. He had a run out for the first team in pre-season against Wycombe and should take heart from the impact his strike partner that night at Imber Court, Peter Rapson, has had on the first team (injuries notwithstanding).
Sutton came out the stronger sie in the second half, an early attack down the left seeing the ball bounce away from Turners near post. On the hour mark from a ree kick on the left a Sutton player headed over the bar when completely free, before seconds later Turner was forced to make a brave save with feet. From the corner Turner again made a stunning block, albeit the linesman’s flag had already be raised for a Dons free kick.
Sutton were coming into the game more and more, maybe due to their physical presence – they pretty much towered over the Dons boys from 1-11. Yet you still sensed the Dons would have enough to see the game through, and were desperately unlucky not to make the game safe with a quarter of an hour left. A corner was met by Callum Dunne, whose firm downward header bounced up off the bar.
Of course, as is the nature of cup ties, the home side were made to rue this missed effort with ten minutes remaining. What looked a fair challenge was punished with a Sutton free kick on the edge of the area, from which Sutton fullback Robbie Drewett’s effort just beat Jack Turner and sneaked in under the bar. Extra time loomed, but it was the visitors who almost stole the tie with five minutes to go, a number of Dons fans somehow keeping the ball from crossing the line, their bench already celebrating as all eyes turned to the linesman on the far side, crouched ready to make a call that never came.
With Cottee replaced by Joe Jackson, Wimbledon were more direct towards the end which can only be put down to tiredness. The fresh Jackson was chasing down every ball, giving Sutton something to think about themselves. Yet it was Dunne who snatched what turned out to be the winner five minutes into extra time, a deep cross from the right saw him sneak in at the far post, his header squirming under Bettinson and into the net.
Later in the period, Jackson played in Harmsworth after a strong run down the left, his shot saved by Bettinson with his leg. Moments later a wonderful piece of close control saw Harmsworth dance round two Sutton players before getting his shot all wrong and slicing over the bar. Sutton appeared to be beaten and failed to test Wimbledon during the remainder of the game, with the Dons looking the more likely to extend their lead before the final whistle brought huge celebrations from the team.
A much tougher task awaits them in the Second Round, with Bournemouth travelling to Kingsmeadow after seeing off Bristol Rovers in their First Round tie. The youngsters are now only one win away from a potential tie on a Premier League or Championship ground, although Bournemouth are a huge test it’s not outside the realm of possibility that they can edge past them. With just over two hundred in attendance we can only hope that a really decent crowd with turn out for their next game in the competition – lets give our young players what they really deserve and show them the support we give to the first team.