BY SAM SMITH
AFC Wimbledon began their pre-season campaign with an entertaining 4-2 victory against a full-strength Reading side.
Kwesi Appiah and Joe Piggott gave Neal Ardley’s side a deserved first half lead, but a host of half-time substitutions from the visitors helped them back into the game, with Adrian Poppa and Sam Smith drawing the Royals level.
Wimbledon responded excellently though, and – buoyed by their younger talents – retook the lead through Egli Kaja. A stunning goal from teenager Kane Crichlow then made it four.
Dons left-back Jon Meades headed inches over from a Mitch Pinnock cross on four minutes as both sides began surprisingly energetically. Reading responded with a chance of their own soon after when Sone Aluko cut inside but saw his powerful left-footed drive drift just wide of Tom King’s goal.
Pinnock – a summer signing from Dover Athletic – impressed in the first half. Playing in a right-midfield role, the 23-year-old possesses an adept left foot which caused plenty of concern for the Royals, and he set up Wimbledon’s first effort on target when Deje Oshilaja met his inviting free-kick but could only head straight at Vito Mannone.
Ardley’s team were the better side in the first half, and Mannone had to produce an excellent save to deny Andy Barcham when the winger moved inside and curled an effort towards the far corner. The Reading goalkeeper could then only stand and watch as Piggott’s free-kick whistled just over the bar.
And the South Londoners eventually earned a deserved lead on 36 minutes – and Pinnock was involved again. The midfielder’s corner was headed down by Oshilaja and Appiah was on hand to control the ball, swivel and fire home, despite the best efforts of both Mannone and Leandro Bacuna on the goalline.
The former Crystal Palace forward almost had a brace immediately after, instead firing over when put through on goal. But Wimbledon were not to be denied and had their second goal on 42 minutes. Mannone denied Appiah’s header from another Pinnock set-piece, and Piggott was on hand to tap into an empty net.
A plethora of Reading changes at half-time changed the course of the game and the visitors were vastly improved. Paul Clement’s side earned a goal back shortly after the break when Poppa headed home Tyler Blackett’s cross unmarked at the back post.
And the Berkshire side equalised soon after on 52 minutes when Wimbledon’s substitute goalkeeper Joe McDonnell fumbled a cross from the right and Reading forward Smith headed into an empty net.
Wimbledon introduced plenty of their younger players and they coped well against an experienced Reading second-half side that included Republic of Ireland international David Meyler and former Manchester United defender Blackett.
And the young Dons scored a quickfire double late on to win the game. First, the exciting Tyler Burey weaved his way around the reading defence and found Kosta Sparta whose cross was swept home excellently by 20-year-old Kaja. The best goal of the game was left until last though – 17-year-old Crichlow produced a wonder Cruyff-turn on the edge of the area, bringing the ball onto his right foot, before curling beyond Anssi Jaakkola, who had replaced Mannone at half-time.
Wimbledon’s 2018-19 preparations continue on Tuesday when they travel to Woking, before hosting Queens Park Rangers next Saturday.
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