Appiah 36, Piggott 42, Kaja 74, Crichlow 84
Smith 51, Popa 56
BY SAM SMITH AT THE CHERRY RED RECORDS STADIUM
New Wimbledon signing Mitch Pinnock starred as the Dons’ preparations for the 2018-19 season began perfectly in blistering heat on Saturday afternoon.
The South Londoners were 4-2 winners over a full strength Reading side that included the likes of Euro 2016 semi-finalist Chris Gunter, former Manchester United players John O’Shea and Tyler Blackett, and Republic of Ireland international David Meyler.
But Pinnock remained the best player on the pitch for the 60 minutes in which he played and could be a key performer for Neal Ardley’s side in the forthcoming campaign. The former Dover Athletic man, who started on Arsenal’s books, played on the right of a four-man midfield and caused the Championship outfit plenty of problems.
An all-action performance from the 23-year-old set the tone for the rest of the side. Reading were admittedly poor and almost epitomised the cliches and stereotypes of a team playing their first pre-season game: their lethargy was blatant, several passes were wayward and they failed to severely threaten their League One opponents bar a 10 minute spell at the beginning of the second half.
Wimbledon were the complete contrast. Off the ball the Dons were compact and aggressive in the tackle, while also seeking to advance forward when possession was regained.
Kwesi Appiah and Joe Piggott linked up admirably in a traditional front two, with the latter holding the ball up while the former Crystal Palace man attempted to run in behind Reading’s back four. The only negative aspect was that they were without new striker James Hanson, who Ardley expects to be out for “a couple of weeks at least” with a groin injury.
It was during open play that Pinnock impressed the most, but it was his pinpoint set-pieces that gave his side a 2-0 lead in the first half. His right-wing corner on 36 minutes was headed downwards and towards goal by Deji Oshilaja – and Appiah was on hand to swivel and strike home against a side with whom he enjoyed a loan spell in 2015.
Piggott netted the second six minutes later, tapping into an empty net after Appiah had seen his header from Pinnock’s free-kick denied by Vito Mannone. Pinnock almost created a third when Appiah latched onto his volley but failed to convert.
Royals boss Paul Clement made a plethora of substitutions at half-time, beginning the second half with a completely different team, and this threatened the discourse of the game.
Sam Smith grabbed a goal back for Reading, heading into an empty net after goalkeeper Joe McDonnell – who had replaced Dons debutant Tom King at the break – fumbled a cross. They then equalised when Adrian Popa was left unmarked to convert a Blackett cross.
Ardley introduced several of the club’s youngsters just after the hour mark, making nine substitutions, and it seemed the experienced Reading side would take control of the game against a youthful Dons team.
But that ceased to be the case. The Royals failed to cope with the pace and exuberance of the exciting kids in the remaining 30 minutes – and they ultimately won Wimbledon the game.
Tyler Burey, 17, was particularly impressive. He led a late counter-attack, weaving his way around Blackett before finding Kosta Sparta, whose cross was swept home clinically by Egli Kaja.
And it was another 17-year-old – Kane Crichlow – who produced the best goal of the game. The midfielder received the ball on the edge of the box, a wonderful turn created space, and he sensationally curled the ball into the top corner from 20 yards.
It would be premature to draw too many conclusions from this victory, but with new signings impressing, youngsters playing a part in success and new signing Pinnock excelling, it can only bode well for the Dons – who face Woking tonight before hosting Queens Park Rangers on Saturday.
Ardley admitted after the game that his side will be taking results in pre-season seriously, noting that he expects his players to form winning habits ahead of the new campaign.
This victory against supposedly superior opposition has created the foundations to do exactly that.
AFC Wimbledon: King (McDonnell 46), Sibbick (Sparta 60), Nightingale (Streete 60), Oshilaja (Kalambayi 60), Meades (Bellikli 60), Pinnock (Burey 60), Egan 6 (Trotter 45), Soares (Crichlow 60), Barcham (Kaja 60), Appiah 7 (Wood 60), Piggott 7 (Ashley 60).
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