I had one of my most enjoyable evenings in a long while last night at AFC Wimbledon, where Fulham sent what was officially termed a ‘representative eleven’ but was really their reserve side to continue their pre-season preparations.
As a representative of the Fulham Supporters’ Trust, I was fortunate enough to be able to meet some of the directors and key figures behind the remarkable rise of AFC Wimbledon, who after a brilliant season last year, will compete in the Blue Square Premier (or the Conference as you may know it better) this season. The Dons Trust have done a terrific job in a short space of time to bring league footballing tantalising close for the Wimbledon fans who had to endure the scandulous death of their club at the hands of Charles Koppel, Pete Winkleman and the utterly spineless FA.
I was lucky enough to be seated right behind Roy Hodgson, his assistant Mike Kelly and Kit Symons, our former central defender, and one of my heroes when I was growing up. Symons is apparently doing some scouting for the club these days and, given his coaching experience at Crystal Palace, it is a shame that we haven’t made better use of the experience that he would be able to pass on to our younger players. All three were heavily engrossed in the game – Hodgson was obviously keen to run the rule over some of the young talent on display and I would imagine that he would have been watching Andranik (the only real first-teamer on display) particularly closel – but also took the time to talk the Fulham fans dotted around them.
A young and inexperienced reserve side started quite brightly and I was intrigued to see how our front pairing of Danny Hoesen and Michael Uwezu would go up front. We took Hoesen from the Eredivisie into our development squad and he has enjoyed a good start to his Fulham career. Uwezu, who has recently signed his first professional contract, scored 11 goals in just 18 appearances for our Under-18 side last season and is obviously a good prospect. The pair seemed full of running, but lacked that composure when we got into decent positions.
It didn’t take long for an experienced AFC defence to work out how to negate our strengths. The defensive line pushed up and used the ball smartly in midfield. It was something of a surprise to see our old boy Callum Willock, on trial at Kingsmeadow at the moment, give our central defenders such a battering. He looked strong on the ball and good in the air, which makes me wonder why he never made the most of the talent that had persuaded Jean Tigana to include him in our first-team squad towards the end of our promotion year.
Willock didn’t need a second invitation to head home the opening goal, although he was helped by some ridiculously slack marking from the Fulham defence. Joe Anderson, playing at centre back rather than his usual left back role, improved as the game went on but as AFC continued to enjoy possession it was little surprise that they scored a second from just outside the box just after the midway point of the first half. Once again, the frustration felt keenly just in front of me was justified as Andranik appeared to have time to effectively close down or even tackle Steven Gregory, who was put under very little pressure indeed. The strike may have taken a slight deflection on its way in but it was still a poor goal to concede.
It would be remiss of me not to mention another energetic performance from our young full-back Keanu Marsh-Brown, who I’ve written about before. Marsh-Brown has impressed me every time I’ve seen him and he looks so comfortable on the ball, befitting someone who has played in midfield too. He’s certainly one to watch. The clever Italian Luca Moscatiello added some artistry to our midfield when he arrived as a second half substitute and young Matthew Saunders seemed much more comfortable when he was moved into the centre of park alongside Moscatiello midway through the second half. We passed the ball well, but our hosts were well organised and strong in the tackle.
Fulham grabbed a late goal with virtually the last kick of the game – Marcello Trotta following up and blasting home from close range after substitute keeper Seb Brown had parried a powerful effort.
AFC WIMBLEDON (4-4-2): Pullen; Garrard, Hussey, Gregory, Judge; Johnson, Hatton, Wellard, Duncan; Willock, Taylor. Subs: Inns, Brown, Conroy, Godfrey, Kedwell, Main, Moore.
FULHAM XI (4-4-2): Zuberbuhler; Marsh-Brown, Smith, Anderson, Pierre; Harris, Andranik, Saunders, Mackay-Steven; Hoesen, Uwezu. Subs: Etheridge, Thomas, Martin, Moscatiello, Jones, Milsom, Peniket, Trotta.
REFEREE: Stephen Cook