Gills bow out of the Under-21 Cup with a battling defeat at Kingsmeadow
Mark Patterson’s development side will wonder how they lost after dominating a highly entertaining Premier League U-21 cup tie at AFC Wimbledon
With a second round tie against Queens Park Rangers at stake, there was little surprise that the game started at a frenetic pace, with both sides looking to stamp their authority on the match from the outset, in front of a healthy crowd at Kingsmeadow.
The Dons were first to create an opening of note when Tom Beere curled a fifth minute free-kick just over the crossbar, from wide on the left hand touchline. While moments later Kevin Sainte-Luce carried the ball from the half way line, before sending over a dangerous centre from the right which Devante McKain did well to turn behind under pressure. However the visitors, playing with a crisp urgency, quickly gained control of the match and dominated the first half.
Their first chance came on 12 minutes as Jake Hessenthaler floated a free-kick from the right touchline towards the far post, it was helped into the path of Ashley Miller at the near post, but the striker pulled his effort just wide of the mark. Miller headed over from a Parter cross, shortly after, while Kane Haysman fired over from distance as the Gills settled into their stride.
Seb Brown was called into action on 17 minutes as Miller played a neat ball into the path of Antonio German, who sent a decent first time strike into the chest of the Dons custodian. Then three minutes later German fed Jack Parter on the right angle of the box but the midfielder lifted his curling finish the wrong side of the cross bar.
In the 25th minute Hessenthaler beat the wall with a curling free-kick from the left of goal, but sadly Brown was well placed to make the save, before the Dons almost stole the lead, against the run of play. Saint-Luce collect a deep pass out of defence and unleashed a powerful drive from the edge of the area, which George Howard did well to push onto his far post. From the resulting Beere corner, Will Nightingale climbed above the Gills defence but was denied by Howard, who also recovered to stop Saint-Luce’s follow up effort.
The hosts enjoyed a brief spell of pressure as the half wore on and went close again on 35 minutes, Youssouf Bamba setting up Chris Arthur to shoot from the left side of goal, Howard making another good stop, low to his left. Then, in the dying moments of the half first German had Brown scrambling to his right to keep out his low drive from the edge of the area, before Howard made a similar save, diving to his right to turn Harry Cooksley’s low strike around his left hand upright.
Wimbledon had an early chance to make their mark after the restart after a foul on Arthur earned them a free-kick wide on the left, Arthur got up to float a testing ball into the goalmouth but Howard was alert to the danger and stopped Nightingale’s header at point black range. Almost immediately after, the Gills were on the attack, with Brown blocking a Miller shot at the feet of Nathan Nyafli, somehow the Dons shot-stopper kept out Nathan’s finish, before German fired over from the rebound.
The visitors sensed victory was within reach but were thwarted yet again on 51 minutes. Antonio German with a tight angle shot from the right of goal that beat the keeper, only for Nightingale to hack the ball off the goal line. With the game now ebbing from end to end, Arthur almost made Gillingham pay, minutes later, from a free-kick on the left of the area. The ball deceived Howard in flight but he got enough of a touch to divert it from his near post, and gather at the second attempt.
German went close from a similar set-piece at the opposite end, Brown saving low to his left before the hosts took the lead on 56 minutes. Youssouf Bamba collected a pass wide on the right, cut into the area and rounded Howard, before picking his spot and placing a finish between two defenders, to put the Dons ahead.
The Gills continued to battle though and were denied once again, ten minutes later, as Nyafli got behind the home defence, only to see his snap shot beaten away by Brown in the Dons goal. Moments later German began and ended a move that saw Carter and Haysman combine but the striker failed to test the keeper, sending his effort fizzing over the crossbar.
Miller was next to show, holding off his marker before cutting inside to curl a powerful effort over from the edge of the box before Devante McKain headed a 75th minute Hessenthaler free-kick against the underside of the crossbar as the Gills threw everything at their hosts.
Wimbledon made sure of the points in the 82nd minute when the referee awarded a free-kick to the home side just outside the Gills penalty box. Dons’ winger Chris Arthur stepped up to the ball and hit a sweet low finish beyond the dive of George Howard and into the bottom right hand corner for 2-0.
The Gills continued to threaten right to the final whistle but the goal their efforts warranted just would not come.
Gillingham: George Howard, Stephen Butcher, Joe Carter, Kane Haysman (Michael Freiter 85), Devante McKain, Josh Hare, Ashley Miller, Jack Parter (Charlie Webster 68), Nathan Nyafli, Antonio German, Jake Hessenthaler
Subs not used: Josh Staunton, Aidan Blanchard, Luke Nalder
AFC Wimbledon: Seb Brown, Kieron Tarbie, Charlie Fayers, Chace Jacquart, Will Antwi (Oluseyi Daley 67), Will Nightingale, Harry Cooksley, Tom Beere, Kevin Sainte-Luce (George Oakley 63), Youssouf Bamba, Chris Arthur (Dan Pearse 85)Subs not used: Jordan Knight, Billy Frost