With AFC Wimbledon enjoying an unbeaten start in the Papa John’s Trophy this season, The Dons boss Mark Robinson saw an opportunity to hand out seven senior debuts on Tuesday, as they hosted Crystal Palace Under-21’s at Plough Lane.
Second-year apprentices Josh Hallard and Quaine Bartley were given the nod to start the game on Tuesday evening, along with Isaac Olaniyan and Luke Jenkins. In the second-half, Ethan Sutcliffe, Marcel Campbell and Aron Sasu were brought on in what was a memorable evening for everyone associated with the Academy.
AFC Wimbledon’s Under-18’s have made an impressive start to their EFL Youth Alliance campaign, sitting at the summit of the league table following a seven-game unbeaten run. Impressed by their performances, Robinson gave them the chance to test themselves against Premier League opposition.
Although the game finished 2-0 to Palace, Assistant Head Coach Rob Turvey says it was ‘a night to remember’ for all involved. Speaking exclusively to LFE, he said: ” It was definitely a proud moment for the football club and for myself and the manager, Mark Robinson. Our backgrounds are from the academy and I’ve known some of the players that came in since the age of seven or eight. It was a great experience for them and for their families as well. The academy should be really proud of themselves. The scholarship programme that they put on for these young players is absolutely superb – they should be really proud.”
Turvey, who had previously worked within The Dons Academy for over 13 years, was pleased with how they equipped themselves on the big stage, but explained the importance of managing each individual’s development:
“We were really, really pleased with aspects of their performance last night. At times they were nervous, which is understandable, but they’re the sort of environments we want to see them play in,” he said. “We have to be very aware that, as first-team coaches, they are on an education programme, and the apprenticeship programme that they are in means that they are not the finished article.
“It’s about being patient with them and making sure we are giving them the right exposure at the right time. We have to ensure we set out a clear development plan to run alongside that first-team exposure.
“Me and Mark both come from a youth development background and we’ve always looked at it through the lens of ‘what is best for their development’? For some of them that may mean a loan into men’s football, while for others it may mean that they need to play more Under-18’s football.
“Circumstance brings opportunity and it is then down to those young players to grasp that opportunity. We’ve had some injuries of late and the cup competitions allows you to give young players a chance. We want to try and blood our young players, and provide the academy players with the chance to impress.“
The Under-18s’ blistering start to the new 2021/22 season has caught the eye of everyone within the football club. Resounding victories against Northampton Town and MK Dons have been the highlight of their season so far, and Turvey is now excited to see whether they can maintain their unbeaten run during their FA Youth Cup first round tie against Woking on November 6: “They are unbeaten, top of the league, and have been absolutely superb so far. Myself and the manager have watched them in six or seven games this season, and they are going from strength to strength as a group,” he said.
“Last night was great build up ahead of their FA Youth Cup game next Tuesday, where they will get the experience of playing in front of fans again. Hopefully, they can kick on from the great run they had in the competition last year.”