Leyton Orient U18s continued their pursuit for the Merit League 2 title as Montel Agyemang’s first half volley handed them a hard-fought 1-0 victory at AFC Wimbledon.
In what was a scrappy affair, the midfielder crashed home the only goal of the match on the 13th minute to ensure Andy Edwards’ side keep the pressure on League leaders Bristol Rovers.
Having claimed an emphatic victory against Torquay last time out, Orient made three changes as captain Sam Ling and fellow defender Jack Humphrey returned from suspension, while winger Sandro Semedo made his first appearance since his dramatic winner against Dagenham & Redbridge back in February.
In difficult windy conditions, the O’s found it tough in the opening minutes and an early Wimbledon corner caused brief panic in the penalty area before the danger was eventually cleared.
Seconds later the O’s raced straight down the other end as Semedo perfectly picked out Sam Alderson with a diagonal pass and the winger then played the ball forward for Shola Oladipo but the striker could only drill a shot over the bar.
The wind was making it difficult to deal with aerial balls but shortly after Orient nearly gifted Wimbledon a goal following a defensive mix-up.
Orient stopper Ben Card hesitated when coming of his line which allowed Tino Carpene to nip him between him and Jack Humphrey but the Dons striker was denied when Humphrey reacted well to amend the error and get back to clear off the line.
Wimbledon then threatened from a set-piece moments later when Card came off his line and failed to claim the ball but Reece Batchelor was only able to direct his header narrowly over the bar.
Alfie Egan followed up with another chance for the hosts with a shot from outside the box but his effort was easily held by Card.
Having been on the back foot for most of the opening exchanges, Orient then took the lead against the run of play through Agyemang.
A well-worked move down the right resulted in Scott Kashket collecting the ball on the byline and the forward then cut back before drilling a low ball into the area. The cross could only be cleared as far as Agyemang 12-yards out who waited for the ball to drop before perfectly rifling a left-foot volley into the bottom corner.
Despite taking the lead, Orient were far from their best and Wimbledon responded to falling behind with both Carpene and Dan Ano firing shots over the bar.
Alderson then created a chance for the O’s midway through the first half when picked out by Nick Brown on the left flank but despite getting beyond the full-back his shot was blocked.
Minutes later Oladipo received a pass from Sam Ling and turned well on the edge of the box before drilling a low shot which Dons’ keeper Will Mannion held.
With just over five minutes of the first half remaining Wimbledon felt they should have been awarded a penalty as Card collided with both Carpene and Humphrey but there was no hesitation from the referee as a goal kick was awarded.
On the stroke of half time Orient had a wonderful opportunity to double their lead. Semedo whipped in a cross to the far post that Alderson pulled back into the path of an unmarked Brown but the midfielder could only fire an effort over the bar.
Following the break the O’s reverted to a diamond formation in midfield but it was the hosts who had the first chance of the half when Carpene saw an effort from close range touched behind for a corner.
The change in formation was giving Wimbledon a lot less time on the ball inside their own half however, and soon after the O’s pressing game nearly paid off as Brown nipped in to win the ball back before dinking a pass to Semedo. Having taken the ball in his stride, Semedo then burst into the box and despite being in a ridiculously tight angle, saw a shot crash off the outside of the post.
Brown was then denied by a fine stop from Mannion when he received the ball from Kashket inside the box following a short corner but his effort towards the near post was pushed away.
With an hour on the clock U16s defender Dan Happe was then handed his youth team debut as he replaced Jack Humphrey in a like for like swap which saw him partner Michael Clark at centre half.
Soon after Wimbledon’s Ano came close with a bending effort from the corner of the penalty area that went inches over the bar.
With 20 minutes remaining the game still remained in the balance and Brown was again denied by Mannion in the Dons goal as his shot was pushed round the post following excellent work by Kane Adams in the corner.
Mannion was to follow with an even better save seconds later however as he reacted superbly to prevent a cross from being diverted in by one of his own players and pushed the ball over the bar.
Happe was then penalised for a foul right on the edge of the area on the 77th minute but Wimbledon captain Jason Stripp was unable to make the most of the set-piece as he opted for power and blazed his effort over the bar.
With the Don’s pushing forward and five minutes remaining Card then showed his class with a match winning save.
Substitute Ethan Roberts delivered a free-kick into the box which Paul Kalambayi directed goalwards but despite it looking to be dropping just under the crossbar, Card pulled off a phenomenal full-stretch save to scoop the ball over.
The save proved to be decisive as Orient registered back-to-back clean sheets to claim the spoils. The victory keeps them two points behind Bristol Rovers, who have played a game more, at the top of the Merit League 2 Division ahead of their trip to Northampton on Tuesday.
AFC WIMBLEDON: Will Mannion, Reece Batchelor, Jason Stripp (C), Paul Kalambayi, Dan Agyei, Anthony Hartson, Dan Ano, Judah Chapman (Ethan Roberts 54), Tino Carpene (Antonio Walker 61), Alfie Egan, Reece William-Bowers
SUBS: Arthur-Joe Thompson
BOOKINGS: Batchelor (77)
ORIENT: Ben Card, Sam Ling (C), Michael Clark, Jack Humphrey (Dan Happe 58), Kane Adams, Sandro Semedo, Montel Agyemang (Christian Owusu 69), Nick Brown, Sam Alderson, Scott Kashket (Josh Koroma 85), Shola Oladipo
SUBS: Arthur Janata
GOALS: Agyemang (13)
BOOKINGS: Kashket (72)