The Under-18s kicked-off their pre-season campaign on Saturday with a friendly at Buckingham Town.
The young Dons looked impressive throughout against their opponents from the United Counties League but were beaten 3-2 on the day, with the final goal coming from the penalty spot with only five minutes remaining.
Dove’s starting XI for the first-half included a mix of first and second year scholars, as well as schoolboys David Kasumu and Finn Tapp, the former of which is set to join up with Nigeria Under-15s later this month.
The Dons started the contest well, with winger Callum Brittain twice going close inside the first 15 minutes. They then had a strong penalty appeal turned down despite Kasumu appearing to be bundled to the floor inside the box.
In the 21st minute, striker Kevin Owusu had a close-range shot blocked before both Andrew Osei-Bonsu and Harry Stratton fired wide as the Dons continued to dominate.
The closest the Dons came to opening the scoring in the first half came through the lively Brittain, who forced a strong save out of the Buckingham keeper with a curling shot from the edge of the box.
Despite enjoying most of the possession in the opening period, Dove’s side found themselves behind at the break after the Robins bundled home a corner at the far post moments before the half-time whistle. A cruel and undeserved blow. 1-0
Director of Youth Dove changed his entire outfield for the second half with goalkeeper McCorkell the only player to remain on the field. This side featured a number of Under-16s players, with Joe Steele and Dom Palmiero, as well as McCorkell, the only apprentices on the pitch.
Five minutes after the re-start, Buckingham doubled their advantage after a swift counter attack was rounded off with an impressive chipped finish over McCorkell. 2-0
The Dons, though, refused to let their heads drop and within two minutes they reduced the arrears through Bradley Bell, who curled a beautiful shot around the Town keeper and into the far right corner. 1-2
A few moments later, Bell went close to adding a second but his half volley was well saved. Defender Steele then skimmed the crossbar with a fierce strike from the edge of the box.
As the game progressed, the Dons looked increasingly more likely to equaliser and they deservedly did so with 15 minutes remaining when Sam Nombe’s pressure forced the Buckingham goalie into a mis-kick, allowing Joe Evans the easiest of finishes. 2-2
However, just as it appeared Dove’s youngsters would walk away from their first run-out with a share of the spoils, the hosts were awarded a penalty in the 85th minute – a penalty which was converted successfully despite Pickworth’s best efforts to keep it out. 3-2
Despite the result, Saturday’s performance will have left manager Dove and his assistant Eduardo Rubio with plenty to pleased about heading into their other summer friendlies.
First-half starting XI: McCorkell; Hunt, Tapp, Jackson, Stratton; Hadden, Osei-Bonsu; Brittain, Furlong, Kasumu; Owusu.
Second-half starting XI: McCorkell (Pickworth 59); Kioso, Steele, O'Neill, Omar; Palmiero, McElroy; Bell, Logan, Evans; Nombe.
Goals: Bell 53 Evans 74