An MK Dons Under-23s side which included five apprentices were only narrowly beaten by an experienced Plymouth Argyle outfit in a Central League fixture on Tuesday afternoon.
Edu Rubio’s team consisted of five young professionals and six under-18s, while their opponents boasted a starting XI made up of first-team players, many of whom have years of EFL experience – Sonny Bradley, Joel Grant, Ruben Lameiras, David Fox and Toumani Diagouraga to name just a few.
Despite the odds being stacked against them prior to kick-off, the young Dons side went on to play their part in an entertaining affair in Devon although eventually losing out 5-4 – their first defeat of the Central League campaign.
It was one of the Dons’ more senior players who had the game’s first chance – Nombe with an effort blocked by defender Jakub Sokolík.
Grant then had the ball in the net for Argyle but the goal was ruled out for offside. He would, though, be the man to open the scoring on 13 minutes, finishing confidently after latching onto Fox’s through pass.
Plymouth doubled their advantage seven minutes later courtesy of another experienced pro, Lameiras, who slotted in from Alex Fletcher’s cut back.
Two-nil down, away from home with an inexperienced side – the Dons could have easily crumbled but they responded in terrific fashion.
Soon after conceding a second goal, they reduced the deficit through Thomas-Asante – the forward burst through from a Rasulo pass and slotted home.
Then, two minutes later, Nombe worked his way into some space and fired a shot past the helpless Michael Cooper, making it 2-2 with less than half an hour played.
The goals continued to flow in Devon, with Plymouth restoring their lead with a Nadir Çiftçi goal on 30 minutes before Rasulo drilled home through a crowd of bodies to level the scores going into half-time.
Following a six-goal first 45, the second-half was never going to live up to its predecessor.
Chances were at a premium early in the period until Plymouth made the most of a dominant spell, taking the lead for a third time 14 minutes in – Lameiras with his second of the afternoon.
The hosts then made it 5-3 in the 87th minute courtesy of a well-worked attacking move finished off by Grant.
Substitute Asonganyi added some tension in stoppage-time by smashing home from Thomas-Asante but the Dons were unable to find a dramatic late equaliser.
Speaking after the game, Rubio said: "It was a great day for the Under-23s and the Academy with 10 under-18s players and five under-23s giving a League One starting line-up a real contest.
"Our young players are clearly on the right track, with this performance evident of that, but it's important they keep working hard, stay smart and stay hungry to continue learning on a daily basis."
Starting XI: Jones; Kasumu, Jackson, Hope, Sorinola; Bell, Logan, Rasulo, Bird, Thomas-Asante, Nombe.
Subs: Pickworth (GK), Pattison, Sole, Asonganyi.
Goals: Thomas-Asante, Nombe, Rasulo, Asonganyi.