- Albion win 2-0 at AFC Wimbledon
- Own goal puts Albion ahead at Kingsmeadow
- Bojan Radulovic doubles the lead late on
- Albion top Leasing.com Trophy group after opening match
After more than holding our own against League One opposition, a 52nd-minute own goal from the hosts gave Albion a lead to protect, and Bojan Radulovic added a second in the closing stages to top off a positive evening.
After rejoining the club in a player-coach role this summer, Andrew Crofts came into the side for his first appearance, more than three-and-a-half years after his last outing in Albion colours.
There was also another appearance for first-team goalkeeper Jason Steele, while Steven Alzate, who impressed last week in the Carabao Cup at Bristol Rovers, lined up in central midfield alongside Crofts.
The hosts created the first opportunity of the game, after a slow start from Rusk’s side, but thankfully Paul Kalambayi’s glancing header from an inswinging corner dropped wide of the target.
Crofts showed his experience from the off, dropping into the hole in front of Albion’s defence to receive the ball and dictate the play, but it was the midfielder’s presence in Wimbledon’s box that almost led to an opener.
The 35-year-old lost his marker to get on the end of a free kick from Peter Gwargis, but his looping header, which left Dons shot-stopper Nik Tzanev glued to the spot, dropped inches wide of the target.
Albion called on another experienced head when Michael Folivi turned inside the box to create time and space for a shot — Steele rushed off his goal line to smother the striker’s effort and keep the scores level.
Another debutant for Rusk’s side was Antef Tsoungui, who stepped up from Albion’s under-18s to partner Lewis Freestone in central defence, and the 16-year-old made two brilliant goal-line clearances to deny Folivi and Adam Roscrow in quick succession.
It would have been cruel on Albion to go in behind at the break, and the woodwork was to thank for keeping the game level when Mitchell Pinnock’s free kick travelled through a crowd of bodies and cannoned back off the upright.
There was one final chance before heading back to the changing rooms at the interval, but Gwargis was unable to direct his header on goal from Ryan Longman’s cross, ending a promising half of football from Albion’s youngsters.
It took just seven minutes for the deadlock to be broken after the break, but it happened in bizarre fashion, which was no problem for Albion, but bitterly disappointing for the hosts.
Pinnock played an aerial ball back into goalkeeper Tzanev from a wide position, and with everyone expecting a routine touch and pass, the shot-stopper was unable to control the ball and it went straight in to give Albion the lead.
The home side raised their game in the spell that followed Albion’s opener, but somehow the ball was scrambled off the goal line when Will Nightingale looped a header over Steele from a Dons set-piece.
Rusk reshuffled his pack in the closing stages with the introduction of Romaric Yapi, Danny Cashman and Radulovic, and it was the Serbian forward who wrapped up three points for his team with a clinical finish late on.
Radulovic made an impact off the bench at the King Power Stadium a few weeks ago, and he added another goal to his tally for the season so far, latching onto a pass from Richards before slotting past Tzanev to double Albion’s lead.
Cashman had a late chance to make the scoreline look even more glamorous, but the forward rolled just wide of goal and it finished 2-0, leaving Albion top of Southern Group C.
ALBION: Steele; A.Davies (Yapi 77), Tsoungui, Freestone, Cochrane; Alzate, Crofts; Gwargis, J.Davies (Radulovic 83), Richards; Longman (Cashman 77).
Subs not used: Desbois (GK), Cocoracchio, Spong, Vukoje.