Wimbledon’s first-half full of promise came to nothing tonight as promotion-chasers Southend secured another emphatic win at the Cherry Red Records Stadium.
After dominating the first 45 minutes, the Dons had nothing to show for their efforts as they went in behind at the break and it got worse for the hosts in the second-half as a Gavin Tomlin double and goals from Ryan Cresswell and Barry Corr earned a 4-0 win for the visitors.
Neal Ardley had talked about bringing in new blood to boost his squad in the build-up to this match and that need may become more urgent now as his squad appears to lack depth due to injuries.
The Dons boss was forced to reshuffle his midfield with Steven Gregory missing out due to injury and that meant Jonathan Meades was deployed in the centre of the park. George Francomb made a welcome return on the right hand side in place of Charlie Strutton and there was another new Wimbledon captain on the night with Will Antwi taking the skipper’s armband.
The Dons made a bright start that put in-form Southend on the back foot and Meades, billed as a talented and versatile footballer by his manager Neal Ardley, showed he was at home in the midfield engine room as he helped establish early Wimbledon superiority. The hosts came so close to taking the lead when Meades created a shooting chance for Jake Reeves and the on-loan Brentford youngster’s fierce shot struck the crossbar. Jim Fenlon then tried his luck with a drive from distance that just fizzed wide as Wimbledon maintained the momentum. Another flowing move down the left offered further encouragement for the Dons when Midson and Stacy Long combined well and the latter’s dangerous cross just evaded everyone in the box. The all-important finishing touch continued to evade the hosts though and Will Antwi fired over the crossbar after he latched onto a knock-down from Curtis Osano.
At the other end, there was little to trouble the Dons and it took until just after the half hour for the visitors to muster their first effort on goal when Tamika Mkandawire shot straight into the grateful arms of Neil Sullivan. The Shrimpers had shown virtually nothing of the flying form that had earned a stunning 4-1 win at Torquay on Saturday. It therefore came as a bolt out of the blue when Southend opened the scoring two minutes before the break. There was no surprise about who scored it though as Gavin Tomlin, a striker with a past record of scoring against the Dons produced a clinical finish into the bottom corner that left Sullivan with no chance.
Yet again after Saturday’s late rescue act, the Dons were going to have to mount a second-half fightback if they were to get anything from this game. Neal Ardley made a half-time change to Wimbledon’s attack with Charlie Strutton offered a chance to repeat his heroics against York City in the FA Cup. However, Southend would have been out of sight in the very first minute of the second-half but for Sullivan as he got down well to foil Britt Assombalonga after a short backpass from Will Antwi. Southend’s goal had failed to change the flow of the game though as Wimbledon, shooting towards the Tempest End, continued to dominate.
The Dons had a mountain to climb just after the hour though when Southend extended their advantage through Ryan Cresswell. It was a poor goal to concede from a Wimbledon perspective as Cresswell rose unchallenged in the box to head home from close range from a Kevan Hurst corner. That second goal appeared to knock the stuffing out of Wimbledon and it should have been three when Marc Laird went clean through after a slip from Antwi, but he was denied by Sullivan.
It was effectively all over in the 67th minute when the Dons conceded from another set-piece, Hurst curling in a free-kick from the left that was headed home by Tomlin. With defeat now a formality for the Dons, the hosts only had pride to play for, but Strutton was determined to make an impression and he came close to getting in on goal on two occasions. There was nearly a fortuitous consolation for the Dons when a clearance almost rebounded off substitute Huw Johnson and into the net, but the ball just bounced wide. Substitute Corr powered home from a corner with a minute to go though as Southend went one better than their last visit to the Cherry Red Records Stadium when they won 4-1.
AFC Wimbledon: Neil Sullivan, Curtis Osano, Jim Fenlon (Huw Johnson), Jonathan Meades, Yado Mambo, Will Antwi, Jake Reeves, Stacy Long (Kieran Djilali), Byron Harrison (Charlie Strutton), Jack Midson, George Francomb.