Wimbledon secured their seventh away victory of the season in emphatic style tonight with a stunning win at Roots Hall.
Substitute Luke Moore (pictured) crowned an impressive Wimbledon display with only his second goal of the season earning a 3-1 win against a side still holding out hopes of a promotion and Johnstone’s Paint Trophy double. Indeed, it was a fine way for the Dons to break their duck against Southend since their promotion back to the Football League. In four previous meetings between the two sides, Southend boasted a 100 per cent record, but they were left shell-shocked by a rampant Wimbledon side on the night. They came from behind too with goals from Pim Balkestein, Jack Midson and Luke Moore easing the club’s relegation fears.
Neal Ardley tonight decided to hand Kevin Sainte-Luce his first League 2 start as one of two changes from the side that started against York City on Saturday.
New signing Kelly Youga started at left-back in place of Rashid Yussuff with Jonathan Meades pushed forward into a more advanced midfield role.
Wimbledon made a bright start at Roots Hall as they looked solid at the back and produced moments of promise in attack. Sainte-Luce created space for a shot, but had his fierce effort charged down and then Gary Alexander cracked a free-kick at the wall. However, Southend were gifted the opener in the 29th minute after failing to create a meaningful chance up until that point. Kevin Hurst sent in a corner from the right and referee Dean Whitestone adjudged that Balkestein had handled in the area. The penalty award may have been contentious with Wimbledon claiming a foul, but there was no disputing the quality of the spot-kick with Southend captain Sean Clohessy converting emphatically from 12 yards.
The Dons refused to feel sorry for themselves after that setback and they were level less than three minutes later. It was a goal that offered redemption for Balkestein as he met a Sammy Moore corner with a bullet header that Southend goalkeeper Paul Smith got a hand to but could not keep out. Wimbledon enjoyed a decent spell of possession after drawing level, but Southend showed their danger in attack once again when Hurst sped past the challenge of Youga, who had already been booked, but his shot was too close to John Sullivan.
While the first-half lacked quality and was not one to set the pulses racing, Wimbledon could be well pleased with their away performance so far. The visitors almost snatched the lead in first-half injury-time after the setback of losing Balkestein through injury. That meant Meades moved to right-back and Mitchel-King switched to centre-back with Jack Midson entering the fray. That almost inadvertently worked for the Dons with Midson almost setting up a goal with his first touch as his through ball put Sainte-Luce through, but Smith was out quickly to deny the Frenchman with a smart save.
Wimbledon came out of the blocks quickly at the start of the second-half and they found the cutting edge to match their impressive approach play with a stunning goal less than two minutes after the break. It was another driving run from Sainte-Luce that opened up the Southend defence as he created space for Alexander and his teasing cross was met with a superb header by substitute Midson. At this stage, it was all Wimbledon as they aimed to capitalise on a shaky start from the home side that had the Roots Hall faithful voicing their disapproval. The Dons should have effectively sealed the match when Alexander again showed there was more to his game than scoring goals by putting Sainte-Luce through, but he dragged his shot wide.
There was no sign of Wimbledon settling for what they had after taking a 2-1 lead and that man Sainte-Luce threatened to settle the issue all by himself. The 19-year-old, who was a constant menace all night with his dazzling wing play, then showed Anthony Straker a clean pair of heels and crossed for Midson, who was close to getting a vital touch that would have doubled his tally.
Neal Ardley decided to make a double change midway through the second-half with Luke Moore and Jesse Darko replacing Kevin Sainte-Luce and Brennan Dickenson. That paid instant dividends when Luke Moore scored with his first touch after entering the fray. It was the goal of the night too as Meades picked out Darko and his touch set-up a shooting chance for Luke Moore, who let fly with a fierce drive that left Smith with no chance. Wimbledon almost compounded the misery for Southend on the night when Luke Moore had an effort cleared off the line by Bilel Mohsni.
The priority for Wimbledon was preventing Southend getting back into the match though and apart from John Sullivan saving a Britt Assombalonga effort at his near post, Southend barely threatened and the Dons were worthy winners in the end.
AFC Wimbledon: John Sullivan, Pim Balkestein (Jack Midson), Mat Mitchel-King, Sammy Moore, Brennan Dickenson (Luke Moore), Harry Pell, Kevin Sainte-Luce (Jesse Darko), Kelly Youga, Gary Alexander, Jonathan Meades, Alan Bennett.