Wimbledon moved closer to survival with a resilient defensive performance earning a win at Roots Hall for the second successive season.
It was a 1-0 win that came thanks to plenty of fighting spirit and the final whistle signalled chants of “We are staying up” from the 664 Dons supporters in attendance.
A trip to Essex again brought the best out of Neal Ardley’s men as they battled for every ball and fully deserved the win that came thanks to a penalty from Jack Midson.
The return of Andy Frampton after injury was a key factor as he impressed at the back and Midson and Kwesi Appiah offered plenty of threat in attack.
Neal Ardley’s team selection made it a big day for Jake Nicholson as he was handed his first League 2 start for Wimbledon in midfield with Peter Sweeney the man to make way. The only other change was an expected one with Andy Frampton restored to the heart of defence in place of Will Antwi.
With a vocal Southend support aiming to cheer on their side towards the play-offs, it was important that Wimbledon made a good start to silence the home crowd. Southend manager Phil Brown said during the build-up that he expected Wimbledon to shut-up shop and show little ambition in attack, but the visitors could have been in front in the 17th minute. It was a moment that again highlighted the potential of Wimbledon’s new strike pairing as Jack Midson set-up Kwesi Appiah, but Southend goalkeeper Daniel Bentley spread himself well to make a fine save.
The Dons had to be careful not to commit too many men forward though with speedy Southend striker Jamar Loza aiming to exploit any gaps and one driving run from him ended with a decent save at his near post from Ross Worner. Wimbledon looked sharp enough in attack to cause problems in a first-half that was evenly matched. A decent Dons spell ended with a corner swung in from George Francomb that Darren Jones headed over. Worner made the best save so far shortly afterwards when he reacted superbly to deny Loza after he powered clean through.
Wimbledon could be well pleased with a resilient first-half defensive display, but they needed Harry Pell to help out when he made a fine block to deny Loza just before the half-time whistle shrilled.
The home faithful’s frustration was becoming apparent as the second-half wore on and Wimbledon continued to defend resolutely. But it had been far from just a matter of Wimbledon defending for their lives and it was no surprise when they earned the lead. Midson’s flick-on fell perfectly for his strike partner Appiah, but he was sent sprawling in the box by John Egan and referee Andrew Madley had little option but to award the spot-kick. Midson had never let the Dons down in the past from the spot, but he was fortunate on this occasion as Southend goalkeeper Daniel Bentley was just unable to stop it crossing the line after getting his hands to it. However, none of the Dons travelling army behind the goal cared as it moved Wimbledon closer to sealing survival.
A spirited Southend response followed and Wimbledon had to stay strong to defy the home challenge. Worner reacted brilliantly to tip Egan’s powerful drive wide, but there was a let-off for the visitors shortly afterwards when Southend substitute Barry Corr headed wide from close-range.
With Frampton in commanding form at the back for a defiant Wimbledon, Southend’s attacking became increasingly desperate and Egan’s wild shot wide summed up their threat. Neal Ardley then decided to withdraw Appiah, who had produced a tireless display up front for Wimbledon once again. Luke Moore was the man to enter the fray as the Dons looked for more legs to see them through until the end.
A goal never looked like coming from the hosts and substitute Jacob Murphy’s effort was comfortably wide with just a few minutes left. Though the pressure cranked up a notch or two near the end, Wimbledon never had too many problems denying Southend’s play-off charge and they fought to the death to earn a deserved victory.
AFC Wimbledon: Ross Worner, Barry Fuller, Andy Frampton, George Francomb, Jack Midson (Will Antwi), Harry Pell, Aaron Morris, Darren Jones, Jake Nicholson (Danny Hylton), Tom Richards, Kwesi Appiah (Luke Moore).