Wimbledon showed plenty of fighting spirit to march into the second round of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy as they edged out Southend in a dramatic penalty shoot-out.
Seemingly heading out at 2-1 down with one man less after Harry Pell’s sending off, Adam Barrett struck a brilliant goal in the last minute of normal time, before the Dons won it 4-2 on penalties. It was reward for a plucky Wimbledon display against the odds and James Shea produced several superb saves to keep his side in it.
Neal Ardley made five changes to his starting line-up and it was a completely different forward line from previous matches so far this season with Matt Tubbs and Bayo Akinfenwa both rested. That meant Ade Azeez paired Kevin Sainte-Luce up front and Tom Beere made his competitive bow for the first-team at the age of 19. Jake Nicholson, Mark Phillips and Harry Pell also all came in for Dannie Bulman, Alan Bennett and Sammy Moore.
In contrast to the league fixture at Roots Hall two weeks ago when the Dons eventually triumphed 1-0, Southend were quick out of the blocks and they made the breakthrough in the fifth minute. Myles Weston charged down the right wing and sent over a cross that Shaquille Coulthirst failed to connect with properly, but the ball bounced kindly for Jack Payne and he made no mistake from close range. It could have been worse for Wimbledon just minutes later as James Shea was required to make a great save to deny Coulthirst.
Wimbledon recovered their composure though and they had a goal to savour in the 16thminute. Beere produced a clever corner to the edge of the area and Sainte-Luce responded brilliantly to hammer in a great strike that beat Southend goalkeeper Dan Bentley at his near post. That was the signal for the return of those acrobatic goal celebrations from the enigmatic winger that we had not seen for some time.
However, any hopes for Wimbledon of building on that were dashed when Harry Pell was shown a straight red card by referee Charles Breakspear midway through the first-half. It appeared Pell could have little complaint as his tackle on Dave Worrall was late. Yet the Dons showed renewed spirit with one man less and they did come close when Barry Fuller broke down the right wing and sent in a lovely cross that Azeez headed just over the crossbar. Southend started to make the extra man count as half-time approached and the Dons needed Mark Phillips to make a fine goal-line clearance to stop Coulthirst’s header finding the net.
Neal Ardley decided to hand 17-year-old left-back Ben Harrison an opportunity for the second-half in place of Callum Kennedy. With Wimbledon having to play the whole of the second-half with 10 men, it was always going to be difficult and their task was made even harder just a few minutes after the break. Payne seized on a loose ball and struck a fierce drive from 20 yards that left Shea with no chance. At this point, Southend were threatening to run riot and it needed Shea to make a brilliant save to deny Payne his hat-trick.
Wimbledon made a double change just after the hour with Matt Tubbs and Dannie Bulman entering the fray for Sainte-Luce and Sean Rigg. However, it was Tubbs’ strike partner Azeez who came close to an equaliser when he latched onto a through ball from Nicholson and struck a powerful drive that Bentley beat away at his near post. However, Shea had to be alert to keep Wimbledon in it, firstly when he did brilliantly to win a race with Coulthirst for the ball and it rebounded away from danger. Then Shea saved at his near post to turn away Weston’s powerful drive from an acute angle.
There was no lack of spirit from Wimbledon to force penalties, but it was proving difficult to create chances in the circumstances. But they were still kept in it by excellent goalkeeping from Shea, the Dons goalkeeper producing perhaps his best save yet to deny Southend substitute Ryan Leonard.
And it turned out that there was still plenty of drama to come, thanks to that man Barrett, who is pictured charging through the Southend defence (photograph by Paul Willatts). Barrett picked up the ball 20 yards out and struck a brilliant left foot strike that arrowed into the bottom corner to leave Bentley with no chance. What a way it was to equalise from a player who previously served Southend for six seasons and the Dons held on doggedly during four minutes of injury-time to force a penalty shoot-out.
It was now a test of nerve for both sides, but Wimbledon came through with flying colours. Jake Nicholson, Dannie Bulman, Tom Beere and Matt Tubbs all scored from 12 yards, but it was a different story for Southend with Lee Barnard and Ben Coker both having their spot-kicks well saved by Shea. The decisive penalty from Tubbs was met with jubilant celebrations from Wimbledon fans, players and coaching staff when it hit the back of the net and the Dons march into the next round.
AFC Wimbledon: James Shea, Barry Fuller, Callum Kennedy (Ben Harrison, Jake Nicholson, Adam Barrett, Mark Phillips, Sean Rigg (Matt Tubbs), Harry Pell, Ade Azeez, Kevin Sainte-Luce (Dannie Bulman), Tom Beere.