Young Dons defeated after gallant fightback
A superb 25-yard strike from Christian Toonga provided the highlight of an eight-goal thriller that ended with defeat for AFC Wimbledon in the Final Third Development League Cup.
Southend came out on top in a 5-3 win with all the goals coming in the second-half, Toonga (pictured battling for possession with Jason Williams) netting the pick of them with 10 minutes to play.
Toonga’s goal appeared to be merely a consolation, but Wimbledon substitutes Jayden Antwi and Reece Batchelor struck to make it 3-4 with seven minutes to play. However, a Southend side containing first-teamers Jack Payne, Adam Thompson, Kevan Hurst and Stephen McLaughlin hit back with the final goal just a minute later. McLaughlin had earlier been on target with a double from Jason Williams and a fine strike from Nico Cotton accounting for Southend’s other goals in this cup group match.
Wimbledon made an impressive start with David Fitzpatrick, Egli Kaja and George Oakley showing plenty of attacking threat early on. Fitzpatrick showed lovely skill on the left to go through on goal, but his shot from an acute angle was just turned away by Southend goalkeeper Josh Bexon.
minute. Toonga picked out a fine run in behind by Oakley, who switched the ball quickly to Gallagher and when the Wimbledon midfielder was sent sprawling in the box it had to be a penalty. Tom Beere stepped up to take it, but his spot-kick was too close to Bexon, who dived to his left to save.thThe Dons squandered a golden chance to go in front in the 14
Kaja’s energy and tenacity was a constant menace to Southend during a first third of the game dominated by Wimbledon. The 18-year-old attacking midfielder so nearly made the breakthrough when he sprung the offside trap after a ball through from Gallagher, but Bexon saved once again.
There was a blow for Wimbledon before the half hour when trialist Addison Garnett had to go off injured. That left a lack of cover at centre-back and it meant midfielder Beere having to fill the void alongside 16-year-old Paul Kalambayi. Left-sided player Neset Bellikli entered the fray.
Southend had barely mustered an attack in the first half an hour, but they slowly started to come into the game and it needed Callum Wilson to make a fine last-ditch challenge to stop Payne going through, before McLaughlin had a free-kick saved by Dons goalkeeper Will Mannion.
Wimbledon paid the price for a sloppy start to the second-half as Southend struck twice in three minutes. First, Payne broke free down Wimbledon’s left and crossed for McLaughlin to steer home and then Cotton put Southend two-up with a lovely strike.
minute when a header from Williams just had enough on it to cross the line, despite a gallant attempt from Mannion to save it. Beere then cleared off the line from Payne as Southend threatened to make it a tough final half hour for the Dons.thSouthend’s experience began to tell as they moved the ball around effectively and it was 3-0 in the 56
A double Wimbledon change was made just before the hour mark with Antwi and Batchelor entering the fray for Harrison and Wilson. It looked all over 11 minutes from time when Williams tapped home to make it 4-0 after good work by McLaughlin.
However, there was still plenty of drama to come as Wimbledon threatened to battle back for an unlikely point. Toonga, who showed some neat touches in possession, started it all with an absolute belter as he fired home from 25 yards, via the underside of the crossbar. Then the visitors gifted Wimbledon a second when Bexon’s clearance hit a Southend defender and left Antwi with a tap-in. There was nothing fortuitous about Wimbledon’s next goal though – a third in as many minutes - when Kaja put over a lovely cross that was headed home emphatically by Batchelor at the near post.
All of a sudden, Southend were desperately clinging on against a Dons onslaught, but there was a cruel twist in the tale when Kalambayi turned a cross into his own net under pressure from Williams. That was the final meaningful act in a pulsating finish, but coach Alan Reeves said afterwards that he was delighted with the performance of Kalambayi, who only turned 16 recently.
Defeat meant that the young Dons are unlikely to make progress now in the Final Third Development League Cup after failing to win in two previous group matches.
AFC Wimbledon: Will Mannion, Callum Wilson (Reece Batchelor), Ben Harrison (Jayden Antwi), Dan Gallagher, Paul Kalambayi, Addison Garnett (Neset Bellikli), Tom Beere, Christian Toonga, George Oakley, Egli Kaja, David Fitzpatrick.