By Rob Cornell
Egli Kaja returned from injury with a goal in this afternoon's Central League South East match against Southend United, but it was not enough to prevent defeat.
Kaja (pictured) struck in the 52nd minute to help Wimbledon's development squad back into the match, but a late Southend goal earned a 3-2 win for the visitors at Merstham FC.
First-teamers Paul Robinson and Will Nightingale also both got game-time, as the Dons missed out on a chance to go top of the table, at least for 24 hours with leaders Bournemouth playing tomorrow.
Coach Alan Reeves' post-match reaction is available below, via a link to our official club YouTube channel, plus there's more on Paul Robinson's request for some minutes ahead of a busy first-team schedule.
The Dons pinned Southend back from the start. Egli Kaja forced a corner and skipper Paul Kalambayi's header came close from the resulting set piece. Ossama Ashley continued to keep the pressure on with a couple of efforts and Osaze Urhoghide broke through effectively on 13 minutes to set-up Richard Pingling, but he shot wide.
The pattern of the game was turned on its head quickly though when Renei Batlokwa put Southend in front with a good finish past Nik Tzanev just after the quarter of the hour mark. The Shrimpers doubled their lead soon after when Amadou Ba benefited from miscommunication in the Dons defence and finished from close range to leave Wimbledon in disarray.
It took until ten minutes before the break for Wimbledon to regain their composure. Ashley shot low into keeper Harry Seadan's grasp, but the Dons needed Alan Reeves' half-time team-talk to breathe new life into them.
Wimbledon mounted a fight back at the start of the second-half, playing down the slope and using that to their advantage. Five minutes in, Ashley was fouled and Nightingale's header came off the crossbar after a good delivery from Kaja. The Dons kept up the pressure and in the 52nd minute Kaja lashed a goal back.
Five minutes later, Kaja was involved again as he set up Pingling, who had time to finish powerfully past the Southend keeper and put Wimbledon back on level terms.
With 21 minutes to go, Pingling had a chance to put Wimbledon in front from a well-worked move from one end of the pitch to the other, but the ball went narrowly wide.
However, the visitors regained the lead after the referee spotted a foul in the Dons penalty area before a corner. Batlokwa converted past Tzanev to put Southend back in front with just over a quarter of an hour remaining. Wimbledon were unable to come back again as Southend picked up their first points of the season.
AFC Wimbledon: Tzanev, Sibbick, Nelson-Roberts, Robinson, Nightingale, Kalambayi (c), Kaja, Urhoghide, Ashley, Shango, Pingling.