By Chris Slavin
Midfielders Liam Trotter and Tom Soares both struck their first Wimbledon goals to provide the perfect start to 2018 for Neal Ardley's men.
The contributions of Trotter and Soares in the centre of the park have often been acknowledged by Neal Ardley and both players deserved to grab headlines for their goalscoring exploits.
A 2-0 victory was fully merited for Wimbledon and a total of seven points from 12 during the holiday period has certainly raised hopes of climbing the League One table during the rest of 2017/18.
This was Wimbledon's second successive victory at the Cherry Red Records Stadium and maintaining that turnaround in home form will be key to achieving that aim. An impressive win - Wimbledon's first home victory against Southend since the club was reformed - also set the Dons up nicely for Sunday's Emirates FA Cup tie against Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley.
With Wimbledon having had a testing holiday period schedule, Neal Ardley decided that today's match was the right one to make several changes to his starting line-up. Callum Kennedy, Will Nightingale, Tom Soares, Egli Kaja, and Harry Forrester all earned recalls with Jon Meades, Darius Charles, Anthony Hartigan, Andy Barcham, and Cody McDonald making way. With Barry Fuller still out injured and Darius Charles on the bench, George Francomb was handed the captain's armband.
The Dons were put under pressure early on by a Southend side aiming to improve upon their mid-table position in League One. Of course, Wimbledon's need for points was even greater and Neal Ardley's men defended resolutely to stop Southend making any early impression. However, Wimbledon really started to really crank up the intensity around the 15-minute mark, in front of FA Cup hero Lawrie Sanchez, who was guest of honour for this match. A half-cleared corner was smashed towards goal by Kaja, but it was blocked, and Jimmy Abdou followed up with a shot just wide.
Wimbledon tested Southend keeper Mark Oxley for the first time in the 16th minute when Soares produced a fine run and pass to pick out Lyle Taylor in space just inside the area on the right, but his well struck shot was tipped over by Oxley. Southend's first effort on goal came in the 25th minute when George Long stayed alert to turn aside a speculative drive from Dru Yearwood. However, Wimbledon took the lead in the 27th minute - and there was no doubting the Dons were full value for the lead. Liam Trotter held up the ball patiently, before picking out Callum Kennedy, and his cross eventually dropped nicely for Trotter, who finished clinically to make it 1-0.
The Dons continued to press forward after making the breakthrough with Forrester doing his best to conjure up a bit of magic. Certainly, in the first-half what he did try just failed to come off. It was a nice idea when he slid through a pass on the left flank for Taylor, but he was just unable to reach it. On the stroke of half-time, Taylor showed good awareness to find Forrester in space inside the area, but he dragged his shot wide. As the half-time whistle sounded, Wimbledon could be very satisfied with a good first-half performance that fully deserved the lead.
Wimbledon started the second-half with the same energy and tempo that earned reward before the break and it was 2-0 in the 48th minute. A free-kick was only half cleared and when Deji Oshilaja headed it back into the danger area, Tom Soares got the final touch with his head to divert it past Oxley. It was a first Wimbledon goal for Soares since he joined the club in January and it was a timely one too as it put the brakes on any potential second-half fightback from Southend. Callum Kennedy attempted to continue the momentum by trying his luck from a free-kick, but it was just off target.
With an hour gone, Southend finally came out of their shells. Substitute Nile Ranger acrobatically fired over the crossbar and then Simon Cox had a good chance when he got on the end of a cross from the right, but he headed over. However, at the other end, Taylor threatened to make it 3-0 when he cut inside and fired a shot just wide from outside the area. Trotter so nearly put Taylor clean through on goal with a clever pass, but it was just cut out.
In the last 20 minutes, Southend never looked capable of making a game of it and Wimbledon held firm at the back. One committed tackle from Will Nightingale earned applause from Wimbledon supporters, the young centre-back winning the ball with steel and accuracy. It perhaps summed up how much Wimbledon wanted this more than opponents Southend. Wimbledon's next challenge at Wembley will certainly be tougher against Spurs, but the Dons will go into it with more confidence now after this impressive victory.
AFC Wimbledon: George Long, George Francomb, Callum Kennedy, Deji Oshilaja, Will Nightingale, Jimmy Abdou, Liam Trotter, Tom Soares, Harry Forrester (Andy Barcham), Lyle Taylor (Cody McDonald), Egli Kaja.
Pic credit: Matt Redman, Pro Sports Images.