AFC Wimbledon turned on the style this afternoon with an impressive Central League victory against Southend United at the Cherry Red Records Stadium.
With first-teamers including James Hanson staking a claim for Saturday's match at Blackpool and Terell Thomas coming through his comeback, it was already a positive exercise for the Dons and the second-half goal blitz was a bonus. Following Alfie Egan's first-half opener, Under-18s Jack Rudoni and Tyler Burey got on the scoresheet, before Will Nightingale's header earned a 4-0 victory.
Wimbledon selected a strong side for this development fixture with a host of regular first-team squad members gaining much-needed match fitness. Thomas was among those selected as he made a vital step in his recuperation from the knee injury that he suffered at Charlton in the Checkatrade Trophy. Hanson was also given a quick opportunity to build on his impressive goalscoring display against Portsmouth. Southend's team included several players with first-team experience, including Michael Kightly and Stephen McLoughlin.
On a sunny day at the Cherry Red Records Stadium, Wimbledon made a bright start with Hanson quickly involved as he shot just wide of the target. In response, Southend had a decent chance of their own when Taylor pounced after Tom King was just unable to claim a dangerous cross, but the Southend man shot over the crossbar.
As the first-half progressed, Wimbledon really started to click into gear. Mitch Pinnock showed good touch down the left to find Afie Egan, who put in a lovely cross, but Hanson was just unable to make the most of it after being put under pressure by a Southend defender. Then a superb run by Tyler Burey also opened up the Southend defence, the young midfielder finding Pinnock down the left, but his cross was too high for Hanson. There was a blow for Wimbledon in the 21st minute when Ossam Ashley had to go off injured and he was replaced by Jack Rudoni.
The attacking momentum followed as we approached the half hour mark and Pinnock produced a powerful run to set-up a shooting chance for himself just outside the area, but Southend keeper Nathan Bishop got down well to save. There was also a really good move involving Hartigan and Egan to set-up a sight of goal for Pinnock, but he was unable to get his shot away. Pinnock produced a lovely free-kick delivery from the left to pick out Hanson and he headed home, but the offside flag was up. Southend keeper Nathan Bishop was then forced into a good save from Thomas, who had latched onto a header on by Nightingale.
The best move of the match so far came five minutes before half-time with Burey as the instigator. After driving forward from midfield, Burey released Pinnock down the left, before getting on the end of the winger's cross, but his powerful header was just too high. At the other end, Southend came closest in the first-half when a quick break out ended with Kightly picking out Isaac Hutchinson, but he shot across the face of goal. It appeared that Southend would survive until half-time, but Egan had other ideas. Pinnock's cross picked out Hanson, who showed good awareness to head on for Egan, who did really well to finish emphatically at the second attempt after he was initially foiled.
Following an encouraging first-half display, Wimbledon continued to go at Southend after the break and the visitors were relieved that Anthony Hartigan's powerful drive was not a few inches lower. At the other end, Wimbledon needed Nightingale to show good alertness to block a goal-bound effort from Kightly. Hanson was withdrawn on the hour after another forward display that promised so much for the weeks ahead, the towering striker's hold-up play impressing once again after his swashbuckling display against Portsmouth. Under-18 striker Donte Lodge-Francis was given a taste of the action after impressing at academy level.
The Dons doubled the advantage in the 64th minute and it was a goal of real quality too. Hartigan produced a fine run from deep before displaying good awareness to find Rudoni and the young midfielder showed impressive composure to find space for a shot, before shooting home emphatically.
There was no let-up from the Dons and it was 3-0 a minute later, thanks to a wonderful individual goal from Burey. The winger produced lovely footwork and pace on the right to set-up a shooting opportunity and he let fly with a superb drive that arrowed into the top corner.
In a highly encouraging second-half from the Dons, it was 4-0 in the 73rd minute when Nightingale headed home emphatically after a corner had been well swung in by Pinnock. There was still time in the latter stages for Pinnock to be denied a fifth by Bishop.
At the other end, Hutchinson fired over the crossbar and Norman Wabo missed a decent chance to notch a late consolation. However, the margin of victory certainly didn't flatter the hosts and it was a very worthwhile exercise for Wimbledon with first-teamers staking a claim and youngsters offering promise for the future.
AFC Wimbledon: Tom King, Toby Sibbick, James O'Halloran, Ossama Ashley, Will Nightingale, Terell Thomas, Tyler Burey, Alfie Egan, James Hanson (Donte Lodge-Francis), Anthony Hartigan (Huseyne Biler), Mitch Pinnock.
Pic credit: Rob Cornell.