AFC Wimbledon had to settle for a point today with a late penalty by Southend's Charlie Kelman earning a draw for the visitors.
Wimbledon appeared to be heading for all three points after a cracking goal by Callum Reilly, but Ryan Delaney was adjudged to have brought down Charlie Kelman in the box and he picked himself up to make no mistake from 12 yards. In the circumstances, it was a 1-1 draw that felt like a defeat with Wimbledon having worked so hard to put themselves in a position to secure victory.
The Dons came into this match seeking to get back to winning ways after the defeat against Oxford that ended an unbeaten home sequence stretching back to September. Glyn Hodges made just one change to his starting line-up with Ryan Delaney replacing Rod McDonald in defence. Terell Thomas was passed fit to start the game after shrugging off the hip injury that forced him to come off against Oxford.
Southend came out of the blocks quickly and created a half chance inside the first minute with their top scorer Stephen Humphrys finding enough space to fire a volley on target, but Nathan Trott watched it all the way and held the ball well. At the other end, Wimbledon had a first goal attempt in the fifth minute when Jack Rudoni received a pass from Ryan Delaney and tried an audacious 25-yard volley that flashed just wide. Rudoni, Max Sanders, and Callum Reilly started to gain good possession in midfield and crossing opportunities were created for Luke O’Neill, but Southend defended the balls into the box well in the early exchanges. A fine Wimbledon move in the 15th minute ended with Reilly finding Marcus Forss and he tried his luck with a shot from outside the area that curled wide.
Wimbledon marched into the lead in the 23rd minute with a goal of real quality by Callum Reilly. After he received a pass from Ryan Delaney, no Southend players put pressure on Reilly and he needed no second invitation to stride on towards the edge of the area, before curling home an absolute cracker with his right foot that left Southend keeper Mark Oxley with no chance. What a way to start the New Year and it offered a useful platform to build on for Wimbledon. However, Southend had shown an attacking threat on occasions in the first-half hour and they threatened an equaliser shortly afterwards. Luke O’Neill showed his defensive qualities with a vital last-gasp clearance to put Sam Mantom’s dangerous cross out for a corner. From the subsequent flag kick, Stephen McLaughlin latched into a half clearance to strike a fine effort that was just wide of the far post.
Despite Southend gaining a good share of possession, Wimbledon continued to look dangerous in attack. Forss shot just wide after a powerful strike by Max Sanders had been palmed away by Oxley, but the flag was up for offside. Though Wimbledon failed to add another goal during the remainder of the first-half, the hosts comfortably held on to the lead until half-time.
The visitors opened the second-half by forcing a free-kick in a dangerous position on their left, just outside the area. Mantom curled in a lovely delivery that was just deflected out for a corner that Wimbledon managed to deal with efficiently. Shortly afterwards, Glyn Hodges was forced into a change with Jack Rudoni having to go off injured. The 18-year-old midfielder was given warm applause as he trudged off and Rudoni could certainly take encouragement from another competent midfield display at League One level. He was replaced by Anthony Hartigan, who was straight into the action and the midfielder struck a shot that was deflected just wide after he followed up a goalmouth scramble. Another chance followed for Wimbledon when Forss sent over a lovely cross from the right that picked out Pigott, but he headed just wide.
As we approached the hour mark, this game was far from decided. There was a nervy moment for Wimbledon when Terell Thomas was just unable to clear a cross and the ball fell nicely for Southend substitute Isaac Hutchinson, but he could only steer the ball straight at Nathan Trott. At the other end, Forss had a chance to double the advantage, but he fired wide of the target. In the final 20 minutes Wimbledon continued to probe for a second goal with Sanders helping to drive his side forward from midfield. A good move ended with Nesta Guinness-Walker putting in a ball from the left that flashed across goal with no one able to get the finishing touch.
Wimbledon’s attempts to gain the safety of a second goal proved to be in vain. Despite the slender lead, Wimbledon appeared to be managing the game well as Southend struggled to make an impression. However, there was a cruel sting in the tail as the referee pointed to the spot in the first minute of injury time after a challenge by Delaney on Kelman, who slotted home the penalty.
AFC Wimbledon: Nathan Trott, Luke O’Neill, Terell Thomas, Jack Rudoni, Marcus Forss, Nesta Guinness-Walker, Shane McLoughlin, Ryan Delaney, Max Sanders (Jack Rudoni), Callum Reilly, Joe Pigott.
Pic credit: Matt Redman, Pro Sports Images.