Report on U21s win over AFC Wimbledon...
By Robert Craven
Southend United U21s won a thrilling Central League encounter 5-3 against AFC Wimbledon at Boots & Laces on Tuesday afternoon.
The clash was delayed by some 40 minutes after the visitors were caught in traffic on their way to south-east Essex, but the game was well worth the wait as goals by Joe Bedford, who netted twice, Adam King and Norman Wabo, plus an own goal by Paul Kalambayi, were enough to overcome the Dons.
Neither team created a clear-cut opportunity in the opening ten minutes, but Blues took the lead at the end of that period through midfielder Bedford. King won a right-wing corner and, when Nico Cotton's flag-kick was cleared to the edge of the penalty area, Bedford arrowed a marginally deflected effort through a sea of defenders and into the bottom left-hand corner.
The Upminster-based talent almost increased the lead within five minutes, sending another well-struck attempt whistling past the right-hand post from 25 yards out, whilst full-back Elvis Bwomono also went close when he chipped a loose ball just over the crossbar from a similar distance.
Blues were comfortably on top, and on 18 minutes Bedford's shot skimmed across the face of goal from Jack Bridge's cross. Jason Williams then scuffed a shot into the gloves of goalkeeper Josef Bursik after Bridge had linked up with a trialist on the left-hand side.
Southend did not have to wait long before doubling their advantage as Bedford scored a sensational second goal. Collecting King's pass around 35 yards from goal, there appeared to be little danger until he shifted the ball out of his feet and away from an opponent before connecting sweetly with his strike to send it flying into the top left-hand corner.
The passing and movement amongst Southend's midfielders and attacking players was causing Wimbledon all sorts of problems, and Nico Cotton could have added a third goal when he flashed a shot over having darted inside from the left wing. Then, on 36 minutes, Bedford robbed Dan Gallagher of the ball in midfield but was denied a hat-trick when his long-range attempt was deflected wide.
Osaze Urhoghide nodded a left-wing cross wide shortly afterwards, and the visitors halved their deficit four minutes before half-time when George Oakley collected a long Toby Siddick pass to advance one-on-one with Josh Bexon before nutmegging the Shrimpers shotstopper.
Any notion that the Dons had of getting back on level terms was quashed two minutes later when their skipper, Kalambayi, put the ball into his own goal. Tom Clifford found Bridge on the left, and the playmaker intelligently switched play to the opposite side, where Bwomono's teasing centre was poked past Bursik.
However, the Dons came out after the interval with renewed optimism, and they were back within striking distance less than two minutes after the restart when Egil Kaja slotted into the bottom left-hand corner following a swift break. Blues were immediately jolted into action, and a defender did well to stop Williams firing home a Bridge through-ball before Bwomono again smashed over after making progress from right-back.
Southend did make it 4-2 after 52 minutes. The goal was made by the trialist, who embarked on an excellent left-wing run, dazzling defenders before squaring the ball to King for an eight-yard finish. Even then, the game was far from safe, and Bexon made a good save above his head to deny Judas Chapman on the hour.
Bridge saw a free-kick deflect wide off Bedford before setting up King in the 62nd minute, but his fierce strike was claimed by Bursik and Bridge then went close again, tracking across the edge of the penalty area to create space and then dragging the eventual shot wide of the right-hand post.
Local lad Bridge was becoming ever more prominent, and in the 71st minute he and the trialist linked up well to find King, who cut the ball back to Cotton. The winger saw his strike charged down and Wimbledon reduced the arrears again on the break, Oakley finishing clinically via the base of the left-hand upright.
Southend's lead was precarious again, and defender Sonny Coutts was brought on in an unfamiliar midfield role. However, he adapted well and, in the 79th minute, he latched into a Bedford pass to set up fellow substitute Harry Phillips, who saw a left-footed strike saved by Bursik before Blues made sure of the three points.
Wabo had only been on the pitch for five minutes when he contributed Southend's fifth goal sixty seconds from time. Having dealt with a Wimbledon corner, the trialist measured a long pass into the young forward's path and he slammed the ball into the net from ten yards out, allowing Kevin Maher and his team to finally celebrate an enthralling victory.
Southend United U21s: Josh Bexon, Elvis Bwomono, Tom Clifford, Jack Bridge, Dan Matsuzaka, Adam King (Sonny Coutts, 72), Abdul Salami, Joe Bedford (Norman Wabo, 84), Jason Williams (Dan Walker, 90+1), Trialist, Nico Cotton (Harry Phillips, 72). Substitute not used: Nathan Bishop.
Goals: Bedford (10, 24), Kalambayi (o.g., 43), King (52), Wabo (89).
Cautioned: Salami (18, adopting an aggressive attitude).