Southend United U23s will need to defeat AFC Bournemouth in their final Central League Cup South Group fixture to qualify for the knockout stages after AFC Wimbledon battled back from 2-0 down to claim a point in Tuesday’s encounter at Parkside...
Isaac Hutchinson took his tally of goals to six in his last two U23s appearances - and eight in eight competitive U23s matches all season - with a first-half brace, but Dons forward Tommy Wood matched his achievement after the break to help the visitors to a share of the spoils. Wimbledon top the group with five points from their three games, but either Blues or Bournemouth will qualify with victory in the final fixture.
Tom Clifford and Taylor Curran, who were both injured in the last game at Aveley’s Parkside home, were fit to return to the starting line-up, with Rob Howard captaining the side after his recent first-team squad call-up for the Checkatrade Trophy success at Luton Town. Forward Norman Wabo, who is on loan at National League club Braintree Town, was also able to feature.
It was Hutchinson who claimed the plaudits after another excellent first-half performance, despite Blues having to spend a lot of the opening period out of possession. Kevin Maher’s side had the greater goal threat, and Hutchinson delivered the first shot of the game in the sixth minute when he dragged a 25-yard effort wide from Wabo’s pass.
Four minutes later Wabo set up the former Brighton & Hove Albion midfielder again, with his attempt this time charged down by a defender, and it was Eren Kinali that drew the first save from Dons goalkeeper Nik Tzanev in the 21st minute when he fired at the custodian following a high press from Amadou Ba.
Despite that monopoly on the early goalmouth activity, Wimbledon had seen plenty of the ball during the early stages and Sam Knock had been called upon to win four or five important headers at the back. Wood was denied for the visitors midway through the first half when Nathan Bishop made a scrambling stop following Kane Crichlow’s corner.
Southend took the lead in the 33rd minute. The architect was Wabo, who collected the ball on the left flank and darted inside, tormenting Dons defender Osaze Uqhoghide before bursting towards the goal-line and cutting the ball back to Hutchinson, who steered his shot into the top right-hand corner from eight yards out.
Wimbledon’s Wood had a superb chance to level the scores five minutes later, but he sent an unmarked header over from Tyler Garrett’s left-wing cross and instead, Blues doubled their advantage in first-half stoppage time. Kinali was tripped by a defender in the penalty area and, although Harry Phillips saw a second spot-kick of the campaign saved, Hutchinson was on hand to thread the rebound between Tzanev and the left-hand upright.
Both Hutchinson and Howard were withdrawn at the interval, with Michael Klass and Dan Humphreys replacing the pair, by which time Wabo had drawn a save from Tzanev with a stinging 25-yard strike. The pattern of play was largely unchanged after the interval, although the Shrimpers possessed less goal threat in the initial stages.
Paul Kalambayi nodded a left-wing corner over in the 51st minute for the Dons, and shortly after the hour mark the tall defender was inches away from stabbing home a Wood through-ball. However, Wood gave the visitors hope in the 65th minute when he halved the deficit by rising at the far post to power a header home from Ossama Ashley’s hoisted cross.
Three minutes later it appeared that Kalambayi had equalised when he dominantly nodded downwards from a right-wing cross but, as the Dons player began to wheel away in celebration, he was forced to put his hands to his head as Bishop dived to his left to brilliant palm the header out for a corner.
Ashley, who was pulling the strings for the Dons in midfield, angled a shot wide from just outside the penalty area in the 72nd minute, but it looked as though Southend would have enough resolve to see them through the encounter and ensure that they would need just a point from their final group fixture to progress to an area final against Shrewsbury Town.
Indeed, Wabo warmed the gloves of Tzanev with a fierce strike from the edge of the penalty area and Kinali blasted over following good work by Klass in midfield as time ran away only for Wimbledon to level in the fourth minute of additional time. A right-wing cross was met by a glancing Wood header at the near post to secure a 2-2 draw and set-up that winner-takes-all clash for Blues against the Cherries.
Southend United U18s: Nathan Bishop, Rob Howard (Dan Humphreys, 46), Tom Clifford, Zak Pianim, Taylor Curran, Sam Knock, Eren Kinali, Isaac Hutchinson (Michael Klass, 46), Amadou Ba (Renei Batlokwa, 73), Norman Wabo, Harry Phillips. Substitutes not used: Harry Seaden, Miles Mitchell-Nelson.
Goals: Hutchinson (33, 45+1).