Norman Wabo started 2018 as he ended 2017 with a pair of goals for Blues U23s, but it wasn’t enough for his side to overcome AFC Wimbledon in a Central League South Division encounter at Boots & Laces.
Veteran centre-forward Carlton Cole gave the Dons the lead in just the fourth minute, but a first-half brace of quality finishes from Wabo meant that Southend went in ahead at the interval. However, two further set-piece goals for the visitors, courtesy of Paul Robinson and Ashley Ossama, meant Wimbledon left south-east Essex with all three points.
Goalkeeper Josh Bexon was named in the starting line-up for the first time this season after returning from his loan spell at FC Kitzbuhel in Austria. Full-backs Elvis Bwomono and Stephen Hendrie provided some first team experience, along with Michael Klass, Harry Phillips, Amadou Ba and Wabo, who have all been included in squads during 2017/18.
Blues made a poor start when they conceded with less than four minutes played. Hartigan lined up a free-kick from slightly to the right of centre, and his curling delivery was met by a powerful close-range header by Cole. Bexon got a hand to the ball, but such was the ferocity of the connection that he could only palm it in the roof of the net.
Midfielder Hartigan was causing problems with his dead-ball delivery early on, and Alfie Egan nodded another delivery wide in the eighth minute, but the Dons were made to pay for that miss a couple of minutes later when Wabo fought for possession after good work by Ba. The forward won the ball and raced clear of the defence before rounding Nick Tzanev and slotting home from a tight angle.
It was a finish that exuded confidence, and it encouraged his team-mates. After the defensive wall had charged down another Hartigan set-piece, Ba saw a fierce strike blocked by Paul Kalambiyi following Klass’ knock-down from a Phillips corner, and the French front-man was inches away from connecting with a Phillips centre in the 24th minute.
In-between Cole smashed over after controlling a Hartigan pass just inside the penalty area, but Zak Pianim and Miles Mitchell-Nelson were doing a good job against the tall striker, and that allowed Southend to express themselves going forwards. Wabo almost added to his tally on the half-hour, but a curling effort was brilliantly grabbed by Tzanev as the ball headed towards the top right-hand corner.
The youngster was undeterred and, with nine minutes remaining before half-time, Wabo netted his tenth competitive goal of the season from just ten matches with a superb solo strike. Having collected possession in the centre circle, he advanced to the edge of the penalty area before steering the ball into the bottom right-hand corner.
That was enough to hand Blues the half-time advantage, but the second period began in a more sedate fashion and the hosts could not regain their momentum. Instead centre-half Robinson levelled for the Dons when he rose to meet a Hartigan flag-kick and the ball was deemed to have crossed the whitewash before Hendrie, stationed besides the right-hand upright, could clear.
That goal came in the 57th minute, and within three further minutes the visitors had taken the lead. Again the ball was delivered by Hartigan and, although Mitchell-Nelson made a good initial block, it wasn’t cleared, allowing Ossama to drill the ball in through a crowded six-yard box.
Eren Kinali and Dan Walker, another to have returned from a loan spell at Kitzbuhel, were introduced in place of Alex Clark and Ba as Blues sought a leveller, but the closest they came was a deflected effort from Phillips after good work from Kinali on the right. Walker couldn’t direct a header over Tzanev from the resultant corner and Southend lost out by the odd goal in five.
Southend United U23s: Josh Bexon, Elvis Bwomono, Stephen Hendrie, Michael Klass, Zak Pianim, Miles Mitchell-Nelson, Alex Clark (Eren Kinali, 64), Renei Batlokwa, Norman Wabo, Amadou Ba (Dan Walker, 79), Harry Phillips. Substitutes not used: Nathan Bishop, Harry Cuthbert, Sam Knock.
Goals: Wabo (10, 36).
Cautioned: Batlokwa (42, foul tackle).