Former Southend United forward Joe Pigott scored a hat-trick as AFC Wimbledon claimed a 4-1 victory over Blues U23s at Aveley FC’s Parkside Stadium on Tuesday afternoon.
Pigott, who memorably scored the last-gasp extra time equaliser for Southend in the 2015 League Two Play-Off Final, scored once in the first half and twice more after the break to inflict a defeat on a home side that included four youth team players. Renei Batlokwa scored a penalty for Kevin Maher’s side, with Josh Bingham the other scorer for the Dons.
Bingham could have given Wimbledon the lead in the eighth minute when he nodded a James O’Halloran cross wide of the far post, and the visitors went even closer four minutes later when they hit the woodwork. Pigott played in Kane Crichlow, and Southend were grateful for the intervention of Harry Seaden, who tipped his shot against the crossbar.
Alfie Egan sent the rebound wide and Blues immediately counter-attacked, with Charlie Kelman seeing his effort cleared off the goal-line. That seemed to spark the Shrimpers into life and Amadou Ba was inches away from connecting with Tom Clifford’s left-wing centre when any sort of contact from close-range would’ve sent the ball into the net.
Isaac Hutchinson, one of three members of the squad that had been involved in the first-team squad on Saturday against Bristol Rovers, then set up Harry Phillips, who directed a shot over, before attempting a speculative 30-yard effort himself that flew wide.
Wimbledon rattled the frame of the goal for a second time in the 33rd minute when Egan burst into the penalty area and picked out Crichlow with a pass. The forward drove his attempt against the base of the left-hand upright and out to safety.
However, the Dons finally took the lead six minutes before half-time. Miles Mitchell-Nelson was adjudged to have fouled Pigott in the area, and the striker brushed himself down before clinically dispatching the spot-kick to the left of Seaden, with the goalkeeper leaping to the right.
The advantage lasted just five minutes as Batlokwa netted his first U23s goal of the campaign. The Botswanan-born midfielder was brought down by Rod McDonald and he, too, picked himself up to slot home the resultant penalty.
Blues could even have headed into the second period in front when Phillips released Hutchinson, but his shot was smothered by goalkeeper Joe McDonnell. The hosts were unchanged after the interval, but the balance of play was less even and Seaden did well to maintain parity, making a smart save from Jack Rudoni in the 53rd minute.
Three minutes later Kelman showed his work-rate by tracking all the way back to his own penalty area to force the ball out for a corner, but Wimbledon edged ahead for a second time shortly after the hour mark when Pigott rifled home.
Blues had failed to clear a cross in the lead-up to that goal, and a similar problem almost led to a third for Pigott a quarter-of-an-hour from the end, but on this occasion he fired over. At the other end Kelman managed to burst past Dons captain Paul Kalambayi, but McDonnell made a full-stretch save to thwart the 17-year-old.
Wimbledon gave themselves a two-goal cushion in the 81st minute following good work by Crichlow. The attacker broke down the right-hand side and his pinpoint cross was guided into the back of the net from close-range by Bingham.
Miles Mitchell-Nelson almost made it an anxious final few moments for the visitors when he nodded over from a corner in the 89th minute, but in stoppage time Pigott completed his hat-trick by curling a free-kick majestically past Seaden. The shotstopper prevented Pigott from adding to the 4-1 scoreline sixty seconds later, but by then the result was beyond doubt.
Southend United U23s: Harry Seaden, Rob Howard, Tom Clifford, Michael Klass, Sam Knock, Miles Mitchell-Nelson, Renei Batlokwa, Isaac Hutchinson, Amadou Ba (Zak Pianim, 80), Charlie Kelman, Harry Phillips (Eren Kinali, 84). Substitutes not used: Josh Bexon.
Goal: Batlokwa (44 pen).