Southend United U18s suffered a third EFL Youth Alliance Merit League One defeat of the season despite goals by Brian Garzon and Henry Sandat against AFC Wimbledon.
Second-year scholar Garzon put Blues in front at Boots & Laces after 20 minutes, but the visitors equalised straight away and then netted twice inside three minutes just before the hour mark to take a 3-1 lead. Sandat’s penalty with 13 minutes remaining gave Danny Heath’s side hope, but they couldn’t find a late leveller.
Garzon’s inclusion was one of four changes from the team that lost 2-0 to Plymouth Argyle last weekend, having returned from his loan at Isthmian League Premier Division club East Thurrock United.
Harrison Clayden returned from sickness to skipper the side from the centre of defence, whilst Ibrahim Kamara was fit to start, meaning that Habib Bolarinwa switched to left-back. First-year scholar Fin Purcell was restored to the team ahead of Luke Cerullo.
Conditions were excellent at the club’s training ground, although a switch of ends at the start of the match meant that Blues were playing into a stiff breeze in the opening period. The hosts started well, and Mo Amir saw a 25-yard strike deflected wide in the fourth minute.
Wimbledon had won the South East Conference in the first portion of the season, and they sent a 25-yard effort of their own narrowly wide of the left-hand upright before Bolarinwa made an important block to keep out an attempt in the ninth minute.
Blues had a number of attacking options on the pitch, with schoolboys Freddie Buers and Max Fiddes assisted by Garzon and Sandat. However, despite getting into some good positions, they struggled to get enough bodies into the penalty area to test the Wimbledon goalkeeper.
At the other end, Purcell made an excellent near-post stop to turn an effort around the frame of the goal, and that meant that Garzon’s strike put Blues ahead shortly afterwards. A lofted ball down the right-hand side was contested by Buers, who beat a defender. The referee played a good advantage after he was tugged back, and his centre was converted with a rising shot from ten yards out.
The lead lasted a little over sixty seconds. Southend failed to deal with the initial delivery almost straight from the kick-off, and that meant that a right-wing cross could be powerfully nodded into the left-hand side of the net from close-range.
The home side responded well, with Patrick Droney volleying over following an Amir set-piece and Buers glancing Kamara’s right-wing delivery wide of the far post either side of the half-hour mark. On 35 minutes Amir snatched at a shot from the edge of the penalty area and cut across the ball, sending it over.
Despite Blues being on the front foot, they were indebted to Purcell for making another excellent save, this time with his body as he smothered a near-post shot in the 38th minute, before two aerial efforts were sent off target five minutes later, and Wimbledon ended the half strongly with Kamara hooking an attempt off the goal-line before the follow-up was dragged across the face of goal.
If the away team had ended the first half better, Southend were quickly out of the blocks after the interval and Fiddes - who had scored three times in as many Merit League games going into the game - was unfortunate to see his shot deflected wide from Amir’s cut-back.
In the 48th minute Amir himself drilled marginally the wrong side of the right-hand post from Sandat’s pass, and a minute later Fiddes drew a save from the Wimbledon goalkeeper with a left-footed strike from 15 yards out.
With Southend looking the more likely to score, it was against the run of play that Wimbledon edged ahead in the 54th minute. A forward held off Droney to collect a right-wing throw and he steered a cross to the far post, where a team-mate was arriving to slide home from six yards out.
Three minutes later Blues were hit with another sucker-punch from their own attacking corner. Wimbledon broke away down their left flank, and the ball was gently lifted over the advancing Purcell to make it 3-1.
It looked like the visitors might extend their advantage still further just after the hour mark when a shot was deflected towards the bottom left-hand corner of the net and Purcell showed excellent reactions to turn the ball around the post.
Schoolboy Smai Norman replaced Clayden on 63 minutes, but Wimbledon continued to press forwards and Kamara had to make another block at the far post with twenty minutes remaining. Five minutes later, a chipped finish beat Purcell, but Droney was on hand to nod off the goal-line.
In-between Norman had an opportunity to halve the deficit from Amir’s deep free-kick, but he couldn’t keep his finish down. On 77 minutes, an even better chance presented itself as Sandat drew a foul in the penalty area, and he stepped up to coolly convert the spot-kick.
The game looked set for a grandstand finish, but Wimbledon - who had stunned Blues with a 4-3 win from 3-1 down in the previous Boots & Laces meeting - were able to avoid the reverse scenario by managing the final few minutes of the match, even striking the woodwork in stoppage time. Southend will be looking for a change in fortunes next week when they travel to Stevenage.
Southend United U18s: Fin Purcell, Ibrahim Kamara, Habib Bolarinwa, Jacob Bland, Harrison Clayden (Smai Norman, 63), Patrick Droney, Mo Amir, Max Fiddes, Freddie Buers, Henry Sandat, Brian Garzon. Unused substitutes: Alfie Terry, Ronnie Blake.
Goals: Garzon (20), Sandat (77 pen).
Cautioned: Buers (47, foul tackle), Kamara (51, foul tackle).