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AFC Wimbledon 0, Southend United 1
CAULEY Woodrow's late header extended the festive celebrations for Southend United at 10 man AFC Wimbledon this afternoon.
The Shrimpers seemed set to have to settle for a share of the spoils at the Kingsmeadow Stadium despite playing the entire second half with a numerical advantage after George Francomb was dismissed for the Dons just before the break.
But, 14 minutes from time, substitute Woodrow headed home a right wing cross from John White to secure a hard fought 1-0 victory for Phil Brown's side.
Before the late drama unfolded, AFC Wimbledon almost broke the deadlock in fortuitous circumstances after just two minutes when George Francomb's right wing cross was sliced just past his own goal by the recalled Mark Phillips.
The Shrimpers soon hit back with the in-form Kevan Hurst – who had scored five goals in his last six games - shooting over before the hosts again came close to scoring in the 17th minute when Francomb's curling effort was impressively tipped over the crossbar by Blues' goalkeeper Daniel Bentley.
Having survived the scare, Southend replied with Will Atkinson dragging a shot wide after a fine run forward and, in the 23rd minute, Hurst sent a volleyed effort just inches wide from the edge of the penalty area.
Blues threatened again just four minutes later with White almost scoring the first senior goal of his career.
The Shrimpers skipper has failed to hit the back of the net in 279 games spanning 11 years but he almost broke that length barren run with a well struck long range shot which had to be tipped over the crossbar by Wimbledon goalkeeper Ross Worner.
But, with 41 minutes on the clock, Blues' hopes of victory were boosted when winger Francomb was sent off for a strong challenge on visiting centre-back Rob Kiernan.
The decision angered the home supporters and was the ninth red card referee Graham Scott has soon in 17 matches so far this season.
Wimbledon reshuffled at the break with former Southend loanee Jack Midson replacing Charlie Sheringham as Neal Ardley's team lined up in a 4-4-1 formation.
Midson immediately created a chance for Michael Smith but he saw his effort deflected wide for a corner by Kiernan.
In reply, Shrimpers midfielder Michael Timlin – who last scored away at Plymouth Argyle in February 2012 – then fired just wide from 20 yards Timlin then saw another effort easily kept out by Worner before Blues boss Phil Brown made his first change of the afternoon in the 59th minute with Woodrow coming on to replace Ryan Leonard.
Eleven minutes later, the Shrimpers made a second substitution with Freddy Eastwood taking the place of Barry Corr in attack.
But it was the first of those two alterations which proved to be crucial as, with 76 minutes on the clock, Woodrow fired Blues in front.
The on loan Fulham forward was picked out by a fine right wing cross from White and made no mistake with a clinical header from 12 yards.
The Shrimpers brought on midfielder Marc Laird for Anthony Straker six minutes after going in front and the Scotsman helped to ensure Southend held on to their narrow advantage to pick up another valuable victory.