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Southend United 2, AFC Wimbledon 1
RYAN Cresswell’s stoppage time header handed Southend United a 2-1 triumph over AFC Wimbledon in the first round of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy at Roots Hall tonight.
With the tie seemingly heading towards a penalty shoot-out, Cresswell rose high to head a left wing cross from Neil Harris in to the bottom right hand corner of the net.
And that was enough to secure for Blues after a Gavin Tomlin penalty had earlier cancelled out Frankie Merrifield’s opener for the visitors.
Blues were deserved winners after enjoying long periods of pressure and they were twice denied by the woodwork inside the opening 19 minutes.
The first let off for Dons came in the ninth minute when Tomlin wasted a fantastic chance to score.
The former Dagenham forward saw an attempted pass to Britt Assombalonga slid back in to his path by Wimbledon defender George Francomb but he could only strike the inside of the right post with his left foot from six yards.
Moments later, Assombalonga fired straight at Dons keeper Mikhael Jaimez-Ruiz from long range before Southend came even closer to scoring when Michael Timlin’s left wing cross was headed against the bar by Ryan Leonard.
The Dons, who made five changes to their starting line-up, hit back with Merrifield firing wide of the left post from 14 yards but Blues soon back on top and, in the 37th minute, a long range shot from Sean Clohessy was smartly smothered by Jaimez-Ruiz.
Tomlin then had also had a 25 yard shot kept out by the visiting keeper but, having survived the scares, Dons opened the scoring with their first shot on target in the 39th minute.
Jim Fenlon made it as he got in behind Clohessy down Wimbledon’s left hand side before he delivered a low cross in to the path of Merrifield whose low, 14 yard shot took a deflection on its way in to the bottom left hand corner of the net.
The strike was the 18-year-old’s first of senior career and Dons then almost doubled their lead just before the break when Sammy Moore’s well struck 25 yard shot was parried to safety by Blues’ debutant goalkeeper Paul Smith.
In reply, Tomlin then had a snap shot kept out by Jaimez-Ruiz but, 14 minutes in to the second period, the striker drew Southend back level from the penalty spot after fantastic play from Assombalonga.
The on loan Watford forward beat two men down the left hand side before being fouled by Francomb and that enabled Tomlin to fire the subsequent spot-kick in to the bottom left hand corner of the net for his first goal since signing in the summer. Blues then almost went in when Leonard’s left wing cross picked out John Spicer and the midfielder’s 14 yard was well saved by Jaimez-Ruiz.
The keeper was less convincing in the 65th minute when he parried a deep Timlin cross over the cross but, just seconds later, he did well to tip a six yard shot from Assombalonga around the left post.
That proved to be the young striker’s final involvement in the game as he was replaced by Harris in the 70th minute with Elliot Benyon replacing Anthony Straker at the same time.
Nine minutes later, Chris Barker came on for Tomlin with Cresswell moving up front but the experienced centre-back soon almost netted an own goal as his inadvertent touch from Byron’s Harrison’s right wing cross was well saved by Smith.
The Blues keeper then parried out a 20 yard shot from Harrison but, with play switching back to the other end of the field, Paul Sturrock’s side snatched victory right at the death with Cresswell powerfully heading home Harris’ cross to secure a place in the second round of the competition.