Dons lucky to escape Boxing Day's basement battle with a point
MK Dons can consider themselves fortunate to leave Roots Hall with a share of the spoils against Southend, despite leading twice in a 2-2 draw.
After a bright start, Joe Mason tapped in one of the easiest goals of the season 13 minutes in, but Dons were in a giving mood as Southend won a penalty on the half hour mark, which was swept home by Jason Demetriou.
Despite being second best for the most part, Rhys Healey marked his comeback from injury by scoring a scrappy one after 63 minutes, but Southend were back level within three minutes when Rob Kiernan headed the hosts level. And they could have won it but for a point-blank save from Lee Nicholls to deny Stephen Humphrys.
Russell Martin went as aggressive as he could when taking on fellow League One strugglers Southend United. Sam Nombe was handed his first start since September, and Ben Reeves too came back into the side, at the expense of Kieran Agard and Hiram Boateng.
And the strength in the side paid off almost immediately as Nombe played a huge part in Joe Mason's opening goal on 13 minutes. The 20-year-old led an attack down the right-hand side, and pulled the ball across to Conor McGrandles, and after Reeves got a touch, it found Mason at the far post to tap in for one of the easiest goals of his career.
They then had a flurry of chances, but neither Alex Gilbey nor Mason could test keeper Mark Oxley, though McGrandles' header did eventually end up in the keepers' arms.
Southend, who only have two points to their name at home this season, were level on the half-hour mark out of nothing. A ball aimed up towards John White saw him evade Dean Lewington, but he was taken out by keeper Lee Nicholls, and offered referee Neil Hair no choice but to point to the spot. Jason Demetriou made no mistakes in sending Nicholls the wrong way.
The Dons keeper would remain the busier of the two for the remainder of the half, as Elvis Bwomono and Stephen Humphrys both tested him from range, while Nombe did draw a decent save from Oxley late in the half.
The visitors made a sluggish start to the second half, and were fortunate not to be blown away within the opening 10 minutes but Southend's prowess in front of goal was distinctly lacking, with both Tom Hopper and Demetriou failing to find the target when scoring looked easier.
Rhys Healey was introduced to the fray at the expense of Nombe, who had been Dons' biggest threat, but within six minutes, he had proven his worth by somehow scrambling the visitors back in front, getting the last touch in a melee in the penalty area to get it over the line.
But the lead would last just three minutes as Southend put a routine corner in the box and Rob Kiernan beat Nicholls to the ball, heading into an empty net.
The keeper would make up for it within five minutes though as he denied the dangerous-looking Humphrys from point-blank range.
With both sides at the wrong end of the table, the quality of the match more than matched that, with neither defence looking shaky and gifting each other opportunities. Dons were perhaps unlucky not to take the lead for a third time when Mason lifted the ball over keeper Oxley, only to be denied by a recovering Timothy Dieng who hooked it clear.
Southend poured forwards late on, played with more want and desire than Dons, but could not find a way through for their first home win of the season, while Dons edged closer to safety courtesy of Tranmere's 4-2 defeat to Burton.
Referee: Neil Hair
Attendance: 6,189 (380)
Southend: Oxley, Bwomono, White, Dieng, Kiernan, McLaughlin (Goodship 90), Demetriou, Milligan, Mantom, Humphrys (Kelman 82), Hopper
Subs not used: Bishop, Cox, Hamilton, Hutchinson, Kinali
MK Dons: Nicholls, Lewington, Walsh, Poole, Brittain, Houghton, McGrandles, Gilbey, Reeves (Kasumu 75), Mason, Nombe (Healey 58)
Subs not used: Moore, Williams, Cargill, Agard, Boateng, Kasumu
Booked: Nicholls, Dieng, Gilbey