Chuks Aneke capped off his eagerly-awaited return to action with a superb solo effort on Monday afternoon.
Aneke played 30 minutes on his comeback from six months out in the Dons’ inaugural Central League South East clash at Stadium MK – a thrilling game which the men from MK1 won 5-4.
Brandon Thomas-Asante registered the opening effort on target inside 10 minutes, cutting in from the right and forcing a save from the Southend keeper.
Despite only being on the field for a short time, Aneke’s attributes were on show and his power was key to the opening goal as he skipped past two defenders before cooling slotting home.
The visitors threatened with a shot over the top, but the Dons extended their lead midway through the half when Giorgio Rasulo finished superbly from 15 yards after a smart interchange with new signing Aidan Nesbitt.
The roles were reversed on 28 minutes as Rasulo picked out Nesbitt, who took the pass in stride and fired across the Shrimpers’ keeper with aplomb to make it 3-0.
Sietsma was called into action for the first time on the half-hour mark, diving away to his right to gather a shot from distance.
The men from MK1 and Robbie Muirhead came within inches of taking a 4-0 lead 10 minutes before the break but his curling effort came back off the crossbar.
Southend reduced the arrears on 40 minutes when their No.10 headed a right-wing cross into the far top corner.
However, the Dons regained their three-goal advantage when Thomas-Asante latched on to substitute Hugo Logan’s incisive pass and delicately lifted the ball over the visitors’ keeper.
Thomas-Asante started the second half like he ended the first, turning his marker inside and out before dragging an effort wide of the target.
He was once again involved shortly afterwards, this time he was denied by the Shrimpers’ keeper after being freed by Conor McGrandles.
In search of his second and the Dons’ fifth, Rasulo surged forward but his curling effort cannoned back off the post before Muirhead’s shot went narrowly over the top.
Southend pulled one back close to the hour mark when their No.9 raced on to the keeper’s long kick and fired home, giving substitute Alfie Jones no chance.
Two minutes later, the visitors were back within one when the Shrimpers’ No.10 finished well after some clever movement had seen him picked out 18 yards from goal.
Tireless work from Muirhead deserved more with just over 15 minutes remaining but he was crowded out after a playing a one-two with Rasulo.
Shortly afterwards, Southend equalised after their No.4 jinked his way past two challenges and calmly placed the ball into the bottom right-hand corner.
At the other end, Rasulo was brought down but the referee adjudged the challenge to have taken place outside the area – the free-kick was lifted narrowly over the top.
Rasulo was not to be deterred, though, as he found the net at the second attempt in the closing minutes of the game – the midfielder showed great desire to reach the rebound.
A thrilling start to the Under-23s’ campaign then – next up for them in Peterborough United is the Central League Cup.
Starting XI: Sietsma (Jones 46); Kasumu, Tapp, Jackson (c), Bell; McGrandles; Asante, Rasulo, Aneke (Logan 28), Nesbitt (Nombe 46); Muirhead.
Unused subs: Hope, Bird.
Goals: Aneke (11), Rasulo (23 & 89), Nesbitt (28), Thomas-Asante (44).