Southend United U23s were unable to build on Amadou Ba’s early goal as they suffered a 2-1 defeat to Exeter City in the Central League South Division.
Ba scored within six minutes and hit the woodwork shortly afterwards, but second half goals by Grecians skipper Aaron Martin and young centre-forward Theo Simpson turned the fixture around and left coach Kevin Maher’s side frustrated.
Ba’s goal came at the end of the first real attack of the match. Eren Kinali put pressure on centre-back Luke Croll and he was forced to concede a corner. Harry Phillips took a short flag-kick to Renei Batlokwa, and his dinked cross was side-footed home by Ba from four yards out.
Within three minutes Southend could have extended their lead as Phillips picked out the run of Ba in midfield and the French forward unleashed a fierce strike from 25 yards out that flew wide off the base of the left-hand upright.
In the 12th minute Kinali combined with Rob Howard down the right-hand side to deliver a testing cross that was spilled by Exeter goalkeeper James Hamon, but Ba couldn’t take advantage and the ball ricocheted out for a goal-kick. Six minutes later a Howard cross was directed just over the head of Southend’s trialist centre-back.
When Terrell Egbri linked up with Phillips to set-up Kinali for a powerful header into Hamon’s gloves, Southend appeared to be in dominant form, but there was a sign of Exeter’s resurgence in the 24th minute when youth team skipper Sam Knock had to get tight to Joe Randall to prevent him from collecting Harry Kite’s pass.
Josh Key then glanced a near-post header wide for the visitors before Martin’s dominant header was cleared off the goal-line following another Exeter corner. The match was becoming end-to-end and Kinali beat Hamon to a high ball, with Egbri unable to capitalise, and the Grecians gloveman then superbly palming a stinging Kinali drive around the right-hand post.
Both Egbri and Kinali could have done better with subsequent efforts as the opening period moved into the final ten minutes, but the second-year scholar smashed over from 25 yards out following a Phillips corner and then Kinali blasted a shot into the side-netting when team-mates had taken up good positions inside the penalty area.
As a consequence, Southend will feel that they missed their opportunity to stretch their lead, although they had the first effort on goal of the second period when Tom Clifford curled a free-kick over after a foul on Ba just outside the penalty area.
In the 58th minute, Exeter grabbed an equaliser in slightly fortuitous circumstances. Ted Smith had made a superb near-post stop to divert a Theo Simpson strike around the frame of the goal with his legs, but he was left with no chance when a left-wing corner was swung in and an attempted clearance bounced off of Martin and into the top left-hand corner of the net.
Southend were not able to carve out openings with such regularity after the break, and they were inconvenienced when the trialist centre-half was injured and had to be replaced by a striker in the form of Sewa Marah. That forced Howard into an unfamiliar role at centre-back and Kinali to undertake more defensive duties.
Marah did manage to half-volley wide in the 77th minute after fellow substitute Matt Rush had battled impressively for the ball against a taller opponent, but Blues fell behind with eleven minutes remaining when a left-wing cross was diverted into the path of Simpson, who showed real finesse with his finish, which was gently lifted over Smith.
Ba attempted an acrobatic response, but Kite covered well to clear in the 84th minute and, when the front man was brought down on the edge of the penalty area, Howard hooked over from Phillips’ dead ball delivery. In truth, Exeter were looking more comfortable at this point, with Key’s speculative effort landing on the roof of the net and Smith grabbing hold of midfielder Will Dean ‘s swerving strike.
Still there was time for the Shrimpers to threaten a late equaliser, and Batlokwa drew a fine save from Hamon, who was forced to dive full length to his right to tip a well-struck effort around the right-hand post. Unfortunately Blues were unable to source a leveller in stoppage time and they tasted defeat in their final home match of 2018/19.
Southend United U18s: Ted Smith, Rob Howard, Tom Clifford, Sam Brogan, Sam Knock (Trialist B, 46), Trialist A (Sewa Marah, 74), Eren Kinali, Renei Batlokwa, Amadou Ba, Harry Phillips, Terrell Egbri (Matt Rush, 66). Substitutes not used: Harry Seaden, Freddy Eastwood.
Goal: Ba (6).