Southend United U18s coach Danny Heath refused to make any excuses after his side lost a “ridiculous” EFL Youth Alliance South East Conference clash 8-5 at home to Northampton Town.
Blues took to their field a little over 36 hours after their FA Youth Cup campaign had been brought to a half by Cambridge United at Roots Hall, but Heath felt that did not have a bearing on the final result of the fixture at a wet and windy Boots & Laces.
“We’re definitely not going to use The FA Youth Cup match as an excuse,” he said. “That’s football, and as an Academy we want to develop players that are robust and will grit their teeth. The boys normally do that, and they did do that today, but it’s no excuse.”
“It was a game that could’ve ended up 10-10; it was a ridiculous game of football. The weather is something that we have to deal with. You can’t change the conditions; you have to play them and it’s the same for both teams. There are no excuses,” he added.
Blues made two changes to the starting line-up from the side that had been beaten 2-1 by Cambridge with schoolboy Louie Arrowsmith and midfielder Demaray Anyadike replacing Ahmet Biler and Cameron Brown – who was nursing a hand injury – in the eleven.
Anyadike made an instant impression as his pressure after just a minute’s play led to the opening goal. The winger chased down the Northampton goalkeeper, encouraging him to misplace a clearance into the path of Tommy Lambourne, who stroked home from 25 yards out.
The advantage was short-lived as the Cobblers equalised in the sixth minute when a left-wing cross was converted from close-range, but Blues restored their advantage with less than a quarter-of-an-hour played when Lambourne raced onto a measured through-ball to slide his finish into the bottom right-hand corner of the net.
Freddy Eastwood had, by this stage, chipped over with the outside of his right foot, and Lambourne could have completed his hat-trick in the 17th minute when he charged down a clearance and a defender just managed to get back to clear. Instead, the Cobblers equalised again at the mid-point of the first half when Jimmy Wallace tripped an attacker and the spot-kick was converted beyond Callum Taylor, who had guessed the right way.
Despite the set-back, Southend were back in front within seconds of the restart as they caught Northampton out with a swift attack. Lambourne was located on the right flank and he rounded the goalkeeper before squeezing his shot in from an acute angle. His three goals had spanned less than 22 minutes, and Blues now edged 3-2 up.
At this stage the teenage Shrimpers were clearly in the ascendancy and an Eastwood attempt was deflected wide before the playmaker set up Oli Coker and he saw his effort charged down. In the 34th minute Anyadike got past the Cobblers custodian, but a defender got back and his clearance - despite hitting the first-year scholar - rebounded to safety.
Then, with ten minutes of the opening period remaining, Blues put some space between the team as they moved two goals clear. Lambourne could have elected to shoot as he galloped into the penalty area, but he instead passed to Eastwood and, just when it appeared that he had spent too long on the ball, he cut back devastatingly onto his right foot before curling into the top right-hand corner.
However, that comfortable advantage lasted just four minutes as the league leaders halved the deficit following a period of pressure, and only a Sam Brogan clearance averted an equaliser as the first half drew towards a conclusion.
Heath felt the warning signs were in place at that point: “We spoke to the boys at half-time,” he reported. “We were 4-3 up with a lead to hold onto but we said to them that the way they defended in the first half was nowhere near good enough. If we were going to get something from the game, we would need to defend better. That’s not blaming any specific unit, it’s the team together, and in the second half we didn’t do that.”
The second half started more sedately than its predecessor, but Blues were dealt a blow in the 54th minute when Northampton were awarded their second penalty of the match. This time Tommy Davis was adjudged to have fouled an attacker, with the referee giving the spot-kick after consulting with his assistant. Taylor was sent the wrong way from twelve yards out and it was 4-4.
Parity lasted barely sixty seconds as Blues moved ahead for the fourth time in less than hour. Lambourne was involved again, this time with a run down the left-hand edge of the penalty area that culminated in a cross connecting with a defender’s hand. The referee pointed to the spot and Coker made no mistake with the penalty.
Southend could’ve extended their lead in the ensuing 15 minutes, with Lambourne seeing the goalkeeper push a shot wide from Wallace’s chipped pass and Coker teeing up Eastwood for a 20-yard attempt that he dragged narrowly wide of the left-hand upright.
However, a crazy match took a turn decisively towards the away side as they scored twice inside a minute to turn a slim deficit into a slender advantage. First Wallace gave the ball away to an attacker, who raced clear before a team-mate swept underneath Taylor from twelve yards out, and then Blues were hit by a break from the kick-off as a right-wing centre was tapped in at the far post.
Blues had the opportunities to equalise, with Bobby Unwin’s centre cut out ahead of the onrushing Anyadike and Lambourne nodding an Eastwood corner over, whilst Eastwood also steered an effort wide, but they were punished by two further goals in the final ten minutes as the Cobblers thumped home a seventh goal from a left-wing cross and an eighth when a forward slot past the advancing Taylor.
Brian Garzon joined Arrowsmith in making his youth team debut at the end, but Heath was left to ruminate on a disappointing morning: “From an attacking point of view in the first half we were really good. We probably should’ve come in with more goals at half-time, and in the second half we created enough chances and got enough entries into the final third, but we didn’t take them,” he claimed.
Southend United U18s: Callum Taylor, Reiss Chandler, Louie Arrowsmith, Sam Brogan, Jimmy Wallace (Ergis Shala, 73), Tommy Davis, Demaray Anyadike (Brian Garzon, 85), Oli Coker (Cameron Brown, 73), Tommy Lambourne (Kenny Coker, 85), Freddy Eastwood, Bobby Unwin. Substitute not used: Jamie Grossart.
Goals: Lambourne (1, 14, 23), Eastwood (35), O Coker (55, pen).