Jack Hyams goal not enough for Ricky Duncan's side
Southend United Under-18s finally returned to action after a lengthy lay-off, losing 3-1 away to Portsmouth in a Football League Youth Alliance South East Conference fixture.
The two clubs were situated in mid-table at the start of the game, a product of the bad weather that has blighted both sides’ campaigns to date. With games in hand, a victory at Bognor Regis Town’s Nyewood Lane would give either team a realistic opportunity to put pressure on league leaders Leyton Orient.
Pompey burst out of the blocks and took the lead through Chad Field’s 11th-minute header before Liam Triggs added to the advantage shortly before half-time. Blues made an impressive start to the second period and looked capable of a comeback when Robert Hyams nodded home to halve the deficit, but Bradley Tarbuck’s 77th-minute extinguished any hope of parity.
Ricky Duncan, who watched chiefly from the stands with youth team coach Stuart Bimson controlling proceedings from the dugout, was happy with aspects of the team’s display: “It’s been very difficult for us, not just because we’ve had some long spells without games, but because the fixtures are so congested when we do play them. We’ve just had three weeks off, and now we’re going to be playing Saturday-Wednesday-Saturday for the next three weeks. That’s difficult for these lads, especially when they’re coming back from injuries.”
Portsmouth have enjoyed a more regular sprinkling of matches recently, and they pushed forward quickly from the start. Jae Heon Kim’s third-minute corner fell to George Branford just outside the penalty area, and he forced Ted Smith into a smart save with a clean strike from distance. Jack Bridge did see a shot charged down three minutes later at the other end, but home custodian Luke Colquhoun had still not been threatened by the time Pompey took the lead.
In common with the two goals that the Hampshire outfit scored in the FA Youth Cup at Fratton Park, the opening goal came from a set-piece. Bradley Tarbuck sent a pinpoint delivery into the six-yard box from the right-hand corner quadrant and central defender Field rose imperiously to power his header in from close range.
Southend’s attempts at a response were restricted to a Fope Coker free-kick, hoisted over from the apex of the penalty area after Bridge had been tugged back by Field, and an Agyakwa centre that was drilled straight into Colquhorn’s midriff.
There was a more genuine threat of a goal at the other end, and Tarbuck could have scored in the 32nd minute when his fierce attempt from 25 yards was deflected inches wide of the right-hand post. Five minutes later, he was involved as Pompey made it 2-0. First he set up Kim to dribble in from the left and draw a full-stretch save from Smith. The ball may have been skidding wide, but Smith made sure by palming it out for a corner, which Tarbuck delivered for Triggs to bundle marginally over the line, despite Blues’ best attempts to clear.
The first half ended with Portsmouth searching for more goals, captain Branford lining up a fizzing strike from 25 yards that was acrobatically turned over by Smith, who later palmed down Tarbuck’s effort from a similar distance. “It was frustrating to concede the goals we did in the fashion we did, but you have to pay credit to Portsmouth; they are a very good team who move the ball round well, and they exploited our slow start,” said Duncan.
There was a different complexion to the beginning of the second half. Blues were more energized, and they kept Portsmouth away from the penalty area. Southend enjoyed more possession, and then began to carve out chances of their own. Mitchell Pinnock crossed to the back post in the 54th minute, where Agyakwa’s stinging shot was clutched by Colquhorn, and sixty seconds later Agyakwa drifted inside from the right flank to drive an effort into the shotstopper’s gloves.
At the other end, Lewis Horsburgh slashed over when well-positioned but, on the hour mark, Southend deservedly hauled themselves back into the game. Both wingers were involved again, Pinnock swinging the ball over to Agyakwa at the back post. He tried to dribble past a defender, only to be apprehended, but Harry Jeffery was on hand to deliver the ball to the far post, where opposite full-back Hyams was arriving to guide a header into the top left-hand corner of the net.
The Shrimpers looked set to seize on this opportunity to equalize as Agyakwa’s cross just a minute later was unconvincingly cleared and Pinnock over-hit a centre from the left flank with bodies in the box. Then, in the 63rd minute, Pinnock sent a sublime free-kick from the left touchline onto the right boot of Agyakwa, whose outstanding first-time volley was directed inches over.
Jack Edwards set Pinnock away on the left-hand side of the penalty area midway through the half, but he drilled a cross-shot wide of the far post with no forwards able to get up to help out. “I was very pleased with that 25-30 minute period. We put them under real pressure and it was our best spell of the game. We really looked good in that half-hour, but then we conceded a poor goal from our point of view and our chance was gone,” Duncan opined.
Smith made a superb save to deny Jack Whatmough when Tarbuck’s set-piece dropped to the defender 12 yards out, and Tarbuck himself then fired narrowly wide after exchanging passes with Kim. The winger finally netted thirteen minutes from time, chipping the ball in for Horsburgh, who chested it down into Tarbuck’s path for a clinical rising shot into the top left-hand corner.
Branford could have added a fourth, but his off-balance header from a Tarbuck cross went over, whilst Southend almost grabbed a second when Pinnock received a return pass from Bridge and blasted across the face of goal. The final whistle blew to signal a 3-1 defeat for Blues, who are next in action on Wednesday evening at Great Wakering Rovers in a 7.15pm kick-off against Milton Keynes Dons.
Southend United: Ted Smith, Harry Jeffery, Robert Hyams, Jack Edwards (Macauley Keaton, 75), Josh Banton, Aaron Tatham (Daniel King, 46), Marlon Agyakwa, Fope Coker (Charlie Barlow, 90+4), Seedy Njie, Jack Bridge, Mitchell Pinnock. Substitutes not used: Daniel Snook, Jason Williams.
Goal: Hyams (60).